On the surface, this forgotten playoff series looked to be a cakewalk for the powerful Denver Nuggets.
Led by new coach Larry Brown and a revitalized roster that included all-stars Ralph Simpson, Mack Calvin and Mike Green, the Nuggets had coasted to an incredible 65-19 regular season record and an easy first place finish in the ABA's Western Division. The Nuggets had lost only two - that's right, just two - home games the entire season. In the first round of the 1975 ABA Playoffs, they dispatched the Utah Stars and rookie Moses Malone in six games.
The revamped Pacers weren't supposed to contend for anything in 1974-75. But they finished the regular season with a surprising 45-39 record and a third place finish in the Western Division. Then, in the first round of the ABA Playoffs, co-ABA MVP George McGinnis helped the Pacers beat the talented San Antonio Spurs in an emotional 7-game series.
Pacers were viewed as a pesky opponent for the Nuggets in the Western
Division Finals, but no one expected the bizarre and memorable
series that occurred. It
involved unlikely twists and turns in momentum, elaborate hexes
and spells (courtesy of the mascots imported by each team),
griping coaches, and, ultimately, one of the biggest playoff
upsets in ABA history. Not
even a single game of this series was shown on national television
- the following summaries will give you an idea of how this
Game # 1 @ Denver 4/20/1975
GAME SUMMARY (by Al Hoffman and Arthur Hundhausen): The Nuggets had lost only two home games the entire season, and none in the playoffs. This pattern held true to form, as Denver beat the Pacers 131-128 in a game that really was not as close as the final score would indicate. Denver led from wire to wire and improved its 1974-75 record at the Auditorium Arena to a gaudy 44-2.
Mack Calvin (# 20, at left, with 22 points and 9 assists) and Ralph Simpson (below, with 29 points) played well for Denver, but the real surprise was forward Dave Robisch. Robisch started along with Mike Green and Bobby Jones on Denver's front line, and hit the first five shots he took. Robisch scored 16 points in the first half and ended up with 28. "It was Mack, Ralph and Robisch," Indiana coach Slick Leonard said. "If anything, Robisch was the difference. You figure Mack and Ralph are going to hurt you, Dave was really the difference."
Behind the trio, Denver hit 60% from the field as the Nuggets built a 19-point lead in the 2nd quarter, 59-41. Indiana rallied behind George McGinnis, who had a sensational 39 points, 22 rebounds (13 on the offensive boards), 8 assists and 5 steals. Big George had 16 points in the third quarter alone, including a nasty dunk with 9:49 left that bent the rim three to four inches. McGinnis got significant offensive help from two other Pacers - Billy Knight with 28 points and Billy Keller with a brilliant 22 points in 22 minutes - including four 3-point bombs. But Ralph Simpson hit 5 of 6 free throws in the last 2 minutes to hold off the Pacers.
Leonard noted, "It looks OK, a three-point game, but to me it just wasn't that close of a game. I never felt like we were in it."
INDIANA FG FT-FTA PTS
DENVER FG FT-FTA PTS
Game # 2 @ Denver 4/22/1975
GAME SUMMARY (by Al Hoffman and Arthur Hundhausen): In a brazen bid to shake up Denver's psyche, the Pacers imported their secret weapon to Denver - super-mascot Dancin' Harry. To the confusion of a standing-room only crowd of 7,491, Dancin' Harry (at left) put a pre-game hex on the Nuggets. The hex worked like a charm, as the Pacers got a 131-124 win and stole the home-court advantage from Denver.
Aside from the hex, the Nuggets lost because the Pacers shot a blistering 60.7% from the field, and because rookie Billy Knight (below) was simply unstoppable. Time and time again Knight got behind the Nuggets defense, took quick passes from either McGinnis (18 points nine assists), Kevin Joyce, or Darnell Hillman, and put the ball in the basket. Most often, it was at the end of a 2 on 1 fast break. Knight ended up with 44 points, hitting an amazing 18 out of 22 shots attempted.
The Pacers really won the game in the 2nd quarter, when Knight scored 17 of his points and the Pacers outscored the Nuggets 41-28. Indiana then extended to a 78-60 lead in the third quarter. The game still turned out to be exciting - there was almost a constant din in the Auditorium Arena during a tension-filled 4th quarter. The Nuggets were able to gradually whittle down Indiana's lead. The Pacers were up 121-112 with 2:07 to go. Then came four Nuggets three-point baskets in 75 seconds. At 1:56 Claude Terry drilled one, and then came three straight by Mack Calvin at 1:21, 1:06 and 0:43, the last one a sensational off-balance bank shot. Remarkably, Calvin had scored only 3 previous three-pointers (in 16 attempts) all season long.
With their three-point barrage, the Nuggets closed to within 125-121, and then 127-124. But the Pacers were able to held off every charge Denver made - they were helped by another couple of timely baskets by Knight. And Billy Keller gunned in 10 key points down the stretch. Keller hit a critical 12-foot baseline jumper right after Calvin's second three-pointer - after the game, Keller commented on the shot: "When you start playing protective basketball, that's when you get beat. We almost fell into that. I got the ball on the baseline and I thought to myself that we could break their momentum right here. And I could hear a sigh of relief from the stands when I put it up. But when it went in, I felt like we still had control of the game."
INDIANA FG FT-FTA PTS
Game # 3 @ Indianapolis 4/24/1975
GAME SUMMARY (by Al Hoffman and Arthur Hundhausen): George McGinnis (# 30, right and below) snatched all momentum that Denver had built over the first three quarters of Game 3 and turned Market Square Arena into his own personal playground. McGinnis' 32 points, 21 rebounds and 14 assists helped push Indiana to an unlikely 118-112 win and a 2-1 lead in the series. McGinnis summed it up by saying: "We were damn lucky. We shouldn't have won that game. They had it. We were just really lucky. We beat 'em in one quarter and won the game."
Denver grabbed control of the game in the first quarter, and kept it. In the third quarter, behind the strong play of Ralph Simpson, Mack Calvin and Byron Beck, Denver's lead ballooned to 13 points. Even at the beginning of the 4th quarter, Denver still held a relatively safe 95-84 lead.
After a McGinnis basket and a Billy Keller 3-pointer trimmed Denver's lead to 95-91, the Nuggets managed to keep the advantage until Billy Knight's tip-in with 5:57 left tied it at 100-100. That's when McGinnis took over. His shot from the corner put Indiana up 104-102 at 4:13 - it was the first time the Pacers had led since 16-14 in the 1st quarter. After Mike Green hit a jumper for Denver, McGinnis retaliated from the top of the key. Then, after Byron Beck had put in a rebound, McGinnis duplicated his previous shot and put Indiana ahead to stay, 108-106. Before it was over, McGinnis dished off an assist that found Knight open in the corner for a bucket, and later connected on two crucial free-throws with 38 seconds left for a 116-112 lead, right after a Ralph Simpson 3-pointer had brought the Nuggets within 114-112.
After the game, a furious Nuggets coach Larry Brown maintained that referee Jess Kersey had swallowed his whistle in the 4th quarter, giving the Pacers some help. He was particularly upset over the lack of a call when Denver led 95-84 and Claude Terry missed a jumper. "Claude got smacked right in the face by McGinnis. Kersey is two feet away, and he didn't call it. He told me he didn't see it." said Brown. "Then they go down and get two buckets and they're only five down. People say that's only one call, but to me that turned around the game. I know I'm not supposed to say anything about the refs - I'll probably get fined. But that one was just too much to take."
DENVER FG FT-FTA PTS
INDIANA FG FT-FTA PTS
Game # 4 @ Indianapolis 4/25/1975
GAME SUMMARY (by Al Hoffman and Arthur Hundhausen): After their traumatic meltdown in Game 3, most observers felt the Nuggets were in trouble. They had shown no ability to contain George McGinnis or Billy Knight. They were blaming their series deficit on the referees. And there was that small matter of the hex Dancin' Harry had placed on them back in Game 2. All told, they were about as far down as a team can get.
But in Game 4, Denver surprised most everyone - including themselves - with a 126-109 win in front of 17,389 rabid Pacer fans at Market Square Arena. The win evened the series at 2-2. Nuggets coach Larry Brown said: "I've never seen anything like this team. Talk about having your back to the wall." Brown called the Game 3 loss "the most disappointing of my life. We played 84 games to get here and then something like that happened. Now, to see these guys come back . . . We've just got some people with character."
One hero was center Mike Green (# 22, above). Quiet for the previous three games, hitting only 16 of 42 shots, Green suddenly erupted for a sensational 32 points on 16 of 30 shooting. Green tossed in 20 points in the first half, but it didn't look good for the Nuggets as they still trailed 64-61 at intermission. They still trailed 68-65 when 8-year veteran Byron Beck (# 40, below) sparked Denver with some brilliant play. He hit seven straight points to lift Denver to a 72-68 lead, a lead that the Nuggets would never relinquish. Beck scored 11 of his 23 points in the third quarter, and 17 in the second half. "We had to have this game. How could we come back to Denver down 3-1 after what the city has done for us?" noted Beck after his stellar game. A third hero for the Nuggets was Bobby Jones - he snagged 20 rebounds (a Denver season-high) and according to Beck, "just owned the defensive boards." Jones also scored 17 points and hit all but one of his eight shots from the floor.
For the Pacers, it was a bitter loss that wasted a fantastic effort by Darnell Hillman (# 20, above). Hillman went 9 for 9 in the first half, hit his first 10 shots, and wound up with a game-high 34 points, making 15 of 18 shots. McGinnis also had a strong 25-point game, but the Pacers just couldn't duplicate the Game 3 comeback. After the game, Slick Leonard locked the Pacers' dressing-room door to members of the media and then disappeared before talking to any reporters. Billy Keller took just a few questions before saying: "I believe it's best if I just didn't say anything."
|DENVER FG FT-FTA PTS
B. Jones 7 3-4 17
Robisch 4 3-3 11
Green 14 4-4 32
Simpson 7 4-4 18
Calvin 7 7-7 21
Beck 10 3-3 23
Taylor 1 0-0 2
Terry 0 0-0 0
V.B. Kolff 0 2-2 2
TOTALS 50 26-27 126
INDIANA FG FT-FTA PTS
McGinnis 9 5-5 25
Knight 5 5-5 15
Hillman 15 4-4 34
Buse 1 0-0 2
Joyce 4 0-0 9
Keller 4 3-3 11
Brown 2 0-0 5
Elmore 4 0-0 8
TOTALS 44 17-17 109
3-pt: McGinnis 2, Brown 1, Joyce 1
Denver 31 30 33 32 126
Indiana 29 35 20 25 109
Fouls- Denver 16, Indiana 25
Game #5 @ Denver 4/27/1975
GAME SUMMARY (by Al Hoffman and Arthur Hundhausen): Coming home with the series tied, the Nuggets left nothing to chance. To counteract any appearance by Indiana's ' Dancin' Harry, and another possible "hex," the Nuggets hired Robota, the "Wicked Witch of the West" to make a Game 5 appearance. The witch put a spell on the entire Pacers team during pre-game warmups, including a pensive Darnell Hillman (right). She cast a special curse on George McGinnis, using a life size cutout of Big George and a smoking cauldron at mid-court. During the game, she spent time behind the Pacers' bench casting even more spells.
All of the spells, curses and hexes seemed to backfire on the Nuggets, as the Pacers outshot, outhustled and outscored the Nuggets for a 109-90 blowout that wasn't even that close. Amazingly, it was Denver's second home loss of the series - equaling the number of home losses the Nuggets had suffered over the entire regular season.
The game's tone was established right away. Showing no ill effects from the witch's curse, McGinnis stole the ball from a surprised Byron Beck and scored the game's first basket 27 seconds after the game's opening tip. Early in the 4th quarter, the Pacers maintained a slim lead and the Nuggets still had a chance. Dave Robisch hit a bucket at 11:10 of the 4th to make the score 81-79 Indiana. But McGinnis then took the game into his own hands. At 10:57 of the 4th, he hit a 3-pointer to up the lead back to five points. Another 3-pointer at the 9:36 mark upped an eight point lead to 90-79. Finally a three-point play with 8:04 left put the game out of reach - counting a regular two-point basket a few seconds into the 4th period, Big George had scored 11 points in 4 minutes. Suddenly what had been a somewhat close game was broken open. Following the McGinnis outburst, the Pacers held the Nuggets without a field goal for over 7 minutes, causing the disappointed crowd to boo their home team.
After the Pacers blowout, Slick Leonard described the unpredictable nature of the series: "This is a tough series to figure. They win by 20 at our place, and then we win by 20 here. I don't know what the reasons are, it's just unreal. It's a funny game. This game doesn't mean much for the next game. It just means that we have two shots to win the series. Game 6 should be a helluva ballgame. But hell, I don't know what'll happen in this thing."
INDIANA FG FT-FTA PTS
Game #6 @ Indianapolis 4/30/1975
GAME SUMMARY (by Al Hoffman and Arthur Hundhausen): While Denver looked dead after a listless performance in Game 5, the series once again defied expectations.
In an exciting game that featured 29 lead changes and an ABA all-time record crowd of 17,431, the Nuggets' Mike Green, Mack Calvin, and Bobby Jones came up big in the final quarter to help force a deciding Game 7 back in Denver. Each had a significant role in a close 104-99 Nuggets victory.
With only 3:15 left in the 4th quarter, Denver held a slim 96-95 lead. McGinnis (26 points, 14 rebounds) then cruised in from half-court for a thundering dunk and a 97-96 Pacers lead. "I thought it's been loud in Denver," said Larry Brown later, "but holy cow, when McGinnis dunked, I've never heard anything so loud in my life." But Green came back 20 seconds later for his own dunk and a one-point Denver lead. Hillman, with a chance to put Indiana back in the lead, missed a wide-open 12-footer. McGinnis fouled Green on the rebound - Green hit the two resulting free-throws to give Denver a 100-97 lead. The three-point margin gave Denver the cushion needed to win the game, but it didn't come easy.
An irritated McGinnis took the ball at the top of the key and stormed down the lane for a driving layup with 1:17 to play. But on the way, he drove into Denver's Byron Beck, Bobby Jones and Mike Green. Beck went flying, and referee John Vanak came out of the scrum to call McGinnis for charging. The offensive foul took away the basket - and a potential game-tying free-throw - from Indiana. Denver used the next possession to run down the clock - and with 50 seconds left, Green calmly hit a 20-foot jumper to give Denver a 102-97 lead. After a basket by Billy Keller (below # 11) cut the margin back to three points, Mack Calvin sealed the win with two crucial free throws.
On his part, Pacers' coach Slick Leonard was disgusted with some of the calls made against the Pacers, including the crucial charging call against McGinnis in the last 90 seconds. He viewed the game as a theft by referees John Vanak and Jack Madden: "That was the stinkingest . . . job of refereeing I've ever seen . . . They took a five-point play away from George [McGinnis] . . . The only factor in the game was the officiating. They controlled the game from start to finish and every single call went against us. Every guy in this room knows how bad this game was. They know it. The fans know it, and Denver knows it. This game wasn't played by the players, it was played by the officials. It was a rotten job by Vanak and Madden. I've had enough. They come in and call a stinking game. The officials took it away from us - all that acting going on. That falling down. My respect for officials tonight is down to zero. If the Commissioner wants to fine me that's fine."
Over in the Denver locker room, the Nuggets appeared to project confidence for Game 7 back in Denver. Mack Calvin said: "I feel good now and I want to feel a lot better Saturday night [after Game 7]." Asked about being home in the Auditorium Arena for the final game, Fatty Taylor said: "I don't want no witches or music. I just want it the way it's been all year."
|DENVER FG FT-FTA PTS
B. Jones 4 1-2 9
Robisch 1 2-2 4
Green 13 5-5 31
Calvin 7 7-8 21
Simpson 4 8-10 16
Beck 6 3-4 15
Taylor 3 2-2 8
V.B. Kolff 0 0-0 0
TOTALS 38 28-33 104
INDIANA FG FT-FTA PTS
McGinnis 10 4-4 26
Knight 9 0-0 18
Hillman 6 5-6 17
Buse 2 0-0 4
Keller 7 0-0 15
Joyce 4 0-0 8
Elmore 5 1-3 11
TOTALS 43 10-13 99
3-pt: McGinnis 2, Keller 1
Denver 25 19 36 24 104
Indiana 24 22 31 22 99
Fouls- Denver 16, Indiana 24
Game #7 @ Denver 5/3/1975
GAME SUMMARY (by Al Hoffman and Arthur Hundhausen):In the final improbable twist of this unpredictable series, the Pacers beat the Nuggets for the third straight time at Denver's Auditorium Arena. Incredibly, it was the fourth straight win for the road team in the series. Indiana's 104-96 Game 7 victory gave Indiana the series win, one of the most memorable upsets in ABA playoff history, and a most unexpected berth in the 1975 ABA Finals against the Kentucky Colonels.
The decisive game was televised live in both cities - by KWGN Channel 2 in Denver, and by WTTV Channel 4 in Indianapolis.
It was not a blowout - Indiana was able to forge ahead by 10 points in the 2nd quarter, but the Pacers' lead would get no bigger. In the 2nd quarter, the Pacers were powered by 11 points each from Billy Keller and George McGinnis (above left). In that quarter, Indiana hit 67% of their shots while Denver made only 35% of their shots. Denver rallied with a 9-0 run in the 3rd quarter - it gave Denver a slim 75-73 lead. Dave Robisch scored 5 of the 9 points in the run. Denver still led 85-84 with under 7 minutes left, but it was the last time. Indiana countered with a McGinnis hoop, a Knight layup (off a McGinnis assist) & a McGinnis dunk to put the Pacers ahead for good. Behind Bobby Jones (above right, team-high 20 points), Denver tried to rally. But the Nuggets couldn't close the gap in time.
McGinnis literally did everything to carry Indiana to the Game 7 win - he scored 40 points, grabbed 23 rebounds, dished 8 assists, and made 3 steals. He also scored 10 of Indiana’s last 14 points - the key basket was a 3-pointer with 3:54 left that expanded Indiana's lead to 96-92. "I never hesitated on that one," McGinnis noted after the game. "I thought it was a big play for us at the time. And looking back, it sure was. Then I got two goal-tending calls after that. Yeah, I'd say they were questionable. But then I think there have been questionable calls throughout this series, especially that charge on me in the last game." Roger Brown described McGinnis' performance this way: "George smelled victory going down towards the end of that game and he went to the boards like a wild man, or the 'bull' they say he is." After the final horn, in a display of class, McGinnis visited the Denver bench and embraced all of the Nuggets.
In the victorious Pacers locker room, Coach Slick Leonard (below) was quick to compliment Indiana's rookies - Billy Knight, Len Elmore and Kevin Joyce - on a well-played series: "They developed a lot of confidence throughout the year and really made the season for us. But this has been one great series. We had six sellouts and 15,000 the other night back home." Asked about his beef with the referees after Game 6, and the officiating in Game 7, he simply stated: "When you lose, you're unhappy. I don't like to think that referees contribute to the winning and losing of a game. Really, I think the last game was the only one out of twelve we played this year where it was a true factor. But hell, all the damn complaining I'm gonna do isn't going to change anything." Finally, on winning Game 7 and moving on to play Kentucky in the ABA FInals, he noted: "We were a little tense at the start, trying to hurry things and getting fouled up. I told 'em in a time out to take their time, and they did. Then we got things smoothed out and got the job done. Kentucky? The hell with the next game, I'm going to enjoy this one awhile."
INDIANA FG FT-FTA PTS
COMPOSITE BOX SCORE
FG FT-FTA PTS
DENVER G FG FT-FTA PTS
3-PT: Calvin 3, Simpson 1,
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