Retro Game Review: 1970 NBA Finals Game 7 Lakers vs Knicks

I had never watched this game before. In fact, I’d never watched any full game of either of these teams. Actually, I’m pretty sure I’d never watched any full game from the 70s from any team. I only know of these two teams and their stars from hearsay and legends told.

Basketball looked a lot different in 1970. Of course, it did. There was no 3-point line for starters. The whole strategy looked different. I don’t know enough to go into detail about it, but the feel of the game was different. Player movements looked less fluid. Dribbling was less fluid. It wasn’t 1950’s one handed look like your about to lose the ball dribbling, but I sure as heck didn’t see any crossovers or anything like that. The fanciest move was Walt Frazier dribbling behind his back on drives to the paint. More on him later.

That isn’t to say the game was bad. I had quite a bit of fun watching it actually. I would have definitely been a fan of basketball growing up in any era. I prefer what it is now, but I’m just one random guy spending his Saturday night watching an NBA Finals game from 50 years ago. What do I know?

The story line for the Lakers going into this game is fascinating. I can’t imagine something like that happening now. Their big 3 were Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain, and Elgin Baylor. Baylor and West had been on the team together since the 60-61 season. And Baylor was on the Lakers back in the Minneapolis days! His rookie year was the 58-59 season. Together they went to the finals 5 out of 7 years from 1962 to 1968. They lost every year to...... the Boston Celtics. Can you imagine the narrative and downright harassment the media would give these guys today going 0-5 in the finals? All losses to the same team!

They would add Wilt Chamberlain during the 68-69 season. He was 32 and past his prime. Past his prime Wilt Chamberlain is still good though. Instead of putting up 50 points and 30 rebounds per game like he did in his youth he came somewhat back down to earth posting 20 and 20 numbers. With Wilt at center the Lakers made it back to the finals, but lost once again to...... you guessed it, the Boston Celtics.

Now this year, the 1969-70 season, was going to be their year. They made it back to the finals and for the first time 9 years it wasn’t going to be against the damn Boston Celtics.

While the Lakers were on their last legs and desperate for a long overdue championship the New York Knicks were just entering their prime. They too had been victims of the Boston Celtic success, losing to them in the playoffs in 2 of the past 3 seasons. Now they and their legendary quartet of Willis Reed, Walt Frazier, Dave DeBusschere, and Bill Bradley had pushed through to the finals.

At the head of the attack was their perennial 20 point 10 rebound center, Willis Reed. True to form Reed led the Knicks to a 3-2 series lead before suffering an injury and being forced to sit out a game 6 loss in Los Angeles. He wouldn’t miss game 7.

Not to be outdone by his center was point guard Walt Frazier. During the regular season Frazier made his first of 7 straight all-star games by averaging 20 points 6 rebounds and 8 assists per game. And during the finals he nearly averaged a triple double with 17.6 points 7.7 rebounds and 10.4 assists per game. On a personal note, to me, Frazier was by far the coolest person on the floor. The combination of the hair, the beard, and the style made me an instant fan from just watching 1 game of his.

Rounding out the big 4 was Dave DeBusschere and Bill Bradley. DeBusschere was a career 16 point 11 rebound guy who could shoot from the outside and Bill Bradley was a solid player who went on to be a politician. I could do research and talk about them more, but I’m not going to. They were both big, (for their era) could play defense and shoot. They were key components on a championship team. In all honesty I probably didn’t pay enough attention to them. I was busy watching my guy, Walt F’n Frazier!

Now, on to the game. Actually, first there were some dramatics before the game started. Willis Reed had missed game 6 and it was unclear if he would suit up for game 7. In a classic moment I’m sure we’ve all seen Reed jogged out of the locker room to a thunderous applause and joined his team for warmups. I’d talk about it more, but what can I say that hasn’t already been said.

Now, on to the game. I’m not sure why, but the Knicks decided to have Reed go for the jump ball to start the game against Wilt Chamberlain. The guy could barely move, but there he was. He didn’t actually even jump for the ball. To be fair nobody on the Knicks, maybe the whole league, was going to get a jump ball over Wilt. Fun fact! During this era, they had a jump ball to start every quarter. Also, I’m not sure if they still do this (I could probably find out with research) but the winning team was given a cash prize of $48,000. Not each player, but the whole team. I’m sure the prize would be for a lot more now.

The start of the game is legendary. Reed hit his first two shots and after the second one there’s the classic footage of him laboring back down the court to play defense. In fact, the entire Knicks team started out on fire as they hit their first 6 shots. The crowd kept getting louder and louder with each one. Another fun fact. Teams would shoot free throws after each defensive foul. Sometimes it was 1 and sometimes it was 2. I’m sure I could find out which fouls were 1 shot and which fouls were 2 with research, but I’m not going to.

The first thing I noticed was that the Knicks had kind of a modern style to their game. Everybody on the court could pass and shoot. They set a ton of screens and took way more outside shots than I expected to see. Even their big guys were hitting outside shots. There were so many times that Bradley or DeBusschere would dribble around a screen and pull up and nail a jumper. They were fairly close to 3-point range too. On the other hand, I noticed the Lakers playing a lot of 1-on-1 ball with West pulling up for outside jumpers or Wilt posting up and trying his turnaround finger roll flip shot.

The real star of the 1st quarter and eventually the entire game was Walt Frazier. He posted 15 points 4 rebounds and 4 assists during the opening period as the Knicks took a 38-24 lead. However, tragedy almost struck toward the end of the 1st as Willis Reed came down awkward on whatever was wrong with his leg and the trainers had to come out and look at him. It looked bad as he could barely walk. But guess what? He stayed in the friggin’ game! And played all but a few minutes of the first half. He would end up playing 27 minutes total. Nate Bowman would play most of the 2nd half and post a respectable 6 points and 5 rebounds.

Unfortunately for the Lakers the 2nd quarter was much like the 1st. The Knicks were firing on all cylinders and couldn’t miss a shot if they tried. The Lakers ended the first half with only 42 points while committing 14 turnovers. They were down 69-42 going into the locker room.

The 2nd half started out just like the 1st. With Willis Reed coming out of the locker room late to a huge roar from the crowd. On the court the Lakers fared a little better, but not much. I kept waiting and waiting for a big comeback, but it never happened. I wish I had more exciting things to say about the actual game, but I don’t. The Knicks handled them fairly easily. At the end of the 3rd quarter the score was 94-69 in favor of the Knicks and the championship was all but wrapped up.

I have to talk more about the brilliance of Walt Frazier. As I look at the stats now, I’m still in awe. He had 36 points on 12/17 shooting plus 12/12 from the free throw line. He also grabbed 7 rebounds and added 19 assists. He was only 24 years old and in his 3rd year in the league playing in a game 7 against the legendary Lakers who were making their 7th finals appearance in 9 years. It was supposed to be the Lakers’ year. They finally got away from Boston and the Knicks leader and best player was on one leg. Walt Frazier took over and would not let his team lose. That man was cold blooded.

By the way the final score was Knicks 113 Lakers 99. The Lakers big 3 didn’t have terrible games, but they weren’t great either. West had 28 points on 9/19 shooting and 10/12 from the line. He added 6 rebounds and 5 assists. 35-year-old Elgin Baylor had 19 points on 9/17 shooting with 5 rebounds. This was basically the end of his career. He only played a total of 11 more games over the next two years. Chamberlain had a pretty good game scoring 21 points on 10/16 shooting and adding an amazing 24 rebounds, which was common place for him. His only real weakness was at the free throw line where he hit a paltry 1/11 shots.

On the Knicks side we already talked about my new favorite player Walt Frazier. After lighting the initial spark for his team Willis Reed didn’t actually do much else, but it was all that was needed from him. DeBusschere had 18 points and 17 rebounds. While Bill Bradley chipped in with 17 points 4 rebounds and 5 assists.

The Knicks-Lakers of the early 70s actually became a pretty good rivalry. The teams met twice more in the finals with the Lakers winning in ‘72 and the Knicks gaining the championship back in ‘73. This was a fun game to watch and I recommend it to any basketball fan. It’s always good to look back and see where basketball was and how it’s changed and gain an appreciation for the players who paved the way.

I appreciate you taking the time to read this. I hope to do more things like this in the future. Bye!