TV partner(s) ABC
Eastern runners-up Boston Celtics
Start date 1972
Head coach Gene Shue
|Number of teams 17|
Eastern champions New York Knicks
Champion New York Knicks
Number of games 82
|League National Basketball Association|
Season MVP Dave Cowens (Boston Celtics)
Top scorer Nate Archibald (Sacramento Kings)
Similar 1987–88 NBA season, 1968–69 NBA season, 1992–93 NBA season, 1998–99 NBA season
The 1972–73 NBA season was the 27th season of the National Basketball Association. The season ended with the New York Knicks winning the NBA Championship, beating the Los Angeles Lakers 4 games to 1 in the NBA Finals.
Setting the scene
This season began in the wake of the remarkable victory of the Los Angeles Lakers, who ended an agonizing decade of runner-up finishes with their first NBA title on the West Coast. It was also the first Laker title since George Mikan over fifteen years previous. That title had come after a tremendous Western Conference Finals with Milwaukee and their superstar center, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the former title-winning Lew Alcindor. Their rematch in the playoffs figured to decide the next championship just as it had the last two. The East, clearly the dominant half of the league for so long, looked to be the weaker half again at the start of this season as they had the last two years.
It was the East that provided the season's top record. The Boston Celtics won 68 of 82 NBA games, one of the greatest records in history, two more than Milwaukee two years ago, and just one less than Los Angeles last year. The new Celtics were a year older and bolder with young star Dave Cowens at center and point guard Jo Jo White. Cowens was the team's anchor at center, third in the league in both rebounds and minutes played while scoring 20.5 points per game. A physical, active defender as well, Cowens made NBA observers marvel at his energy level and intensity. At 6' 9, he cast a huge presence for his team. Longtime star John Havlicek was still the team's leader, leading the team in scoring, assists and steals. Along with Cowens up front, Boston had tabbed Paul Silas from Phoenix to take the load off of "Hondo" inside. The results included more shots tried and made, more rebounds and more assists than any other NBA team this season.
In the East, Boston drew an Atlanta team with 46 wins, led again by high scorers Lou Hudson and Pete Maravich, who scored 29.7 and 26.2 points per game respectively. Richie Guerin was again the coach with the small rotation of minutes. Deeper Boston jumped on them big early on to win the series four games to two.
Just under the radar was another tough New York – Baltimore matchup. Both teams had over 50 wins and looked very comparable. Baltimore had added super big man Elvin Hayes to help Wes Unseld on the boards and Archie Clark in the scoring column. Yet the Knicks, with 57 wins, did not play around with the Bullets, winning the series 4-1. The Knicks, with three key big men well past age 30, were supporting All-Pro guard Walt Frazier this year in hopes of one last shot at the top themselves. They again had the league's top defense. Now another hotly debated Boston-New York matchup loomed in the East final.
Boston was again the favorite over New York, though many still remembered New York's underdog romp the year before. Leaving little to chance, Boston pounded them 134-109 at home in Game One. New York repaid the favor in Game Two, 129-96. Then, the Knicks stole one in Boston before a double-overtime contest in Game Four at Madison Square Garden. New York hung on to win that as well. New York was up 3–1, but coach Tom Heinsohn's team rallied to win a one-pointer in Game Five, and then Game Six to force a seventh game. But John Havlicek had a badly injured shoulder, playing with a sling and was now shooting left-handed. Because of Havlicek's injury, New York easily handled Boston to complete the series victory, becoming the 1st NBA road team to win Game 7 after leading series 3–1. It was a tough break for Havlicek, who would burn to return the following year, while New York was back in the NBA Finals for the third time in four years.
The Lakers got another rebounding title from Wilt Chamberlain, the eleventh of his colossal career. Wilt also sank an unreal 72.7% of his shots, though he continued to shoot less and less. A far cry from his 50 points per game twelve years ago. But Wilt knew he was part of a team concept that was a proven winner. Jerry West and Gail Goodrich were the scorers again, with Jim McMillian the ready third threat. The Lakers lost key rebounder Happy Hairston after 28 games, but brought over board legend Bill Bridges from crumbling Philadelphia and still won 60 games.
Milwaukee got another huge year from Abdul-Jabbar, who looked again to be the NBA's top player. His 30.2 points per game was second in the league, and he was fourth in NBA rebounds. Only one player, Kansas City's desperate and great Nate Archibald, scored more points. Only two, Archibald and Seattle's controversial Spencer Haywood, tried more shots. But Abdul-Jabbar sank 55% of his shots, tops among high-scoring NBA shooters, and likely again blocked more shots than any big man in the league. The seven footer also added five assists per game. He was the total package. A balanced cast of Bucks supported Abdul-Jabbar en route to another 60-win campaign, their third straight. But both teams were showing some gray streaks as West, Chamberlain, and Oscar Robertson, all all-time greats, were each clearly approaching the end of remarkable careers. The three 60-win monsters drew most of the attention as playoff time arrived, which again rigidly followed the NBA's four divisions. All of the NBA's eight winning teams neatly made the field.
Los Angeles would again turn away a solid Chicago club under coach Dick Motta. The series went the full seven games, which showed the Lakers had clearly dropped a couple notches. Game one had been an overtime affair, while LA needed their fourth home game to win Game Seven 95-92. Chicago, like Baltimore and Atlanta, had become the solid second-tier team that could not get past the giants.
Milwaukee looked to be that fourth giant as they met the 47-win Golden State Warriors. But the Warriors did not read the script. Nate Thurmond wanted to prove he could defend the league's best center and he surely did, dropping Abdul-Jabbar's scoring by eight points and shooting by 12% in the series. Rick Barry had finally rejoined his NBA team from five years ago also, and Clyde Lee starred as well helping Thurmond to a 4–2 series win that wasn't really very close. Game Six ended 100–86. Milwaukee's Robertson saw a solid series fall short.
Meanwhile, Los Angeles was resting, having used three 20-point scorers and Chamberlain's dominance inside to brush off Golden State 4-1. Al Attles' Warriors may still have been celebrating their win over Milwaukee. Game Three was a huge 126-70 Laker win in Oakland. The Warriors won Game Four, but all it did was force the series back to Southern California, where the Lakers clinched in Game Five.
The NBA Finals
The NBA had their third New York – Los Angeles matchup in four years, which marked this remarkable period in media attention. Chamberlain was the giant favorite again at age 36, a role which rarely suited him. Meanwhile, New York used a tandem at center. Thick Willis Reed, sore knees and all, had been kept fresh for the playoffs thanks to Jerry Lucas, primarily a center once again. The two had come to be known as 'Willis Lucas' averaging 22 points and 15 rebounds a game combined during the year. Neither were great shot blockers but both were smart, tough and unselfish, a trait also shared by forward Dave DeBusschere, who was still a very key part of the Knicks success.
Like Robertson, Jerry West reached for the greatness of years past and found some of it gone forever. Earl Monroe eagerly gave Gail Goodrich a better match this time as well. Chamberlain chose not to shoot again, scoring just 10.4 per game in the playoffs for another enigmatic performance that again gave his opponents their opening.
Los Angeles edged out a win in Game One at home. After that, the team concept of New York took over to win the remaining four games. It was clearly revenge for the year before. In a year highlighted by the graying of some of the game's greatest players, New York's three big men had keyed an impressive title run past tough rivals and two 60-win teams to cap impressive careers. For Chamberlain and West, it was one more runner-up finish for the road.
Note: All information on this page were obtained on the History section on NBA.com