Sunday, June 3, 2012

Remembering the classic 1976 NBA Finals game 5

Tomorrow marks the 36th anniversary of the most memorable NBA game I have ever viewed. The Boston Celtics defeated the Phoenix Suns in triple overtime in game 5 of the NBA Finals on 6/4/1976 in a contest best known for the riveting events during the end of the second OT.

The CBS announcers that night were Brent Musburger, Rick Barry, and Mendy Rudolph. The young Musburger was in his second season as lead play-by-play voice for the NBA. Brent brought a lot of enthusiasm to the telecasts, but could be rather loud and tended to dominate the microphone. Rudolph was a former referee who CBS installed as its top analyst for the 1975-76 season after a forgettable year with Oscar Roberston in that role. Most analysts tend to be former players or coaches, but Mendy brought a unique perspective especially on officiating calls or rules issues.

Barry was still an active player who CBS added to the TV crew for the championship series after his Golden State Warriors lost in the conference finals. During the 1970s, CBS seemed to use a different #1 analyst almost every regular season. But during the playoffs, CBS added Barry to its broadcast crew every year from 1974 through 1980 once his team was eliminated (with the exception of 1975 when Barry played in the NBA Finals). Despite being a late addition to the 1976 TV crew, Barry clearly served as the #1 analyst on that series with Rudolph taking an ancillary role. While not a polished broadcaster, Barry was quick to offer opinions and added more insight than the other CBS NBA analysts of this era.

The first clip covers the dramatic ending to the second OT: The John Havlicek running bank shot....the fan attacking referee Richie Powers....the intentional timeout called by Paul Westphal knowing the Suns were out of timeouts thereby essentially trading a technical foul for the opportunity to advance the ball to halfcourt.....the turnaround shot at the buzzer by Garfield Heard.

After the Havlicek shot, notice how quickly Barry states that time should be put back on the clock after Musburger incorrectly declared the game over. And note how Rudolph suggests that the Suns might take advantage of the obscure aspect of the illegal timeout rule to maximize their chance of winning the game. The NBA later eliminated that quirk in the rule. I also found it odd that on both of the inbounds plays in this sequence, Musburger felt the need to point out that the clock wouldn't start until the ball is touched.

The second video covers highlights including the opening to the telecast, the end of regulation and the end of each OT. This package provides some greater context showing the Phoenix comeback capped by the Westphal steal which set up the final seconds of the 2nd OT. The intro segment illustrates the way that Musburger would set the scene for the game.

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