The early days of June 1976 weren’t pleasant ones to be a Boston sports fan. The Red Sox had followed up their pennant run of ’75 by fizzling early and were seven games back of the Yankees in the AL East. The Bruins had reached the semi-finals of the Stanley Cup playoffs in May, only to be ousted in five games by the Flyers. And though better days were ahead for the Patriots, who would enjoy an outstanding fall, no one could have guessed that in the summer of ’76 when the Pats were coming off a tough 3-11 campaign. So as would be the case many times before the era of Belichick & Brady or Schilling & Ortiz, it was the Celtics who would come to rescue.
Boston was locked in a tough NBA Finals showdown with Phoenix, tied at two games apiece with the series coming to the Hub for Game 5 on June 4. While getting to this point had been expected, it hadn’t been easy. Prior to the season, the Celts looked to upgrade their backcourt and were forced to trade Paul Westphal in exchange for guard Charlie Scott–ironically the deal was with the Suns, so it truly did help both sides.
Depth would be a concern throughout the season. The starting five of Scott and Jo Jo White in the backcourt, along with Paul Silas, John Havlicek and Dave Cowens up front was outstanding, but no bench player averaged even 15 minutes a game. Nonetheless, the quality of this starting five carried the day–Boston went on to win 54 games, capture the Atlantic Division and earn the top seed in the Eastern Conference. Only defending champion Golden State, with 59 wins, was better as the postseason began.