It was a game that many call the greatest ever. It was Game 5 of the NBA Finals, a series that was tied 2-2 between the tradition-steeped Boston Celtics and the upstart Phoenix Suns. The game went three overtimes, the first Finals game ever to last that long, and had enough thrills, twists, and turns for a whole series.
Back in the Boston Garden for game five on a Friday night, the Celtics fans were riled up and ready to put the upstart Suns in their place. As a massive underdog, Phoenix was playing loose while the veteran Celtics shouldered most of the pressure and enjoyed little national sympathy from casual fans due to their heritage of having captured 12 of the previous 19 NBA crowns.
Led by the sharpshooting of 14th-year star John Havlicek, who was starting his first game of the series after being plagued by a foot injury, Boston raced to a 28-10 lead and was on top 36-18 after one period of play. But Phoenix’s youthful lineup managed to fight back and send the game into overtime.
There was an unacknowledged timeout at the end of the first overtime that, had it been granted to Boston’s Paul Silas, would have resulted in a technical foul and given the Suns a chance to win the game. But referee Richie Powers chose to ignore the signal, and the teams played on.
In the second overtime, Phoenix grabbed a one-point lead with four seconds left but Boston’s John Havlicek raced the length of the floor and scored on a 15-foot bank shot that brought hundreds of Celtics fans pouring onto the fabled parquet. After the order was restored, the officials put one second back on the clock and prepared to give Phoenix the ball.
That’s when the Suns’ Paul Westphal asked for and received, a timeout he knew his team did not have. The strategy resulted in a technical foul, which stretched Boston’s lead to two points, but it enabled the Suns to make the inbounds pass from midcourt. Gar Heard caught the ensuing pass, turned and sank a jumper at the buzzer to send the game into its third overtime, stunning and nearly silencing the Garden faithful.
With key players on both teams having fouled out, it was a seldom-used reserve, Glenn McDonald, who rose to the occasion for the Celtics. He scored six points in the third OT to lead Boston to an exhausting 128-126 win. Two days later, the Celtics beat the Suns 87-80 in Phoenix to wrap up their 13th NBA championship.