Here's my favorite NBA game of all time. Game 5, 1976 NBA Finals. Phoenix vs. Boston. If you watched it, the following recap will really bring you back. Even if you've never heard of it, just read this and you'll be a believer.
Game 5 was a triple-overtime contest. With the series tied 2-2, Boston took a huge lead at Boston Garden but could not hold it. The game was enhanced by several controversies.
Two controversies involved each team's use of timeouts:
(a) With the score tied at 95-95, Boston's Paul Silas attempted to call a timeout near the end of regulation with the Celtics out of timeouts. Referee Richie Powers appeared to have seen Silas signal the timeout, but did not grant it. If he had, the Celtics would have been socked with a technical foul, and the Suns would have awarded a free throw that might have decided the outcome.
(b) The Suns' Paul Westphal also called a timeout with his team out of them, as further explained below.
Another set of controversies involved the clock;
(a) Shortly after hitting the game-tying free-throw with 22 seconds left in regulation, John Havlicek missed the second and rebounded his own miss. He then took a pass from Jo Jo White, dribbled to the right and uncharacteristically attempted a jump shot with eight seconds left (rather than waiting until the final seconds). Westphal rebounded the ball for Phoenix with five seconds left and signaled for a timeout which the referee granted, but the clock was not stopped until three seconds were left.
(b) With three seconds left in the first overtime and the score 101-101, John Havlicek took an inbounds pass and dribbled to the right baseline before attempting a game-winning shot. The clock appeared not to start until Havlicek stopped dribbling and ball-faked before he released the shot.
(c) Havlicek hit what appeared to be the game-winning shot at the end of the second overtime, but his shot went through the basket with two seconds left and the clock should have been stopped, as discussed below.
The most notable portion of the game was the final 20 seconds of the second overtime. Boston led at that point 109-106 (with the three-point basket not yet in existence). Phoenix had possession of the ball. In an amazing and frantic sequence, the following transpired:
(a) The Suns' Dick Van Arsdale hit a short jumper from the corner, cutting the gap to 109-108,
(b) the Celtics inbounded the ball to John Havlicek, but the Suns' Paul Westphal came from seemingly out of nowhere to knock the ball out of Havlicek's hands. As his momentum was carrying him out of bounds, Westphal saved the ball to Van Arsdale, who passed it to Curtis Perry. Perry took an 18-footer from the left wing and missed.
(c) Havlicek went after the rebound on the Perry miss, but couldn't get a grip on it and ended up tapping the ball back to Perry on the left baseline.
(d) Perry then let fly from 15 feet (4.6 m) and made the shot to put the Suns ahead.
Phoenix suddenly led, 110-109, with just six seconds left, and the team looked poised to win their third straight game and grab a 3-to-2 edge in the series. John Havlicek (already of "Havlicek Stole the Ball" fame) responded with a drive and a leaning one-hander in traffic that put Boston in front 111-110 as the horn sounded. The fans then poured onto the court to celebrate Boston's apparent victory. The Celtics returned to their locker room. As CBS analyst Rick Barry passionately and correctly pointed out, the ball went through the hoop with two seconds left and the clock should have been stopped. The officials apparently agreed with Barry and ordered the Celtics back onto the floor. The game was not over.
During the ensuing pandemonium, a fan attacked referee Richie Powers and other fans turned over one of the scorer's tables. After clearing the court (the fan who attacked Powers was arrested) and getting the Celtics back on the floor, the officials put one second back on the clock. Still, Phoenix's chances seemed slim, as they had the ball under their own basket with a second left. Then Paul Westphal of the Suns signaled for a time out that the Suns did not have. Although this resulted in a technical foul being called on Westphal, the play was critical for Phoenix, because the rules at the time gave Phoenix the same advantage (save for the technical foul shot) that they would have had with timeouts remaining to use; namely, possession of the ball at half court. Boston's Jo Jo White made the technical free throw, increasing Boston's lead to 112-110.
During the timeout, fans were still on the Boston Garden floor, even disturbing the Suns' huddle by their bench as coach John MacLeod was drawing up a play for a possible tying basket. The Suns' players repeatedly had to shove the fans out of the way, and Phoenix general manager Jerry Colangelo even threatened to not bring his team back to the Boston Garden for Game 7 if security couldn't maintain control. When play resumed, Phoenix's Garfield Heard took the inbounds pass from Perry and made a buzzer-beating shot (a turn-around jumper at the top of the key) for the Suns that tied the score yet again, 112-112.
Boston eventually took a six-point lead, 128-122, late in the third overtime. Westphal scored the next four points for Phoenix, cutting the gap to 128-126, but could not get the ball again (with Westphal nearly stealing a pass near half court as the third overtime wound down).
Dave Cowens, Charlie Scott, and Paul Silas all fouled out (were disqualified due to six personal fouls) for the Celtics, and Alvan Adams and Dennis Awtrey both fouled out for the Suns. Silas picked up his fifth foul late in the fourth quarter, but played the entire remainder, including all three overtime periods before fouling out late in the third.
The Suns had the lead in the game on only four occasions (twice in the second overtime) and never by more than 2 points. They led 95-94 late in the fourth, and 106-105 and 110-109 in the 2nd overtime. They also led in the third overtime by 114-112.
Glenn McDonald, a little-used Celtic reserve player, scored eight points in the game, all in overtime, including six in the 3rd overtime.
Jo Jo White led all scorers with 33 points.
Pat Riley was a reserve on the Suns' bench, but never got in the game.