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The Spring of 1974


Ah the spring. Spring time in Boston means three things; the Boston Marathon, the new Boston Red Sox season and the dueling playoff seasons of the Boston Celtics and the Boston Bruins. Every April fans tune in and buy tickets to see the NHL and NBA playoffs with extra incentive if their teams are in. While both franchises have had success in the past 10 years, rarely was it together. Most recently last year when the Celtics were on their run to the Eastern Finals, the Bruins were eliminated in the first round. In 2013 when the Bruins made the Stanley Cup Finals, the Celtics were out in the first round. In 2009 both teams were out in the second round and a year later the Celtics made the NBA Finals while the Bruins collapsed in the second round. The only moderate success the two teams had together was in 2011 when the Bruins hoisted the Stanley Cup but the Celtics were out in the second round. In 2008 when the Celtics were NBA Champions, the Bruins were one and done. Has their ever been dueling world champions in the same city? No, but there have been close calls.

In 1980 the Philadelphia Flyers and the Philadelphia Sixers both made the Finals but the Flyers lost to the New York Islanders while the Sixers fell to the Los Angeles Lakers. In 1972 the New York Knicks fell to the Lakers in the NBA Finals while the New York Rangers were upended by our very own Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup Finals. Different cities but in the same state, the San Antonio Spurs were NBA Champions and Dallas Stars were Stanley Cup champions in 1999. What about Boston, have they ever had dueling success? In 1988 the Bruins made the Stanley Cup Finals and the Celtics made the Eastern Finals, but you’d have to go back to 1974 to where the city of Boston came THIS close to dueling world titles. Let’s start with the Celtics.

The Celtics need no introduction as they were a production line of talent and world championships from 1957 to 1969. Anchored by coach/general manager Red Auerbach and center Bill Russell, the Celtics won 11 out of 13 titles including their sweetest in 1969 after they were written off as too old. The dynasty ended with a splat in 1970. Not only Bill Russell the player, but Bill Russell the coach retired along with sharpshooter Sam Jones. Tom Heinsohn was hired to be the new coach but he was a lot less respected than famous coach/general manager Red Auerbach and Russell were. John Havlicek, Don Nelson, Larry Siegfried, Bailey Howell, Satch Sanders Don Chaney and Emmette Bryant returned for 1970, but without Russell controlling the rebounds and the shooting of Sam Jones, the Celtics plummeted to a 34-48 record, narrowly avoiding last place one year after winning it all. Red knew that he could never replace Bill Russell but he needed a new center. Hank Finkel was signed to start for the 1970 season but Red found his man in the 1971 draft when he drafted 6’8 center out of Florida State, Dave Cowens. Cowens could hit the outside shot and played with a ferocity unmatched by Milwaukee Bucks center Lew Alcindor or Lakers center Wilt Chamberlain. Cowens couldn’t match them with size so he had to outhustle them. In what would become an important move later, the Celtics took a chance in the 7th round in the draft (yes they had plenty of rounds back then). North Carolina guard Charlie Scott had already committed to the ABA but Auerbach drafted him in the 7th round if and when the ABA collapsed. The Celtics had drafted guard Jo-Jo White and Steve Kuberski the year earlier and combined with Cowens, the newer core began to gel in 1971. They also signed Art “Hambone” Williams off the scrap heap to spell White and Chaney at the guard position. The ’71 Celtics finished 44-38 but due to a ridiculous playoff format, the Celtics missed the playoffs while the 36-46 Atlanta Hawks were in. Nevertheles the Celtics seemed like a team of the future.

Things began to come together in 1972 with Sanders, Havlicek, Nelson, Cowens, White, Chaney, Williams and Kuberski. The Celtics blitzed through the regular season to take a 56-26 record into the playoffs. They dispatched Pete Maravich’s Atlanta Hawks in 6 games to set the stage for an Eastern Finals showdown with the New York Knicks. This is where the Celtics inexperience came back to bite them as well as Willis Reed eating them alive on the boards. The more experienced Knicks knocked out the Celtics in 5 games then went on to lose to the LA Lakers in the NBA Finals. Red needed one more piece and he would get it in one of the biggest heists in history. Charlie Scott worked out a deal to leave the ABA and he wanted to come to the NBA’s Phoenix Suns. “Tut tut!” said Red Auerbach as he owned Scott’s draft rights. He demanded compensation if Scott was going to the Suns and Suns GM Jerry Colangelo made a monumental mistake. Their best rebounder was 29 year old forward Paul Silas but had gotten completely out of shape during the 1972. In those days 29 may as well be 39 and Colangelo figured Silas was all washed up so he sent him to the Celtics for Scott. Auerbach immediately went to Silas and told him that he’s one of the best rebounders in the game so you WILL show up in shape to the 1973 training camp. That’s exactly what happened as Silas shed 30 pounds on the eve of the 1973 season. Red scored in the draft when he drafted guard Paul Westphal with their first pick. The 1973 season was supposed to be one for the ages when the Celtics with all that talent set a franchise record by winning 68 of 82 games played that season. Once again they knocked out the Hawks in 6 games to set up a rematch with the New York Knicks. In those days the playoff format went 1 game apiece so the Celtics game home for Game 3 tied 1-1 and everything was going great….until Havlicek separated his shoulder. No, not a dislocation, a complete separation. The Celtics lost Game 3 without their Hall of Fame forward and lost Game 4 as well to put them in a 3-1 series hole. The Celtics refused to give up and clawed back to win Game 5 98-97 and stole Game 6 in New York to set up a winner take all Game 7 at the Boston Garden. Havlicek tried to play with one arm but once again the more experienced Knicks overmatched the Celtics 94-78. The Knicks went on to defeat (and retire) Wilt Chamberlain and the Lakers to win the 73 Finals. Even though the Celtics had won 11 out of 13, the Knicks apparently were a new “dynasty” with their 2 championships. Cocky Knick fans figured if the 68 win Celtics couldn’t beat the dynasty Knicks, they can’t ever. All Heinsohn’s crew needed was another chance.

While the Boston Celtics fell from grace in 1970, the Boston Bruins were in the process of winning their first Stanley Cup since 1941. The Bruins had fell on hard times in the 1960’s as Montreal’s unfair “territorial draft” kept them stockpiling one superstar after another. Get this, Montreal had the “territorial” right to draft the first player of French Canadian descent. That’s like the Boston Celtics having the “territorial” right to draft the first player of African American descent. Finally the Bruins were able to get a few correct. Johnny Bucyk came over in a trade with Detroit before the 1958 season and finally got some help a decade later. Ed Westfall made his debut in 1962, the Bruins traded for goalie Gerry Cheevers during the 1964 season, the Bruins traded Reg Fleming in 1966 for Johnny Mckenzie, Bobby Orr made his debut during the 1966-67 season, Derek Sanderson (after a cup of coffee in 1966) made his full time debut in 1967-68, that same season defensemen Don “Elbows” Awrey and Dallas Smith made the big club for good, Wayne Cashman and Rick Smith joined the Bruins for good in 1968-69. All that pales to the “Esposito Heist”. Somehow Bruins general manager Milt Schmidt managed to trade garbage to the Chicago Blackhawks for superstar Phil Esposito, sniper Ken Hodge and Fred Stanfield. Think of the Bruins trading Jimmy Hayes and Matt Bellesky to the Pittsburgh Penguins for Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel and Brooks Orpik. By 1970 the Bruins were the best team in the league and they swept the St. Louis Blues for Boston’s first Stanley Cup in 29 years.

The 1971 Boston Bruins were considered the best regular season team of all time setting records only Wayne Gretzky‘s Edmonton Oilers could match. They scored 121 points in 78 games that season and set an NHL record with 10 guys score more than 20 goals in a season. The Bruins looked like a dynasty in the making but they were upended in the first round by the damn Montreal Canadiens again. The Bruins smacked their regular goalie around during the season so they turned to rookie Ken Dryden in their first round matchup with Boston. Dryden was described as a “(expletive) octopus” by Esposito as the Candiens knocked the Bruins out of the playoffs. The Canadiens went on to win the Cup behind Dryden. One year later the Bruins rebounded to knock off the New York Rangers in 6 games to win the Cup again in 1972. The dynasty in the making came to a crashing halt due to two reasons, one out of their control and one they could have avoided. What they had no control over was when the NHL expanded from 6 teams to 12 in 1967 the two best farm teams in the previous 6 team league belonged to the Canadiens (thanks to their unfair draft) and the Boston Bruins. Both farm systems were gutted and the Philadelphia Flyers managed to get most of the good players from each farm system. Joe Watson and Bernie Parent being the most prominent players coming from Boston and although Terry Crisp came to the Flyers from St. Louis, he came to St. Louis from the Bruins system. The second that they did have control over was in 1973 a new professional hockey league was formed, the World Hockey Association. Just like the NBA had to co-exist with the ABA at the time, now the NHL had the WHA up its ass. The teams in the WHA threw boatloads of money at NHL players hoping they would defect to the new league. Some of the Bruins jumped at this chance to make some real money. Derek Sanderson was promised a 2.6 million dollar contract by the Philadelphia Blazers and they had plans to make him an icon. The Blazers lured Johnny McKenzie away to be not only a player but to be their coach as well. After all, who better to coach the wild Sanderson than one of his own? Gerry Cheevers left to join the Cleveland Crusaders and Ted Green left the Bruins to join the New England Whalers. While he didn’t go to the WHA, Ed Westfall jumped ship to the New York Islanders. Sanderson proved to be such a disaster for the Blazers that he was paid a million dollars to go back to the Bruins where he was never the same. The 1973 Bruins down Cheevers, McKenzie, Westfall, Green and a depleted Sanderson fell victim to the improved New York Rangers in the first round of the 1973 playoffs. If that wasn’t bad enough, Fred Stanfield was traded to the Minnesota North Stars for goalie Gilles Gilbert, looking for a real replacement for Cheevers. The two goalies during 1973 were a washed up Jacques Plante and career minor leaguer Ross Brooks. Bobby Schmautz, Gregg Sheppard and Andre Savard

The Celtics began their playoff march on March 30th in the Boston Garden against the Buffalo Braves. They won 107-97 on the backs of Cowens, White, Havlicek and Nelson. The Braves took Game 2 in the Memorial Auditorium 115-105 with 6 Braves in double figures including Bob McAdoo and Providence’s Ernie DiGregorio. Back in Boston for Game 3 the Celtics wiped the floor with the Braves 120-107 with Havlicek pumping in 43 points. Back in Buffalo for Game 4 Bob McAdoo took a 44 point, 16 rebound dump on the Celtics in the Braves 104-102 victory. The crucial Game 5 at the Garden swung the Celtics way 100-97 in a back and forth affair.

One day after the Celtics took Game 5 at the Garden, the Boston Bruins opened their first round playoff series against the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Bruins behind Gilles Gilbert shutout the Leafs 1-0 with the only goal scored by Gregg Sheppard. The very next night at the Garden the Bruins won again 6-3 behind goals from Schmautz, Hodge, Bucyk, Cashman, Esposito and Sheppard.’

On April 12th, one day after the Bruins put away the Leafs to go up 2-0 in their series, the Celtics put away the Braves for good in Buffalo 106-104 to earn a rematch with the New York Knicks in the Eastern Finals.

April 13th saw the Bruins go up 3-0 on the Leafs with another 6-3 victory. This time the goals were scored by Andre Savard, Sheppard, Bucyk, Cashman and Schmautz.

April 14 had a doubleheader as the Bruins and the Celtics both played on this night. The Bruins finished off their 4 game sweep of the Maple Leafs at Maple Leaf Gardens with a gutsy 4-3 overtime victory. Bobby Orr scored with 2:36 left in the third period but the Leafs tied it just over a minute later. Just 87 seconds into overtime, Hodge found the back of the net for the series win. Meanwhile over in the Boston Garden, it was payback time. This time the Knicks were battling injuries while the Celtics were the healthy ones. Willis Reed played only 8 minutes while the Celtics bitchslapped the Knicks 113-88. Havlicek had 25 and White had 22 to pace the offense while the defense stymied the Knicks for the easy victory.

April 16th saw Game 2 in Madison Square Garden being more of the same as Game 1. The Celtics blitzed the Knicks in the third quarter, outscoring them 33-14 and keeping the pace in the fourth to win 111-99. White, Nelson and Havlicek all scored over 20 points in yet another easy win.

April 18th saw the Game 1 semi-final matchup of the Bruins and the Chicago Blackhawks where the Blackhawks took it 4-2.  The game was tied 2-2 when John Marks of the Hawks scored with 3:04 remaining in the third. An empty netter represented the final score and the Bruins were in trouble.

The very next night at the Boston Garden the Knicks broke out to an 84-66 lead going into the fourth quarter. The Celtics rallied but the Knicks held on for a 103-100 victory with Walt Frazier putting up 38 points and 10 rebounds.

April 21st was another double-header with the Bruins and the Garden and the Celtics in New York. The Bruins evened their series in a wild 8-6 win featuring goals from O’Reilly, Esposito, Schmautz, Marcotte and Sheppard plus a hat trick from Bucyk. The Celtics took a 3-1 series lead on New York with a 98-91 victory with a healthy Havlicek scoring 36 points. New York sportswriters started whining that the Knicks were injured and tired yet were crowing and gloating the previous year when Havlicek was playing with one arm. Don Nelson in particular thought the New York media could go pound sand.

April 23rd saw the Bruins fall down 2-1 in the series with a 4-3 loss to the Blackhawks. The Bruins had a 3-1 lead but coughed it up before Jim Pappin scored the winner in overtime.

April 24th was a day of celebration as the Celtics eliminated the Knicks with a 105-94 victory in the Boston Garden in Game 5 to head back to the NBA Finals for the first time in 5 years. Once again it was Havlicek that led the charge with 33 points with Dave Cowens contributing with 19 points and 14 rebounds. Even though the quote wouldn’t be used for another 10 years, I bet Red Auerbach would have loved to say “You guys were talking about the New York dynasty, HERE’S where the dynasty is, right here!”

April 25th the Bruins evened their series with a big 5-2 road win in Chicago over the Blackhawks. Sheppard, Esposito, Hodge, Savard and Cashman all scored in the big win.

April 28th was another doubleheader as the Celtics opened Game 1 of the NBA Finals in Milwaukee with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (formerly known as Lew Alcindor) and the Bucks. Meanwhile in the Boston Garden the Bruins were facing a big Game 5 with the Blackhawks. The Bruins laid waste to the Blackhawks 6-2 to take a 3-2 series lead behind goals by Bucyk, Esposito, Sheppard and Smith.

April 30th was yet another doubleheader as the Celtics dropped Game 2 in Milwaukee by a score of 105-96 in overtime. Abdul-Jabbar had 36 points and 15 rebounds for the Bucks. Meanwhile the Bruins finished off the Chicago Blackhawks in Chicago in Game 6 by a score of 4-2. Marcotte, Sheppard and Esposito did the honors as the Bruins moved on to the Stanley Cup Finals. Both the Celtics and the Bruins would be playing for their respective championships.

May 3rd in the Boston Garden saw the Celtics take a 2-1 series lead by taking Game 3 by a score of 95-83. Abdul-Jabbar had a monster game but Cornell Warner did not. Dave Cowens outplayed Kareem with 30 points in the victory.

May 5th the Bucks evened the series in the Boston Garden with a 97-89 victory on the back of Kareem’s 34 points and 14 rebounds. Chaney, Nelson and Silas combined for just 18 total points in the loss.

May 7th was a doubleheader as the Bruins hosted Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals against the Philadelphia Flyers while the Celtics traveled to Milwaukee for Game 5 of the NBA Finals. The Flyers were led by Bobby Clarke, Dave Schultz, Terry Crisp and Bernie Parent. To counter the “Big Bad Bruins”, Philly media called them the “Broad Street Bullies”. Boston fans had visions of double champions in their head as the Celtics shocked the Bucks 96-87 to put them one win away of the title, Game 6 being at home. Meanwhile the Bruins and the Flyers battled to a 2-2 tie but with 22 seconds left in the game, Bobby Orr potted the winning goal to put the Bruins 3 wins away from the championship. Gregg Sheppard had 16 regular season goals but had scored 11 to this point in the playoffs.

May 9th in the Garden was Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Finals and the Bruins led 2-1 with a minute left in the third when Andre Dupont scored to send the game into overtime. it was not meant to be as Bobby Clarke scored the game winner to send the series back to Chicago tied 1-1.

May 10th was Game 6 of the NBA Finals in the Boston Garden, considered by many to be one of the greatest playoff games ever. Without going into great detail since this is just supposed to be about the dueling title runs, the game went into double overtime. Havlicek banked in a shot with seconds remaining as the crowd began to rush the court, ready to celebrate. With the final shot of the game…Kareem nailed his trademark skyhook to give the Bucks the win and silence the crowd, setting up a winner take all Game 7 in Milwaukee.

May 12th was a great night for Celtics fans but a lousy night for Bruins fans. The bad news was the Flyers took a 2-1 series lead with a 4-1 victory in Philadelphia. The good news was the Boston Celtics were the world champions. The Celtics doubleteamed Kareem in Game 7 the whole game in order to make Cornell Warner beat them. He didn’t and the Celtics survived 102-87 to win their first title in 5 years. Coach Heinsohn, Red the GM, Cowens, Havlicek, Silas, Westphal, Chaney, White, Kuberski, Finkel and the rest celebrated hard.

May 14th was supposed to be the Bruins taking a big step toward joining the Celtics as champions. Instead they took a huge step backwards as the Flyers took Game 4 by a 4-2 score to put the Bruins down 3 games to 1.

The Bruins took a big fat dump in the Flyers championship stew on May 16th in the Boston Garden. Sheppard, Orr, Hodge and Marcotte scored the goals as the Bruins stayed alive with a 5-1 win. At this point the Bruins were just two wins away from dueling championships.

Alas, it all ended in Philadelphia in Game 6 on May 19th. Bernie Parent stoned the Bruins cold and put up a goose egg as the Flyers won the Stanley Cup 1-0.

That was the last time the Bruins and the Celtics have been in their respective Finals together. It was a fun run in the Boston Garden from March 30th to May 19th and although the success was never duplicated, the near misses were sure fun to watch. As of this time the Bruins and the Celtics are in the second round and its been a fun past few weeks. Unless both teams nearly go all the way, nothing will compare to the Spring of 74.

 

 

 

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