Golden Basketball Magazine
NBA Finals - Game 7
1978: Washington Bullets @ Seattle Supersonics
Since the last Game 7 in 1974, the NBA had expanded by four teams thanks to the merger with the American Basketball Association: New Jersey Nets, San Antonio Spurs, Washington Bullets, Denver Nuggets, and Indiana Pacers. In addition, the New Orleans Jazz were added as an expansion team.
  • As a result, an extra round was added to the playoffs.
  • The four division winners got a bye into the conference finals.
  • The next four teams in each conference met in best two-of-three series.

The Pacific Division proved to be by far the strongest division.

  • Each team finished at least four games over .500.
  • As a result, three of the four Western Division first round slots were filled with Pacific Division teams.
  • The Seattle Supersonics, who finished third in the regular season in the Pacific, upended the Portland Trail Blazers, who won the Pacific by nine games, in the conference semifinals.

Neither Eastern Conference division winner made it to the finals either.

  • The Washington Bullets, second by eight games in the Central Division, upended division winning San Antonio in the semifinals.
  • Then Washington knocked off the 76ers, the Atlantic Division champs, in the finals.

Both finalists came on strong the second half of the season.

  • The Bullets were in their second season under Coach Dick Motta, "a little guy with a lot of intensity" who had coached the Chicago Bulls from 1968-1976, including four straight 50-win seasons.
  • His hiring was condemned by fans and players alike. PF Elvin Hayes, accustomed to being the center of the offense, said he'd rather retire than play for a coach like Motta. The Washington fans booed the new coach from his very first game.
  • Dick's problem? He stressed relentless defense and running a pattern-based offense. He also brought an attitude of "my way or the highway" to his job.
  • Hayes didn't retire and eventually both strong-willed men compromised for the good of the team. Elvin recalled years later, "Dick demanded a lot of his players. He demanded a lot of himself. He gave us a direction, and we followed it."
  • Washington had the same record, 48-34, in Motta's first year as they had the previous season under K. C. Jones. The '76-77 Bullets lost in the Eastern Semifinals to the Houston Rockets.

The Bullets actually finished four games worse in 1978: 44-38. However, Motta had assembled a team that could survive the pressures of the playoffs.

  • The key offseason move was the signing of free agent SF Bob Dandridge, who had averaged 20-21ppg for Milwaukee the last two years of his eight year tenure as a Buck.
  • Dandridge's arrival allowed Motta to move Kevin Grevey to his natural position of off guard, where he increased his scoring average from 6.9 to 15.5ppg.
  • 6'7" 245lb C Wes Unseld was a good fit for Motta's offense. A better rebounder than scorer, he was known for his bone-shattering picks. "What we needed was an iron hand," said Unseld about the new coach.
  • The final piece to the puzzle was backup G Charles Johnson, who was acquired in January. He became the "glue man" for the Bullets' impressive second team, some of whom would have been starters on other teams. Motta regularly played ten men, a strategy that would pay off in the gruelling playoffs.
  • Hayes' points per game decreased from 23.7 in '77 to 19.7, but his rebounding went up on both ends of the court.

The Portland Trail Blazers had the best record in the league at 58-24.

  • However, the defending champions were struck by a series of critical injuries, starting with a bad left foot for star C Bill Walton.
  • As a result, the Blazers lost 14 of their last 22 games and lost in the conference semifinals to Seattle in six games.

The Supersonics' season was the reverse of Portland's.

  • They started terribly, losing 17 of the first 22 games to cause the firing of Coach Bob Hopkins.
  • Lenny Wilkens took over and led Seattle to 42 victories in their last 60 games.

The Sonics were a good mixture of rookies and veterans.

  • Three of the four top scorers were guards Gus Williams (18.1ppg), "Downtown" Freddie Brown (16.6), and Dennis Johnson (12.7).
  • 7'1" C Marvin Webster, the "Human Eraser," led in blocked shots with 2.0 per game.
  • 13-year veteran Paul Silas manned one forward position while 6'11" rookie Jack Sikma quickly became a fan favorite at the other frontcourt spot.
  • Like Washington, Seattle had a deep bench with nine players averaging 23 or more minutes per game.
FINAL STANDINGS
Eastern Conference
Atlantic Division
Team W L % GB
Philadelphia 76ers 55 27 .671 --
New York Knicks 43 39 .524 12
Boston Celtics 32 50 .390 23
Buffalo Braves 27 55 .329 28
New Jersey Nets 24 58 .293 31
Central Division
Team W L % GB
San Antonio Spurs 52 30 .634 --
Washington Bullets 44 38 .537 8
Cleveland Cavaliers 43 39 .524 9
Atlanta Hawks 41 41 .500 11
New Orleans Jazz 39 43 .476 13
Houston Rockets 28 54 .341 24
Western Conference
Midwest Division
Team W L % GB
Denver Nuggets 48 34 .585 --
Milwaukee Bucks 44 38 .537 4
Chicago Bulls 40 42 .488 8
Detroit Pistons 38 44 .463 10
Kansas City Kings 31 51 .378 17
Indiana Pacers 31 51 .378 17
Pacific Division
Team W L % GB
Portland Trail Blazers 58 24 .707 --
Phoenix Suns 49 33 .598 9
Seattle Supersonics 47 35 .573 11
Los Angeles Lakers 45 37 .549 13
Golden State Warriors 43 39 .524 15

Eastern Conference First Round
Bullets over Hawks 2-0
Knicks over Cavaliers 2-0
Western Conference First Round
Bucks over Suns 2-0
Supersonics over Lakers 2-1
Eastern Conference Semifinals
Bullets over Spurs 4-2
76ers over Knicks 4-0
Western Conference Semifinals
Nuggets over Bucks 4-3
Supersonics over Trail Blazers 4-2
Eastern Conference Finals
Bullets over 76ers 4-2
Western Conference Finals
Supersonics over Nuggets 4-2

Motta became famous during the playoffs for a phrase he applied to basketball.

  • "The opera isn't over 'til the fat lady sings" was used by sportswriter/broadcaster Dan Cook after the Spurs won the opening game of the semifinal series against the Bullets. Coach Motta picked up the phrase and used it repeatedly when his team faced challenges during their run to the finals.
  • The Bullets never lost two games in a row during the playoffs as they knocked off the Hawks 2-0 in the opening round, the Spurs in six in the semifinals, and the 76ers in six in the conference finals.
  • As he had been all season, Hayes was Washington's leading scorer and leading rebounder in the playoffs.

Seattle's road to the finals mirrored Washington's.

  • The Supersonics also didn't have to go to a seventh game to win the Western Division.
  • They likewise never lost two games in a row.
  • Their leading scorer and rebounder during the season, Gus Williams and Marvin Webster respectively, led them in both categories during the playoffs.

CBS couldn't have been happy with the pairing of Washington and Seattle in the finals. However, the fans in the two cities were ecstatic at their teams' appearance in the finals.

1974 SEATTLE SUPERSONICS
# Player Pos. Hgt. Wgt. College Exp.
1 Gus Williams PG 6-2 175 USC 3
10 Joe Hassett SG 6-5 180 Providence 1
24 Dennis Johnson SG 6-4 185 Pepperdine 2
27 John Johnson SF 6-7 200 Iowa 8
30 Al Fleming SF 6-7 215 Arizona 1
32 Fred Brown SG 6-3 180 Iowa 6
35 Paul Silas PF 6-7 220 Creighton 14
40 Marvin Webster C 7-1 225 Morgan State 3
42 Wally Walker SF 6-7 190 Virginia 2
43 Jack Sikma C 6-11 230 Illinois Wesleyan 1
45 Bruce Seals SF 6-8 210 Xavier (LA) 5
Coach: Lenny Wilkens
1974 WASHINGTON BULLETS
# Player Pos. Hgt. Wgt. College Exp.
10 Bob Dandridge SF 6-6 195 Norfolk State 8
11 Elvin Hayes PF 6-9 235 Houston 10
14 Tom Henderson PG 6-3 190 Hawaii 4
15 Charles Johnson SG 6-0 170 California 6
20 Phil Walker SG 6-3 180 Millersville 1
25 Mitch Kupchak PF 6-9 230 North Carolina 2
32 Larry Wright PG 6-1 160 Grambling 2
35 Kevin Grevey SF 6-5 210 Kentucky 3
41 Wes Unseld C 6-7 245 Louisville 10
42 Greg Ballard SF 6-7 215 Oregon 1
44 Joe Pace C 6-10 220 Coppin State 2
Coach: Bob Hopkins
RESULTS OF FIRST SIX GAMES
# Date Place Winner Loser Winning Team
High Scorer
Losing Team
High Scorer
1 May 21 Seattle Sonics 106 Bullets 102 Brown 30 Grevey 27
2 May 25 Washington Bullets 106 Sonics 98 Dandridge 34 Williams 24
3 May 28 Washington Sonics 93 Bullets 92 Webster/Williams 20 Hayes 29
4 May 30 Seattle Bullets 120 Sonics 116 Dandridge 23 D. Johnson 33
5 June 2 Seattle Sonics 98 Bullets 94 Brown 26 Grevey 22
6 June 4 Washington Bullets 117 Sonics 82 Hayes 21 Brown 17

The teams alternated wins through the first six games.

  • Game One: The visiting Bullets led by as many as 19 and were still on top 84-73 at the end of the third period. But with Paul Silas putting the clamps on Elvin Hayes in the last quarter, Freddie Brown got hot and scored 16 of his 30 points in the last nine minutes to spark the Seattle comeback win 106-102.
  • Game Two: Wes Unseld, who had been criticized for his performance in Game One (10 points and only seven rebounds), led everyone with 15 rebounds and set picks that opened space for Bob Dandridge to score 34 and Hayes to hit 25.

    Game 2 Action: Bob Dandridge shoots and Jack Sikma tries to shoot over Charles Johnson.
  • Game Three: The game was nip-and-tuck the entire way, with neither team leading by more than two points at the end of any quarter. Webster outscored Unseld 20-2, and Gus Williams added 20 more. John Johnson stifled Kevin Grevey on the perimeter, holding him to an embarrassing 1-for-14.
  • Game Four: With the Seattle Arena being used for a mobile home show, the game drew 39,457 to the Kingdome - a record crowd for the NBA finals. The Sonics led at the end of the first quarter and the half and increased the lead to 15 points with two minutes left in the third period. But the Bullets guards, who had been outscored 43-15 in the first half, led a comeback. They were aided by Dennis Johnson going to the bench for six minutes after taking an elbow to the ribs. Washington took the lead 103-101 with 3 1/2 minutes left. Dennis returned and made up for lost time, tying the game with a field goal, picking up loose balls, blocking a shot, and getting an offensive rebound to push the Sonics ahead 104-103. The visitors retook the lead, but Seattle tied the game at 106 on another long shot by Downtown Brown. In overtime, Charles Johnson hit three quick shots, and the Bullets evened the series again 120-116.
  • Game Five: Returning to the Coliseum, the Supersonics pulled out a four-point win behind Brown's 26 points and Dennis Johnson's 24. The Bullets did themselves no favors by missing 11 of 20 free throw attempts in the second half.
  • Game Six: Their backs to the wall, the Bullets took control by doubling the Sonics in the second quarter 28-14 on their way to a 117-82 rout.

Game 6 action

Game Seven

14,008 took their seats, the vast majority expecting the Sonics to win their 23rd consecutive game in that building.
  • Quarter 1
    The Bullets picked up where they left off in Game 6, moving quickly to a 6-2 lead. Kevin Greevey, suffering with a sprained left wrist, started but again gave way to Charlie Johnson. The veteran reserve would score 19 points, including nine in the pressure-packed final period. The lead changed hands nine times in the first quarter. Two Unseld free throws with 2:38 left in the period put Washington ahead 22-21. No one would have guessed that the Bullets would not relinquish the lead the rest of the game.
    Bullets 31 Supersonics 28

  • Quarter 2
    After shooting only 25% during the period, the Sonics were fortunate to be only eight points behind. Hard work on the boards, especially the offensive glass, kept them in contention. Dandridge with 12 and Unseld with 11 led the Washington scoring.
    Bullets
    53 Supersonics 45
  • Quarter 3
    Seattle went to their four front-court men alignment to start the second half. That alignment had worked well for them late in Game 6. But they used it only briefly before returning to a normal two-guard setup. Whatever their alignment, the Sonics' shooting woes continued. The Bullets outshot them 58% to 33% to build their biggest lead of 13 at the end of the quarter. Elvin Hayes picked up his fifth foul with 5:53 to go and sat out the rest of the period. The Sonics immediately outscored the Bullets 8-2 to cut the lead to 64-59 with 3:59 to go. But the visitors responded with a 15-7 run to end the period, culminating with Johnson's 50' heave that hit nothing but the bottom of the net at the buzzer. Charles did not smile and did not raise his arms in braggadocio. There were still 12 minutes to play.
    Bullets 79 Supersonics 66
  • Quarter 4
    The Sonics slowly cut into the deficit. They were helped when Hayes fouled out with eight minutes to go. He had expressed his displeasure with several of the calls.
    Fred Brown hit a 12' baseline jumper to slash the deficit to 98-94. Then came perhaps the key sequence of the game. Charlie Johnson, who pitched in nine fourth-quarter points, shot a 25' air ball. Sikma and Webster had a chance to grab it, but Henderson dove on the floor and knocked the ball to Kupchak, who scooped it up, laid it in, and was fouled by Webster. He made the foul shot to make it 101-94 with 90 seconds to go. "I was just standing there, and the ball bounced through Webster's legs," said Kupchak. "I just laid it in." "That was a big play for Washington," said Coach Wilkens. "It was a super play on Kupchak's part. Things were going well until then." The three-point play gave Kupchak 18 of Washington's last 20 points.
    Just when Bullets fans were planning their victory celebrations, the Sonics scored the next five points. Brown sank a free throw and hit a bank shot.
    Then Unseld, a 54% free throw shooter, was fouled with 32 seconds left and missed both shots. Silas put back a Brown miss to pare the margin to 101-99 with 18 seconds to go. The Sonics fouled Unseld again. In a three-to-make-two situation, he missed the first but made the next two to push the lead back to four. "I just stand up there and shoot and hope they go in," said Wes.
    Dennis Johnson rushed a jumper that missed, and Dandridge sprinted downcourt for a coup-de-grace dunk to move the final margin to six. As he did so, Charles Johnson finally starting whooping in celebration of the first major sports championship for the Washington DC metropolitan area in 36 years.
    FINAL: Bullets 105 Supersonics 99


Dick Motta


Elvin Hayes


Kevin Grevey shoots.


Charles Johnson

 


Lenny Wilkens


Gus Williams


Paul Silas


Marvin Webster and Wes Unseld battle for rebounds every game.


Dennis Johnson shoots in Game 1.


Fred Brown dribbles around Bob Dandridge in Game 3.


Dennis Johnson fights for a rebound in Game 4.


John Johnson shoots in Game 5.


Webster guards Kupchak.

Motta with trophy


Hayes and Dandridge exult

GAME SEVEN BOX SCORE
WASHINGTON BULLETS
  Min FG FT Rebs Ast Fouls  Points 
Wes Unseld 45 4-8 7-12 9 6 5 15
Bob Dandridge 42 7-18 5-5 6 3 4 19
Tom Henderson 41 4-9 7-13 2 2 1 15
Elvin Hayes 30 5-10 2-3 8 1 6 12
Kevin Grevey 10 3-8 0-0 2 2 2 6
Charles Johnson  30 9-21 1-1 2 4 4 19
Mitch Kupchak 20 5-7 3-4 5 1 4 13
Greg Ballard 16 2-6 0-0 5 1 4 4
Larry Wright 6 1-2 0-0 2 1 1 2
Total 240 40-89 25-38 41 21 31 105
SEATTLE SUPERSONICS
  Min FG FT Rebs Ast Fouls Points
Marvin Webster  42 8-12 11-16 19 0 5 27
Jack Sikma 38 7-16 7-10 11 1 5 21
Dennis Johnson 38 0-14 4-6 3 1 4 4
Gus Williams 27 4-12 4-5 8 5 6 12
John Johnson 25 5-11 0-1 4 1 3 10
Paul Silas 33 2-5 0-0 5 1 5 4
Fred Brown 31 9-18 3-5 1 2 0 21
Bruce Seals 6 0-3 0-0 1 0 0 0
Total 240 35-91 29-43 53 12 28 99

Wes Unseld
was the surprising choice for Finals MVP.

Postgame

Bullets Locker Room

  • Coach Motta spoke to the press wearing his "The Opera Isn't Over 'Til The Fat Lady Sings" t-shirt, which his players had drenched in beer. "Hey, Dick, is the fat lady singing?" someone shouted. "Right now she's warbling all over time," he replied. "What I feel is relief," he said. "I feel good for all of us. I just had a feeling. I just knew that something good would happen. I feel bad for them, but they're a very young ball club. Some of our vets are running out of time." Dick added that this season "probably was my hardest coaching year" because of injuries. He singled out Charlie Johnson for his contribution in Game 7. "I can't say enough about C.J. He came in and bailed us out. We knew when we got him he was a winner. He's the kind of guy you can count on." Motta praised the opponent. "These are two very fine basketball games. It's too bad one had to lose, but I'm glad we were not the ones."
  • MVP Wes Unseld maintained his stoic manner. "I don't know how I'm supposed to act. It hasn't hit me yet. But when it does, don't get in the way. Right now I'm happier for Abe (owner Abe Pollin) than I am for myself. I know what he's been through and how much he wanted this." Wes added, "I think what it came down to was we just had a little bit of luck and maybe wanted it more. I guess the accomplishment means a little more because we won on the road. Not many teams do that."
  • Elvin Hayes rejoiced in his first title. "World champions! I got the ring to prove it! Elvin Hayes is a world champion!"
  • Bob Dandridge was asked to compare this title to the won he enjoyed with Milwaukee in 1971. "Whenever you think your career might be nearing the end, you tend to hold onto everything. And this is a great series to end."

Supersonics Locker Room

  • Coach Wilkens spoke in a dressing room in which tubs of iced champagne went untouched. "It's a very big disappointment. We wanted it so badly. We came so close to getting it. I certainly hope it makes us a better ball club next year. It was a fine series. They were a better team tonight. We had some good shots. They just didn't go in." He added, "The players never gave up. A couple of breaks one way or the other, and we could have gotten closer. I was proud of the team. We were in it until the end. We didn't give it away."
  • Dennis Johnson went 0 for 14 from the field for a two-game total of 4 for 30. "I don't think I folded. I had pretty good shots, but nothing would go."
  • Paul Silas: "I think we played as hard as we could have. Now we realize what defeat is about. The team over there, especially Wes, knew what it took."
Participants in the 1974 NBA Finals who are in the Basketball Hall of Fame:
Bullets: Bob Dandridge, Elvin Hayes, Wes Unseld
Sonics: Dennis Johnson, Jack Sikma, Coach Lenny Wilkens
1977-78 Washington Bullets
1977-78 Seattle Supersonics
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