Monday, 22 Jul 2024

Season Review: 1969-70

The 1969-70 NBA season marked a significant turning point for the league. With Bill Russell’s retirement, the Boston Celtics, who had been the dominant force in the East, struggled and missed the playoffs for the first time in 20 seasons. This opened the door for a new contender to emerge, and that team was the New York Knicks.

The Knicks showcased their potential early in the season by winning a league-record 18 consecutive games. Led by a well-rounded lineup consisting of Willis Reed, Dave DeBusschere, Bill Bradley, Walt Frazier, Cazzie Russell, and Dick Barnett, the Knicks played as a cohesive unit on both ends of the floor. In the East, they faced tough competition from the Milwaukee Bucks, who had added rookie center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (then known as Lew Alcindor) to their roster.

Despite being pushed to a seven-game series by the Baltimore Bullets in the Eastern Division semifinals, the Knicks advanced to the finals with relative ease after defeating the Bucks. In the West, the Los Angeles Lakers, led by Jerry West, swept the Atlanta Hawks in the Western Division finals to set up a showdown against the Knicks in the NBA Finals.

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The Finals series between the Knicks and Lakers was intense and closely contested. The first six games were back-and-forth battles, with each team winning three games. However, in Game 5, Willis Reed, who had been dominant against an injured Wilt Chamberlain, suffered a leg injury. Without Reed in Game 6, Chamberlain scored 45 points to tie the series.

Game 7 was the defining moment of the series. As the Knicks prepared to take the court at Madison Square Garden, they were unsure if Reed would be able to play due to his injury. However, just before tipoff, Reed hobbled onto the floor, igniting the crowd and inspiring his team. Reed’s courage and determination propelled the Knicks to a 113-99 victory, securing their first NBA championship.

The 1969-70 season was also notable for individual performances. Jerry West led the league in scoring, while Lenny Wilkens topped the assists chart. Elvin Hayes dominated the boards, and Johnny Green had an exceptional field goal percentage. Flynn Robinson showcased his free throw shooting skills by leading the league in free throw percentage.

The season culminated in several award winners. Willis Reed was named the Most Valuable Player, while Lew Alcindor (later known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) received Rookie of the Year honors. Red Holzman, the coach of the New York Knicks, was recognized as Coach of the Year. Willis Reed also earned the All-Star Game MVP and Finals MVP accolades, solidifying his status as a key figure in the Knicks’ championship run.

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Overall, the 1969-70 NBA season was a transitional period that saw a changing of the guard in the Eastern Conference, with the Boston Celtics relinquishing their dominance to the New York Knicks. The season showcased memorable performances, intense playoff battles, and the emergence of new stars. It will forever be remembered as the year the Knicks became champions and Willis Reed’s heroic Game 7 return.