The 1972 NBA Finals was the championship series played at the conclusion of the 1971–72 National Basketball Association (NBA) season. The Western Conference champion Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Eastern Conference champion New York Knicks in five games. The Los Angeles Lakers got their first NBA championship since the Lakers moved to Los Angeles from Minneapolis. This season's edition of the Los Angeles Lakers had won an NBA-record 69 regular season games, including 33 wins in a row. They were led by Wilt Chamberlain, the NBA's top rebounder that season. Guards Gail Goodrich and Jerry West were each among the NBA's top ten scorers that season, spearheading the NBA's top offense at 121 points per game. West also led the NBA in assists. The Lakers as a team led all NBA teams in rebounds and assists that season.
Los Angeles had swept a solid 57-win Chicago Bulls team in the playoff's opening round, then defeated the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks (record of 63-19) in six games to win the Western Conference. That historic series had matched Chamberlain against Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and West against Oscar Robertson. Having defeated tough Milwaukee, 48-win New York figured to be an easy formality for the Lakers.
New York was a top defensive team that allowed just 98.2 points per game and made 47% of their shots as a team. They had defeated the 38-win Baltimore Bullets and then upset the 56-win Boston Celtics to win the Eastern Conference final.
Although without Willis Reed because of his knee injury, Jerry Lucas scored 26 points on 13 of 21 shooting to lead the win in the series opener. The 6'9 center was an excellent outside shooter. Chamberlain would not pursue Lucas far from the basket and preferred to position for rebounds instead. The intelligent Lucas exploited this fact. But Lucas was not the only Knick who was red hot. Bill Bradley hit 11 of 12 shots from the field as New York shot 53 percent as a team for the game. The team took advantage of a nearly perfect first half to jump to a good lead and won easily, 114-92. New York hit 16 of their first 20 shots and led after each quarter. The win was considered a surprising upset. Dave DeBusschere added 19 points and 18 rebounds. Walt Frazier triple-doubled with 14 points, 11 assists and 12 rebounds. The high-scoring Lakers backcourt of Jerry West and Gail Goodrich shot a cold 11 of 37, and no Los Angeles players took up their slack. Seventeen thousand five-hundred and five fans saw the game, which was held in Los Angeles.
Heavily criticized for their Game 1 loss in the home opener, the Lakers looked to avenge themselves on their home court again. But at halftime, the score was just 51-50, Los Angeles. Knicks forward DeBusschere, straining in position battles against the gigantic Chamberlain, hurt his side and did not play after the first half. The loss of DeBusschere, a key New York rebounder and defender, would badly hurt the team's chances from this point forward. He had played 43 minutes in Game 1, and the Knicks relied on him heavily. Also playing hurt was New York guard Earl Monroe. The Lakers' Gail Goodrich took advantage and netted 31 points. The still cold-shooting West simply passed and had 13 assists. Chamberlain took advantage of DeBusschere's absence and pulled down 24 rebounds, controlling the middle at both ends of the court. Lucas had foul trouble and sat much of the third quarter, with New York scoring just 11 points in the period. A New York rally in the fourth quarter could not stop a 105-92 Los Angeles win to even the series.
Both teams used short rotations during the series. Los Angeles played each of its starters 40 minutes or more in Game 2, with Chamberlain playing all 48. New York figured to do the same, but now had to deal with injury issues to DeBusschere and Monroe.
Despite injury issues, New York fans were optimistic as the series now headed to Madison Square Garden, where the Knicks went 5-0 vs. the Bullets and Celtics en route to the Finals. The Knicks had gotten their ' split ' in two games in Los Angeles, and now had a chance to take control of the series. DeBusschere gamely attempted to play in the first half, but simply could not overcome his injury. He missed all six of his field-goal attempts. He was hurting and elected not to play in the second half. DeBusschere explained :"I didn't feel I was helping the team,". Lucas, the star of Game 1, tried to take up DeBusschere's slack. He hit 11 of 21 shots for 23 total points and 14 rebounds in 47 minutes of play. He also added a team-high six assists. Frazier added 25 points himself. Bradley went a cold 5 of 17. The Lakers led 52-47 at the half, and with DeBusschere out, took the game over again in the third quarter. Chamberlain and Laker forward Happy Hairston each collected 20 rebounds a piece, with the Laker giant also adding 26 points on 9 of 10 shooting. West and Goodrich combined for 46 points, and Los Angeles danced out to a 22-point lead and took a 2-1 lead in the series with a 107-96 win. Nineteen thousand five-hundred New York fans watched the contest.
New York's team now felt that Game 4 was a must-win game. It proved to be the pivotal match of the series. DeBusschere vowed to play, and the tough New York forward impressed by playing 48 total minutes and pulling down a team-high 13 rebounds. New York led 56-53 at the half. The third quarter was a 25-25 tie, but the Lakers rallied in the fourth quarter. The Knicks gamely hung on, and the game went to overtime when West missed at the regulation buzzer. The overtime was closely contested and came down to a couple of New York misses in the period, and Los Angeles would score 15 points in the overtime to New York's 11, to win 116-111, taking a commanding 3-1 series advantage.
All five Los Angeles starters played at least 45 minutes in Game 4, with Lakers coach Bill Sharman using just seven players total. Chamberlain played all 53 minutes and had 24 rebounds. The Laker starting guards combined for 56 points to again key the team. In the game New York had two players that played at least fifty minutes. Lucas played all 53 minutes, and had 25 points on 11-22 shooting, with 11 assists and eight rebounds. Frazier had 24 points, eight rebounds and eight assists in 50 minutes.
Game 5 back in Los Angeles figured to simply be the conclusion, and it was. New York had spent everything it had in their Game 4 effort. After the game was tied 53-53 at halftime, Los Angeles pulled away from the tired Knicks in the second half.
Chamberlain dominated the middle with 24 points in 47 minutes, and a whopping 29 rebounds. He also had 8 assists and 8 blocked shots. (While blocked shots were not an official NBA stat at that time, announcer Keith Jackson counted up the block shots during the broadcast). West and Goodrich combined for 48 points.
Only Frazier battled for New York in this contest. He had 27 points, seven rebounds and ten assists in 47 minutes for the Knicks.
The Lakers won their first NBA Championship in Los Angeles with a 114-100 victory. The series they had expected to win easily had instead included a spirited New York effort hurt greatly by the injury to DeBusschere. Still, the series win concluded one of the greatest seasons any NBA team ever had.
For the five-game series, Chamberlain had averaged 19.4 points, 23.2 rebounds and several blocks. He was named Championship Series Most Valuable Player.
West had averaged 19.8 points and 8.8 assists, and Goodrich averaged 25.2 points for the series as well. New York was led by the stellar efforts of Frazier and Lucas. Though Lucas had played well all season, many would speculate that the loss of Willis Reed to early-season injury had hurt New York most. They would look to his likely return for the next NBA season to come.
The teams would meet again in the finals the following year, as the Knicks would get their revenge. In a reversal of the 1972 series, the Knicks would win four in a row after losing the opener to win their second NBA title in four years.
Lakers win series 4-1