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Friday, November 28, 2014

“Bock to the Future”: 1970 NBA Finals, Game 7

This is what we’ve been reduced to.

With the NBA labor situation still in a tenuous teeter, and with the interwebs already plush with reams of creative, clever, and compelling distractive fodder, content angles – at least original ones – tend to dry up right quick. Which is why, after a lot of thought… Let me just start that sentence over: Which is why, after basically no thought whatsoever, we decided to turn to a completely unoriginal template of sports entertainment to help get us through the coming weeks: the running diary.

But rather than chronicle the Euro Cup, FIBA Americas, or the WNBA – fresh, new, lively things like, as they happen – we at KnickerBlogger will instead try our hand at retrospective look-back diaries of classic Knick games past. I wish I were kidding.

Look, we get it: You already know the outcome; we aren’t learning anything we didn’t already know; we’re too lazy to come up with anything better. All these things are patently correct. Still, it’s better than reading Bleacher Report, right?

To aid us, I’m busting out the totally awesome eight-DVD Knicks box set I got for Christmas a few years ago. It features 10 or so classic games, spanning from the teams’ first title in 1970 to their unlikely dash to the ’99 Finals. Ewing and the boys’ upset of the Celtics in the ’90 playoffs; Bernard’s Christmas Day eruption; Allan Houston’s miracle runner, the Knicks-Nuggets brawl from 2010 — they’re all here, in delicious, pixelated crispness. Ok, maybe not that last one.

With that – and for karma’s sake –  we present our first installment in our (hopefully very, very short) Bock to the Future series: Game 7 of the 1970 Finals between the Knicks and the Lakers, broadcast by the ABC team of Chris Schenkel and Jack Twyman.

Spoiler alert: Someone plays hurt!

 

8:56 – No flashy graphics, no sterile studio theme songs. The Introductory shot for the telecast – shown on delay in most of the country – features a single, two-line introduction, all in white letters: Madison Square Garden; New York City.

Damn straight.

Here’s the next graphic, rendered precisely how it appeared on my television screen:

PLAYOFF SERIES

NEW YORK       3
LOS ANGELES   3

Neat, huh?

9:00 – Game 7 of the NBA World Championship, “brought to you live! AND in color!”

9:01 – At this point, no one’s really sure if Willis will play. So they show the rest of the guys warming up. One thing you notice immediately: “Quick releases” weren’t exactly commonplace forty years ago. Back then, shots were much more deliberate – you could even say aimed. Quick gunners like Jerry West were far more the exception than the rule.

9:02 – Red Holzman starts talking about Willis, using words like “optimistic” and “if he can.”

I’m sorry, Jack Twyman, how much cortisone did you say that was?

“WAIT, THERE’S WILLIS COMING OUT NOW!”

Willis Reed, mid pain.

The pictures are one thing. But to be deprived of the true volume that shook the Garden rafters that night is nothing if not a minor tragedy. What a moment.

9:04 – Schenkel and Twyman are very concerned about Willis “moving the cortisone around.” Basically, The Captain can’t feel his leg. The camera then focuses on Wilt, who looks less than enthused. For those who don’t remember, Wilt scored 89 points in a Game 6 Laker rout, when the Knicks basically platooned everyone in their lineup against the Laker Goliath, to no avail. Wilt was definitely not expecting this.

9:07 – Introduction time! Gotta say, love the straight-up organ. Not to mention the fact that, upon hearing their name, dudes just run out on to the court, stop, and put their arms behind their back. No smoke or lasers, or smoke lasers, or smoke made of lasers, or lazer-smoked Final Countdowns.

9:10 – Just realized a sizeable flaw in my plans: The game clock is nowhere to be seen. Luckily, c.2000 DVD machines still have clock “displays” – mine’s at the top of the screen – so at least we have something to go by.

Now the National Anthem, which is also played on an organ. You can just smell the cigarette and cigar smoke wafting through the Garden. Or see it anyway.

9:12 – And… the jump!

Willis scores the first two Knick field goals– both mid-range jumpers. Balls.

9:15 – Reed picks up his first foul against Chamberlain down low, sending Stilt to the stripe. Wilt’s free throw shooting is a kind of microcosm of his career: The whole thing looks effortless, and often times it was; but it was also flippant, distracted –conducted as if it were all somehow trivial. Then again, when you’re a multi-sport athlete like Wilt — and no, we’re not talking about volleyball – it can be hard to reach your full potential in one or the other pursuit. You know what I mean.

9:17 – Knicks jump out to a 9-2 lead. It’s been said many times, always with the benefit of hindsight, that the game was basically won at this point. But people forget this Lakers team was arguably the first incarnation of a Big Three, with Jerry West, an aging Elgin Baylor, and a still-dominant Chamberlain leading the charge. That has to count for something.

By the way, I know it was a totally different era — played in a very different style and tempo — but Jerry West was really, really good.

9:19 – Clyde on the line for the second time now. Like Wilt, Clyde’s free throw style kind of sums up his game: Cool, smooth, but all the while imparting an unmistakable concentration and focus.

9: 20 – I swear to God Wilt just dunked without jumping.

9:22 – Willis picks up foul number two. Normally, you’d yank your star player with two fouls this early in the game. But this – among many other things – is what made Holzman such a great coach: He knew Willis wouldn’t be able to go the whole game; all the team needed was a few minutes of holding Wilt in check. Reed could’ve picked up five fouls in the first two minutes, and Holzman would’ve kept him out there. The two early buckets were just a bonus.

Dashin' & 'Stachin'

9:25 – Knicks up 28-16 already – the game quickly slipping away from the Forum Blue & Gold. Speaking of which: What was with yellow paint all over the Garden court – outlining the lanes, even? This is Madison Square Garden, right?

9:27 – Wilt misses one of his… how do I describe this … jumping finger rolls? It was no skyhook, but I feel like this shot is similarly underutilized in today’s NBA. Then again, there aren’t too many centers who routinely have a 5-inch height advantage over their defender. Either way, what a fun shot! Knicks still up 13.

9:28. – Reed really can’t walk at this point, despite 200cc of cortisone. He even needs help sitting down for a timeout. Yet he remains in the game. What a beast.

9:29 – Frazier drives it to the left baseline, stops, gives a pump fake, gets his guy to commit, and buries a 15-foot rainbow jumper. Beautiful.

9:31 – End of the first quarter, with the Knicks up 31-18. At this point, you can see how the hindsight commentary had it that the game had been won with Willis’ first two buckets. The Lakers just look dazed and defeated. Meanwhile, half of the Knick bench players have popped collars on their white warm-ups. Just outstanding.

At this point ABC flashes another indelible graphic. “Graphic.”:

WALT FRAZIER

15 POINTS
4 ASSISTS
4 REBOUNDS

Yikes.

9:32 – Oh right, almost forgot about this part: back in the old-timey days, they used to have a jump ball at the start of every quarter! Not gonna lie, I kind of like the rule.

9:33 – DeBusschere hits a 20-footer from the right wing. For all of Dave’s much-needed toughness and rebounding, people forget he had a pretty refined offensive game — shooting, passing, the whole nine. Just another example of how well oiled a machine this team really was.

Frazier gets his 43rd steal of the game and hits Bradley for a running lay-in. Knick starting to pull away again.

9:35 – Schenkel uses his abacus to figure out that the Knicks are shooting 73 percent to start the game. Must be the short nets.

Another thing that’s pretty easy to notice: With the exception of Reed and Wilt, pretty much everyone on the court weighs under 180 pounds. Jerry West in particular is an absolute twig. OK, sorry – lithe. Knicks up 44-27.

9:36 – Schenkel just described the “usually blasé crowd” as being comparatively “rabid.” Wait, what?

9:37 DeBusschere hits reserve guard Mike Riordin with a beautiful fast break feed. Man could this team pass.

9:39 – An iconic moment: West starts a fastbreak with a full head of steam, only to be savagely ripped before half court by a waiting Clyde, who takes it the other way for an and-one — a vintage sequence punctuated by the image of the ball slowly swirling around the rim before dropping through. Knicks up 19.

Now Riorden forces West into an over-and-back at half-court. Lakers are unraveling very quickly.

9:41 – Twyman informs us that, in fact, it wasn’t 200cc of cortisone that Reed received, but two. Close enough. This prompts Schenkel to rib his partner by wondering aloud whether Twyman had confused Reed with an elephant in the circus, which was in town at the same time. Poor Jack…. aaaaan Dick Barnett flips a ridiculous shot over Chamberlain in the lane – a foot difference in height be damned. Just one of those games.

9:42 – Barnett goes to the line. It has to be mentioned that, in the pantheon of all-time ridiculous free-throw forms – Manute Bol, Bill Cartwright, Robert Parish, Anthony Mason and, of course, Rick Barry all have seats – I’ve never seen one as unhinged as Dick’s. A lefty, Barnett would start off normally enough, with his right foot cocked slightly back and his body relatively square to the basket. He dribbles once, spins the ball a little, and then – out of nowhere – flails his right leg back wildly as he releases. You have to see it to believe it.

9:44 – It’s incredible how often Wilt looks to pass. It’s as if he over-internalized all the criticisms of him being too “selfish” to be a leader. So instead of finding the appropriate balance, he instead took on an overly-deferential role, even though he was clearly still dominant enough to do whatever he wanted on the low block. Actually I think there were no less than 10 books written about that very subject. Consider them cited.

Also: I’d be interested to see how many turnovers the Lakers had in this game. They have to have at least 10 already.

9:46 – “And the chant is for defense!” Indeed. Also, Willis looks like he’s dragging a dead bison shank where his leg’s supposed to be.

Random observation: A lot more suits sported in the crowd back then. Which you wouldn’t expect in the bygone days when tickets were, like, a dollar.

9:51 – Wilt on the line again. Brick… Brick.

Cazzie Russell scores on a 10-foot baseline put back, Knicks up 25. The Knicks rebound a Laker miss and Frazier takes it coast-to-coast for a beautiful layup… YES, A GRAPHIC!

Field Goal Pct.

LAKERS     36%
KNICKS     56%

Golly those really get me going!

9:53 – Frazier absolutely rips Baylor at the free throw line, taking it for yet another coast-to-coast layup. I’m finally understanding why Clyde had an entire section of Rockin’ Steady dedicated to catching flies with your bare hand. Knicks up 67-40.

9:56 – Halftime. Mercifully. As much as I’m hoping here for wave of vintage cigarette and booze commericals, the screen flashes instead to second half warm-ups and — you guessed it — a graphic!

TURNOVERS

LAKERS   14
KNICKS    6

Jack Twyman informs us that Willis received another 2,000,000cc of cortisone in the locker room at halftime…. Sorry, 2cc. Not 2 million. My bad.

10:01 – Second half jump. Lakers win it. How adorable. L.A. comes out with a hell of a lot more energy for the second half, but their shots just aren’t falling. If they were, Wilt would’ve had 20 assists by now. Easily.

If that ball'd had blond hair!

10:04 – West with a beautiful drive and reverse layup, giving him the quietest 17 points I think I’ve ever seen. Lakers cut it to 23. Emphasis on 23.

10:06 – Frazier mercilessly mugs some poor backup at half-court. I’m not even going to bother looking up his name. Here’s the thing about Clyde’s steals: It’s not like they’re stealth pokes on crossovers or overt gambles; he’s just charging in head-on from four or five feet away as his man crosses the stripe. It’s really a sight to behold.

10:07 – Chamberlain gets the rebound down low and… passes to the top of the key. Good decision, Stilt!

DeBusschere and Bradley score on consecutive possessions, putting the Knicks up….I have no idea what the score is… oh there it is! 85-58.

10:12 – Schenkel just described MSG as a “wedding cake-like structure.” I actually got married three weeks ago, so this hits pretty close to home. Why my wife and I didn’t think of having a brownish-grayish soot-infused half cylinder cake gracing our post nuptial reception, I’ll never know.

Clyde goes to the line again. It’s the first time you can see the mutton-chop-mustache combo up close. It’s quite intense. Let’s just say the bedroom ceiling mirrors makes a lot more sense now.

10:15 – DeBusschere grabs the rebound, goes coast-to-coast for the layup. At this point, a completely crippled Willis Reed is the only one yet to accomplish this feat.

10:16 – Schenkel reminds us not to miss Nixon’s 10pm press conference, immediately following the game. Thanks, Chris.

Knicks still up 25. I know what you’re thinking: Why would you pick such an obvious, lopsided game to launch this series? Here’s why: Just because a game isn’t close doesn’t mean it isn’t exciting. To the contrary, watching these Knicks really is like watching poetry in motion. And you know what they say about clichés: They have to be true first. Actually I just made that up.

10:19 – They finally show Holzman, back turned as he patrols down the sidelines towards center court. As fun as watching these grainy old games is, one thing you really start to miss are the candid shots of the coach. After all, there’s nothing like bursting capilarries and gin blossomsto remind you that this is, at the end of the day, a boy’s game.

10:20 – Schenkel, after Baylor hits a 20-foot baseline jumper to cut the lead to 21, 100-79: “Well, Elgin Baylor now starting to warm up! He has 14 points!”

10:22 – Chamberlain, now sufficiently pissed off, proceeds to savagely dunk over his hapless opponent on the next five possessions. No, not really.

Just now realizing that Barnett’s jumpshot is just as strange as his free-throw. How interesting — how bizarre!

10:25 – Schenkel, after a rather attractive Baylor drive and hanging finger flip in the lane: “Weeelll!….. What a play!” You could seriously drizzle Chris’ disdain for Baylor over pancakes.

10:31 – …Now I’m just getting distracted. The two teams basically trade baskets for the rest of the game, with the Knicks going on to win 113-99. Of course, Willis wins the MVP.

Frazier’s final line? 36 points (on 12 of 17 shooting and 12 of 12 from the line), seven rebounds, and 19 assists. However savage, I guarantee none of those — and no basketball stat whatever — was the most impressive number Clyde pulled down that night.

The Knicks would win another title three short years later, over these same Lakers no less. Since then, fortunate has largely betrayed our beloved Bockers, who are fast-approaching 40-years sans a trophy. Which should help us appreciate just how special and talented these teams really were. Clyde, the Captain, Dollar Bill, The Pearl, Bussch (giggle!), Red — these guys had personalities to match their considerable talents, playing the game with a sync and style that was based as much on fundamentals as finesse. If any of you haven’t taken the time to check out one of their games, I highly recommend it.

Well, we hope you enjoyed this first of many installments of Bock to the Future. And by “many,” I mean “two or three.” Needless to say, we’ll try to mix it up with a few games from various eras. Any suggestions? Post ‘em. Or tweet ‘em. Whatevs.

 

6 comments on ““Bock to the Future”: 1970 NBA Finals, Game 7

  1. Nick C.

    Good stuff. So this big 3 thing is not original. My my. :-) Barnett was known, or at least I have read and heard, for his unique shooting style. Every now and then Clyde will pop out with the “fall back baby jumper” in reference to Barnett.

  2. Z-man

    A belated thanks for this Jim. I was in 12-13 year old heaven during this time and listened to virtually every minute of every non-televised regular season and playoff game on the radio with Marv doing the play-by-play. Even after my Mets and Jets had just done the impossible, nothing compared to this moment in my life as a sports fan. While I loved Clyde, Dave D, Dollar Bill, Tricky Dick and the rest, it is difficult to impress upon the current fan how far above them Willis Reed was in the eyes of the fan of that day. He was literally larger than life, a truly revered, heroic, and inspirational figure that far transcended his stats. In 1969-70, Bill Russell had just retired, and Wilt, then viewed by many as the most imposing figure in all of sports (in 1971 there was serious talk of him fighting Ali), was still out there, starving for a championship, without Bill Russell to get in the way, and with Baylor and West to boot. The Knicks, despite being one of the NBA’s original franchises and playing in the greatest city in the country, had not yet won a title, and the entire city was in an absolute frenzy over this series. Then Willis goes down in Game 5, and Wilt, the mythical giant who every kid in schoolyard knew had gone for his legendary 100 against us, goes off in game 6. With the title so close I could taste it, I was absolutely devastated, resigned to the fact that it wasn’t gonna happen, not with Wilt and West in the way, not without The Captain. Then the impossible happens:Willis, the stoic Captain, drags himself out of the tunnel, sticks the first two shots, and lifts his formerly hapless franchise on his back, even if for just a few minutes, and wills them to the title in front of the home fans.

    In short, I hope the Knicks win another title or 10 before I take the deep six, but I wouldn’t trade ten titles for that awesome childhood memory, and will never tire of its re-telling.

  3. Jim Cavan (@JPCavan) Post author

    A belated thanks for your thanks! Glad you enjoyed it, Z-man.

    @kaine — Challenge accepted!

  4. ATCQ

    I was seven and living in Port Chester when this game was played. The TV broadcast was blacked out in the New York area, available only on tape delay at 11:30. So I listened to Marv Albert on the radio, with increasing joy at every Knick basket. It’s one of my happiest memories from childhood.

    Even though the next day was not a school day, my parents would not let me stay up to watch the tape delay. So I never saw the game until recently, when I got a Knicks’ DVD collection that included this game. What most surprised me about it was just how much the Knicks relied on the jump shot here, and just how well they shot that night. I knew that the early 70s Knicks were a jump shooting team, but it was still pretty amazing to see a team score that consistently from outside. It was also amazing to watch the Lakers let Clyde victimize them time and time again with his ball-hawking.

  5. ATCQ

    I was seven and living in Port Chester when this game was played. The TV broadcast was blacked out in the New York area, available only on tape delay at 11:30. So I listened to Marv Albert on the radio, with increasing joy at every Knick basket. It’s one of my happiest memories from childhood.

    Even though the next day was not a school day, my parents would not let me stay up to watch the tape delay. So I never saw the game until recently, when I got a Knicks’ DVD collection that included this game. What most surprised me about it was just how much the Knicks relied on the jump shot here, and just how well they shot that night. I knew that the early 70s Knicks were a jump shooting team, but it was still pretty amazing to see a team score that consistently from outside. It was also amazing to watch the Lakers let Clyde victimize them time and time again with his ball-hawking.

    Thanks for bringing out those happy memories.

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