Even if some players didn’t think the grueling Boston series and quick turnaround would take its toll on the Knicks, it probably did. They dropped Game 1 to the Lakers, 115-112.
“We actually did pretty good late in the game, but early on, we didn’t play well at all,” Reed said. “But still, we thought — we believed — that there was no way the Lakers could beat us. So it was just a matter of getting ourselves focused on what we had to do.”
“It was almost like we won that first game; our confidence didn’t wane one bit,” Monroe said. “We knew what we had to do and we were ready and up for the task. We went back to the locker room and basically said, ‘OK, we lost that one. Let’s go win the next one.”
They actually won the next three, giving the Knicks a 3-1 series lead going into the final game. The Knicks had the Lakers on the ropes and the championship was in their sights.
“Going into this game, as Red always said, ‘You can’t throw your jock out there,'” Monroe said. “You’ve got to go out and beat these guys.”
“We didn’t want to turn this into a sixth game,” Bradley said, “because once you get to a sixth game, who knows what’s going to happen.”
“Before the game, Holzman said, ‘Clyde, keep the ball moving. Get everybody involved,'” Frazier said. “That’s what I was focusing on when I ran out there.”
The Knicks quickly found their rhythm in the first quarter, moving the ball around freely and getting shots from the perimeter to take an early lead.
“We started off pretty fast during this first quarter,” Monroe said. “That was very important, especially being in L.A. Being able to be up at the first quarter gave us a sense of comfort that we could go ahead and close this out.”
The Lakers would not lie down so easily. Let by West and Chamberlain, they mounted a comeback to negate a nine-point Knicks lead and move ahead late in the first half.
“You expect that on the road,” Frazier said. “You get prepared for those runs. You know they’re coming. And when we got back to the bench [on a timeout], Holzman was cool and calm. That’s the thing about Red, whether we were in the lead or we blew a lead, you come back to the bench and he’s always the same. He gives you confidence when you see him standing there. ‘Alright, this is what we’re going to do and this is how we’re going to do it.’ He never panicked and that filtered down to the team.”
“The Knicks never panicked,” Lucas said. “We were a confident team. There are ebbs and flows in a game. A team will start out well, but you can’t make every shot. A team is going to make a run and you’re going to miss some shots. You have to be confident in what you’re doing and stick to your game plan.”
In the final seconds of the half, DeBusschere caught the Lakers off guard to return the lead to the Knicks.
“Dave got the rebound and took it all the way,” Bradley said. “The was something he could do. In other words, we’d have virtually anybody bring the ball up, except the center. And they got back slow, he saw the opening, and he took it.”
“At halftime, we were discussing keeping the pace, controlling the tempo, keeping it a half-court game, just doing what we were doing,” Frazier said. “We were successful with West; he hadn’t really hurt us at that point. Chamberlain hadn’t run amok. So we were in a pretty good position.”
The third quarter went decidedly in the Knicks favor. The bench, led by forward Phil Jackson, helped catapult the Knicks lead back up to 14.
“If we wanted a game change, all we had to do was put Phil in the game,” Reed said. “And he was going to change the game defensively. He was going to have an impact on the game.”
“Phil was a disrupter,” Lucas said. “He had those flailing arms that went all over the place. When Phil came into the game, something was going to happen. He wasn’t the greatest shooter in the world, but he could score. He could slice. He would work hard to get rebounds. He was very important to our team, to the movement of our team, and to the success of our team.”
Despite a 12-point lead, tragedy befell the Knicks in the fourth quarter. As DeBusschere went in for a routine layup, he came down awkwardly on his ankle and had to come out of the game.
“We were all very concerned at this point,” Frazier said. “[We’re wondering] how severe this is. Rebounding, scoring, [Dave was] the consummate player. So seeing him leave the court was daunting.”
“For a moment, it’s devastating,” Lucas said. “He’s such an important part of our team, but then what happens is you rally. You realize, ‘Hey, we’ve got to step up. We’ve all got to do a little bit more. We have to work harder.”
“Phil came in,” Bradley said. “We have confidence in Phil. We’re just going to continue to play our game, which we did. We regrouped and were each determined to do more to make up for Dave’s absence in order to win the championship.”
The Lakers rattled off six straight points to close the gap late in the quarter, but still the confident Knicks never flustered.
“We had the philosophy that if we were down, we wanted to be under 10 points with five minutes to play,” Reed said. “If we were under 10 with five to play, we can win that game. Everybody’s got to concentrate on defense. Offensively, we’ve got to run our plays, got to execute and got to get it to the hot hand.”
That hand belonged to Monroe, who sunk eight points in the final two minutes to seal the game shut.
“[After that], we knew we had this one in the bag,” Frazier said. “Nothing is sweeter than that.”
“I think I was sitting on the bench, and I just jumped,” Lucas said. “I leaped and my hands were in the air. I was so excited. I was looking forward to hugging a teammate, congratulating him and congratulating all of them. It was remarkable.
“It’s something you can’t really describe. You have to experience it for yourself. It exudes throughout your whole body. The elation and the thrill and the feeling of accomplishment are just incredible.”
“That ’72-’73 season was the most enjoyable season of basketball I ever played,” Bradley said. “The team was very special. We had a great complementary set of talents and personalities and it was just fun to play.”
“I was part of a great group of men,” Reed said. “A great organization. That’s a moment that will always be a part of my life.”
“I am and always will be a basketball player,” Lucas said. “And the culmination of my basketball career happened that particular night in 1973 when we won the world championship.”