With the NBA playoffs on hold because of the coronavirus pandemic, here are some memorable 76ers playoff games dating to when they moved from Syracuse before the 1963-64 season. Is your favorite missing? Send feedback to Marc Narducci at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tenth of 12 parts.
The 76ers had just ended the reign of what is still the most dominant dynasty in professional sports history, and they got to enjoy the win for approximately five minutes before Wilt Chamberlain urged his teammates to look only straight ahead.
After winning the previous eight straight NBA titles, the Boston Celtics were eliminated by the host Sixers, 140-116, in Game 5 of the Eastern Division finals on April 11, 1967. And shortly after the win, Chamberlain quickly interrupted the locker room celebration.
“Everybody was celebrating and excited about beating the Celtics and Wilt Chamberlain stood up and said, ‘We have another series,’ ” sixth-man Billy Cunningham recalled recently. “All of a sudden the locker room became quiet.”
Chamberlain had yet to win a championship and he didn’t want his team to be complacent. He certainly wasn’t.
Long before the term triple-double became part of the NBA lexicon, Chamberlain put up one of the more impressive triple-doubles in the Game 5 win.
He had 29 points, 36 rebounds, and 13 assists.
So that ended the Celtics’ run, but only temporarily. Boston went on to win the next two years, giving the Celtics 10 titles in 11 seasons.
That likely will never be matched in professional sports.
The leader was Bill Russell, who played on all 11 of Boston’s championship teams and also served as player-coach beginning in the 1966-67 season.
Also incredibly, Sam Jones and K.C. Jones joined Russell on the eight consecutive Celtics title teams from 1958-59 through 1965-66.
In those eight years, the Celtics won 17 consecutive playoff series. They made it 18 in 1966-67 before losing to the Sixers.
During those eight consecutive title years, Russell appeared in 100 postseason games and averaged 18.3 points and 26.4 rebounds. Known more for his defense, he averaged 3.1 personal fouls, which meant he stayed on the court a lot, averaging 45.9 minutes in those 100 games.
Russell also won two NCAA titles with the University of San Francisco and an Olympic gold medal in 1956. He’s considered the greatest winning athlete of all-time.
Sam Jones also played in 100 playoff games during that string of eight straight titles and averaged 19.5 points in those games. He was one of the more underrated great players of his era.
K.C. Jones played in 96 of the games, averaging 6.3 points and 3.6 assists. That playoff loss in Game 5 to the Sixers was the final game of K.C. Jones’ career.
The two times the Celtics didn’t win the championship during Russell’s tenure, Alex Hannum was on the opposite bench. Besides being the Sixers coach in 1966-67, Hannum was the head coach of the St. Louis Hawks, who won the NBA title in 1958, Russell’s second season.
Finally being able to stop the Celtics’ string was monumental, but no reason to celebrate, according to Chamberlain.
This was Chamberlain’s eighth NBA season. He had been on teams that were eliminated by the Celtics five times. The Game 5 win over Boston earned Chamberlain his second trip to the Finals. In 1963-64, his San Francisco Warriors team lost to the Celtics in five games.
The Sixers had lost to the Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals in each of the two previous seasons, falling in seven games in 1964-65 and in five games in 1965-66.
In the ’67 clincher, the Sixers had five players score 20 or more points, led by Hall of Famer Hal Greer, who had 32 points. Besides Greer and Chamberlain, the other top scorers were Chet Walker, with 26 points, Wali Jones (23), and Cunningham (21).
John Havlicek had 38 points to lead the Celtics, while Russell scored just four points, hitting 2 of 5 shots. He did have 21 rebounds and seven assists.
Champions show fight until the end, something the Sixers discovered even ending the Celtics’ run.
Late in the win, Cunningham saw firsthand what made the Celtics such a dynasty, and Russell such a big winner.
“What I remember is that with 3 to 5 seconds left, Luke Jackson was going in for a layup and Bill Russell was trying to chase him down and block the shot,” Cunningham recalled. “It was almost like something was wrong with the scoreboard. It said a lot about Bill Russell and what a competitor he was, that he was playing like that until the end.”
The Sixers won the first three games of the series, but the Celtics staved off elimination with a 121-117 win in Game 4 at Boston Garden. Sam Jones led Boston with 32 points and Havlicek scored 31, while Russell added nine points and 28 rebounds.
Jackson scored 29 points and added 18 rebounds for the Sixers while Chamberlain had another triple-double: 20 points, 29 rebounds, and 10 assists
So the Celtics had life, but the Sixers won Game 5 by the biggest margin all series. Yet it wasn’t that easy. The Sixers trailed, 37-26, after the first quarter. But they cemented the win by outscoring Boston by 29 points in the second half, including 40-22 in the fourth quarter.
In the five games against Boston, Chamberlain averaged a triple-double -- 21.6 points, 32 rebounds and 10 assists. His counterpart Russell averaged 11.4, 23.4 and 6.0.
Greer had a big series, averaging 29.2 points and 5.0 assists. Walker (20.6 points and 6.8 rebounds), Wali Jones (19.4 points), Jackson (13.4 points and 12.8 rebounds), and Cunningham (12.4 points and 6.2 rebounds) off the bench all had a solid series.
“It was such a great feeling to beat the Celtics,” Cunningham said.
That feeling didn’t last long as Chamberlain prepared to play in his second NBA championship series.
After the Sixers had eliminated the Celtics to end the dynasty, they then had to face a talented San Francisco Warriors team in the Finals.
The Sixers won the championship in six games and Chamberlain was finally able to celebrate.