Friday Flashback: 1975 NBA Finals

1975

Right now the Golden State Warriors are competing in their fourth straight National Basketball Association (NBA) finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers.  Although the Warriors are one of the most dominant teams in the NBA right now, they went a long stretch between finals.  In the 1975 NBA finals, the Golden State Warriors was underdogs against the heavily-favored Washington Bullets.  The Bullets had rolled through the season with a 60-22 record while the Warriors got in with a record of 48-34 which was actually the best record in the Western Conference.

This was the first championship game or final in North American professional sports which feature two African American head coaches with Al Attles for the Warriors and K.C. Jones with the Bullets.

The Warriors last made the NBA Finals in 1967, when they were still in San Francisco. In the years since, they moved to Oakland, briefly lost Rick Barry to the American Basketball Association, and named Warriors great Al Attles as head coach. Before the start of the 1974–75 season they traded future Hall of Famer Nate Thurmond to the Chicago Bulls for young center Clifford Ray. They also drafted Jamaal Wilkes, then known as Keith Wilkes, out of UCLA. With Barry as the offensive leader, and with Attles using a team approach to coaching, the Warriors managed to finish the season atop the Western Conference with 48 wins. In the playoffs, they defeated the Seattle SuperSonics in six games, then eliminated the Chicago Bulls in seven games to advance to the Finals.

The Bullets were led by Wes Unseld and Elvin Hayes.  They defeated the Buffalo Braves and the defending champion Boston Celtics in the playoffs.

In Game One, the Bullets built a 14-point lead at the half over the Warriors at the Capital Centre. The Warriors began to storm back, with Phil Smith coming off the bench to score 20 points in 31 minutes of playing time, as Golden State took the first game, 101–95.

In Game Two, the Bullets jumped to an early 13-point lead, but Golden State battled back, led by 36 points from Rick Barry, to take a 92–91 lead in the closing seconds. Washington got the ball back with six seconds left but missed two shots and now were down 2–0.

Rick Barry poured in 38 points in Game Three while backup center George Johnson had 10 points and nine rebounds off the bench to help the Warriors to a 109–101 win.

Finding themselves in an 0-3 deficit, the Bullets seemed to be on their way to staving off an unexpected sweep by the underdog Warriors, leading by 14 points early on. Bullets forward Mike Riordan was assigned to guard Barry, who had killed the Bullets in the series up to that point by averaging 35 points a game.  After a brawl following a hard foul on Barry, he immediately went on a scoring spree.  The Warriors’ pressure defense, brought them back and guard Butch Beard scored the last seven points of the game, including two free throws to make the final score 96–95.

Barry was named as the series MVP.

It has been ranked as one of the biggest upsets in NBA finals history.

 

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