Bob Ryan

Celtics’ history in Game 7 is very rich

Paul Pierce and the Celtics outdueled LeBron James and the Cavaliers in one of the classic Game 7s in Boston history in 2008.
Jim Davis/Globe Staff
Paul Pierce and the Celtics outdueled LeBron James and the Cavaliers in one of the classic Game 7s in Boston history in 2008.

We’re not talking about a Boston-Philly series that will live forever in any kind of fond memory — not around here, anyway — but one way or the other the Celtics and 76ers have lurched into a Game 7.

And let’s just put it this way: These guys will have a lot to live up to Saturday night.

There have been 21 previous Game 7s in the two Gardens, and among them are some of the most famous games, and some of the most spectacular performances, in both Celtics and NBA history.


Here’s a sampling:

1. April 13, 1957 - Boston 125, St. Louis 123 (2 OTs)

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The first Game 7 in Celtics history is still regarded by old-timers as the best. Start with the fact that this is the only series of any length in NBA annals to begin and end with the same score: 125-123, two overtimes.

The rookie Bill Russell is magnificent with 32 rebounds and a game-saving block of a Jack Coleman sneakaway attempt in the final minute, but the men who carry the Celtics to the NBA title in the second OT are Frank Ramsey, whose basket makes it 124-121 and provides the winning cushion, and Tom Heinsohn, who soldiers on after Russell fouls out and winds up with 37 points and 23 rebounds. Heinsohn, like Russell, is a rookie, but a rookie whose performance prompts Bill Sharman to say, “I never saw such a game played by a man under pressure.’’

Globe columnist Jerry Nason ranks it among the all-time Boston sports highlights, the first four being Mel Hill’s sudden-death goal in the eighth minute of the third overtime of a 1939 Stanley Cup triumph over Montreal; BC’s 1941 Sugar Bowl victory over Tennessee; Johnny Sain’s 1-0 victory over Bob Feller in the 1948 World Series; and Sandy Saddler’s bloody conquest of Willie Pep in a 1951 bout, one of their four confrontations.

2. April 1, 1959 - Boston 130, Syracuse 125

Heinsohn loves this game. The Celtics come from 16 down, go up by 7, fall behind by a point, and nail it down when the Cooz dribbles the clock down before firing in a one-hander to make it 124-121. The great Dolph Schayes has 35 for the Nats.

3. April 5, 1962 - Boston 109, Philadelphia 107


A fiery series ends with a Sam Jones winner over an onrushing Wilt Chamberlain with two seconds remaining. The Lakers are already in town for the Finals and are present at the game. Says Jerry West, “That was the greatest game I’ve ever seen.’’ He also notes that no one other than Russell could have held Wilt to 22.

4. April 18, 1962 - Boston 110, Los Angeles 107 (OT)

5. This is the Frank Selvy game. Open from the left side with a chance to win in regulation, the Lakers guard misses. Russell takes it from there, dominating the OT while finishing with - pay attention, young’uns - 30 points and 40 rebounds. Elgin Baylor has 41 points and West has 35. In defeat. Always. Boston has Russell, and they don’t.

6. April 10, 1963 - Boston 142, Cincinnati 131

Now that’s an NBA score. Jones, perhaps the most underrated great player in NBA history, has 47. Heinsohn has a quiet 31.

7. April 15, 1965 - Boston 110, Philadelphia 109

Havlicek Stole The Ball, and no more need be said.

8. April 28, 1966 - Boston 95, Los Angeles 93

Red Auerbach’s last game. Crazy ending, with the Celtics allowing a 10-point lead to droop as fans ring the floor, even spilling liquids onto the parquet. Still have my loge ticket stub. Three bucks. Jones makes a long two-hand set, if you can believe that.

9. May 3, 1981 - Boston 91, Philadelphia 90


Context, context, context. With 1:43 remaining in Game 5, the Sixers, leading the series, 3-1, are 6 up with the ball. But the Celtics rally to win in OT, come from 17 back at Philly in Game 6 (the comeback sparked by Cedric Maxwell’s trip to the stands), and then hold the Sixers to 1 point in their final 10 possessions of Game 7 after Philly goes up by 7 with 5:24 to go. Larry Bird’s rare and inexplicable banker at 1:03 breaks an 89-89 tie. “I wanted the ball in my hands,’’ he said. “That’s the only place I wanted it.’’

10. May 13, 1984 - Boston 121, New York 104

Don’t mess with Larry: A 39-12-10 triple-double to finish off a tumultuous series with the Bernard King-led Knicks. Says New York coach Hubie Brown, “His performance was beyond description.’’ It’s almost downright depressing to think that there are basketball fans among us who never saw Larry Bird play. Of course, it’s the same with Bobby Orr.

11. May 30, 1987 - Boston 117, Detroit 114

How about a 36-34 fourth quarter? Bird’s 39-9-9 includes a 13-foot lefty banker, just because (3,000 miles away, several Lakers fell off their chairs watching). Big Three totals: 75 points and 30 rebounds. This one features the Vinnie Johnson-Adrian Dantley collision and is most remembered elsewhere for the postgame, when Dennis Rodman and Isiah Thomas questioned Bird’s greatness on the basis of race.

The game’s final tie (91-91) is broken on a Danny Ainge sixth-chance jumper, five shots, five rebounds, and 11 passes after the Celtics get the ball. The Celtics score on 12 of their final 14 possessions. Chuck Daly’s take: “You cannot see better basketball. Anybody want to talk about any other level of basketball after seeing this?’’

12. May 22, 1988 - Boston 118, Atlanta 116

Yup, the Bird-’Nique Shootout. Dominique Wilkins scores 15 of his 47 in the fourth. Larry shoots 9 for 10 and scores 20 of his 34 in the fourth. McHale goes for 33 and 13, Doc Rivers submits 16 points and 18 assists, and Randy Wittman shoots 11 for 13. Ready for this? The teams shoot a combined 59 percent. But that’s nothing compared to the fact they score 234 points while turning it over 15 times - total.

It almost sounds like basketball science fiction.

13. May 18, 2008 - Boston 97, Cleveland 92

LeBron James and Paul Pierce channel their inner ’Nique and Bird, scoring 45 and 41, respectively. But the game’s key basket, a jumper making it 91-88, Boston, with 1:21 remaining, is scored by P.J. Brown. Says Kevin Garnett of his teammate: “Tonight it was very simple. Get the ball to Paul Pierce and get the hell out of his way. That’s exactly what it was. No need for you to ask me no questions. That was the game plan; this is what we did.’’

Based on what we’ve seen in this series, there’s little chance of any history being made Saturday night. But it is a Game 7, and gosh darn it, maybe someone will fool us.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist and host of Globe 10.0 on He can be reached at