Eastern champions Boston Celtics
Western champions Milwaukee Bucks
Period 1973 – 1974
Number of teams 17
|TV partner(s) CBS|
Eastern runners-up New York Knicks
Champion Boston Celtics
Number of games 82
Finals champion Boston Celtics
|League National Basketball Association|
Top scorer Bob McAdoo (Buffalo Braves)
Season MVP Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Milwaukee Bucks)
The 1973–74 NBA season was the 28th season of the National Basketball Association. The season ended with the Boston Celtics winning the NBA Championship, beating the Milwaukee Bucks 4 games to 3 in the NBA Finals.
The NBA opened the year still very impressed with the New York Knicks' second-ever NBA title from a year ago. Much publicized, the team largely played this year as a victory lap, particularly after cornerstone Dave DeBusschere announced his pending retirement halfway through the season. Their opponent in three of the last four NBA Finals, the Los Angeles Lakers, also went through some key changes. Wilt Chamberlain had taken the money and run to San Diego of the ABA, which came to mean the end of his colossal career. Jerry West played just 31 games due to injury, and that likewise spelled the end to his nearly peerless career at guard. These two teams, which had led the league from two huge cities and carried the NBA to new media heights, were now poised to decline, which now gave strong runners-up from a year ago their chance to ascend.
There were no 60-win monsters this season, but four teams did win over 50 games. Two of them, Milwaukee and Boston cast strong shadows all season long, each led by powerful individual forces determined to win.
Milwaukee won a league-high 59 of 82 NBA games, led again by superstar Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Jabbar had not seen the NBA Finals since the controversial changing of his name, but now had no Wilt Chamberlain to prevent his return. He averaged 27 points per game, making more field goals, 948, than any player in the league. The Bucks were again the top shooting team in the NBA and led in average margin of points over opponents as well. Second in minutes played and in the new blocked shots category, Jabbar was a peerless presence all season long. One player, Atlanta's high-scoring Pete Maravich, tried more shots, but Jabbar sank his tries at a 53.9% clip, second best in the NBA. The rest of the Bucks lineup provided good support for Jabbar, but age and injuries remained a concern into the playoffs.
The Boston Celtics cast a very determined shadow across the East with 56 wins, willed by 33-year-old captain John Havlicek. The swingman star was again All-Defense while scoring 22.8 points per game. Hondo even leaked into the NBA's top assists category with six per game on average. More impressive than Havlicek, however, was the continued intensity and standout play of 6' 9 245-pound center Dave Cowens. Cowens added 19 points per game and was second in the NBA in rebounds, leading the best board team in the league. Like Milwaukee's Jabbar, he was a fixture in minutes played. But he was a star with a solid team around him, including guard Jo Jo White. The Celtics did not have The Player, but very much looked like The Team.
Milwaukee's 59 wins won the Midwest Division, but not by much. The Chicago Bulls and Detroit Pistons each again posted strong campaigns to finish second and third in the division, with the third and fourth best records in the entire league.
Chicago, led again by coach Dick Motta, followed the same tried and true formula of scoring from the forwards and strong defense overall. Forward Bob Love rarely saw a shot he didn't like at 21.8 points per game. The Bulls impressed all season long in being able to deny opponents easy shots with strong, clean defense that did not often foul. Cliff Ray stepped in for an injured Tom Boerwinkle and performed solidly, the team not missing a beat. Jerry Sloan and Norm Van Lier each were in the top ten in the new steals category, Sloan ranking fourth in the NBA.
Detroit's hard luck team showed some of its potential this year. Former player Ray Scott had taken over for Butch Van Breda Kolff's controversial mentorship and was now leading a winner. Bob Lanier emerged as the solid center every team covets with 22.5 points per game on 50% shooting and 13.3 rebounds with four assists per game as well. Big Bob also averaged three blocks a game. Former scoring champion Dave Bing was back, quarterbacking his club with seven assists per game and adding 18.8 per game in scoring. Vision problems still dogged him, hampering what had once looked like a sure Hall Of Fame career. Detroit's 52 wins would have won the Pacific Division. Third in the Midwest, they simply hoped to be allowed into the playoffs.
Five other NBA teams won half their games to make a total of nine out of 17 total teams; there were no Philadelphia 76er disasters like there had been a year ago. The playoff format took a closer look at records this year to answer criticisms of recent years past that had strongly tied playoff selections to the league's four divisions. It allowed some deserving teams to participate, which many were glad to see.
Boston met 42-40 Buffalo in Round One, the Braves finishing as a third-place team in the Atlantic Division. The Braves were led by self-promoting superstar Bob McAdoo, the NBA's most dangerous shooter at 30.6 points per game and 54.7% accuracy, both tops in the NBA. The Big Mac was also among the NBA's top five rebounders and shot blockers, an impressive feat. Jack Ramsay's club was well-balanced and deep, with Ernie DiGregorio as the pure point guard to lead his offense. The six-game series was very close, with the last three games decided by three points or less. But Boston's defense gave them a series win four games to two.
The aging Knicks had dropped to 49 wins to finish second in the Atlantic, and again drew the Bullets as their first playoff opponents --- the Capital City Bullets. Washington, D.C. was slyly and slowly taking over Baltimore's team. But the 47-win Bullets were still largely the same bunch. Elvin Hayes and Phil Chenier were the team stars this year, with Wes Unseld battling knee injuries. Hayes had stepped up to lead the NBA in rebounds. The 6'10 240-pounder was also a leading shot blocker, while Chenier proved to be one of the league's best all around guards at both ends of the floor. The team, now coached by former Celtic K.C. Jones, gave the Knicks a tough full-seven game series, but the outcome was the same. Game Four went to overtime and Game Five ended 106–105, both Knick wins. Boston and New York were now set for another huge East final.
Milwaukee met the 47-win Los Angeles Lakers, winners of the Pacific, in the first round, but these were now different Lakers. Elmore Smith had come over from Buffalo to lead the league in blocks. Connie Hawkins had come over from Phoenix, and Happy Hairston was back on the boards. Gail Goodrich continued to bewilder critics with a 25.3 scoring average, trying and making more free throws than any other NBA player at an 86% clip. Like the Knicks, the Lakers were deep and smart. And old. The Bucks blew them out for a 4–1 series win which signaled a clear change between the two teams in their rich rivalry.
Chicago got to meet Detroit in a seven-game war, using their fourth home game to barely survive the Pistons. Five of the seven games were decided by five points or less, all hotly competitive. Bob Lanier tried mightily to make up for his forwards, but the all-star fell just short. Milwaukee and Chicago kept that Midwest theme alive in the second round for the West final.
Boston made it plain they would not play around with New York this year, with two big double-digit romps to start the series. The Knicks, clearly now led by their stellar backcourt of Walt Frazier and Earl Monroe, showed some heart by beating Boston in Boston in Game Three. But that proved a final parting shot for the New Yorkers who had been in three of the last four NBA Finals. Havlicek made sure of that almost single-handedly, leading a 4–1 series win.
Chicago's forwards and guards appeared to outplay Milwaukee for four games. But Ray was no match for Jabbar at center, and coach Larry Costello's team got a good bench boost as well to pound the Bulls in four straight. Only Game Two in Chicago had been close. Jabbar was just as determined as Havlicek.
Milwaukee was favored in the NBA Finals, with Cowens looking up at the 7' 2 Jabbar. But the Boston center conceded nothing, averaging 20 points and 13 rebounds in courageous play. The series would be a classic, going the full seven games. Jabbar got some solid help in the shooting of Bobby Dandridge and the passing of 35-year-old wore-out Oscar Robertson. But the Celtics hung tough, even after losing 102–101 in a legendary double-overtime affair at Boston Garden that saw Jabbar throw in a 15-foot hook shot to win the game at the buzzer.
Game Seven in Milwaukee saw the Bucks poised to win their second title in four years. But Cowens turned in a huge 28-point game with aggressive defense to push the Celtics to 102–87 upset. Havlicek had averaged 27 points and six assists in 18 playoff games to win his first NBA title ring without Bill Russell. But it was Cowens, who had saved his best game for last, who stood out most in proving he was in fact center-enough to lead an NBA champion past the taller giants of the league.
Note: All information on this page were obtained on the History section on NBA.com