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The Game: 1970 Finals, Game 7
The Series Situation: Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks tied, 3-3
The Play: Uncertain whether Willis Reed would be able to play through the muscle tear in his right thigh, the New York Knicks get an emotional rush when their captain hobbles onto the floor against the Lakers, hits two jump shots and boosts his teammates’ confidence and performance for their first NBA championship.
The Significance: Reed already had been named MVP of the 1970 All-Star Game and for the 1969-70 regular season. But his and the Knicks’ shot at a title was seriously in doubt when he suffered a torn thigh muscle in Game 5 and sat out Game 6 (Wilt Chamberlain had 45 points and 27 rebounds for the Lakers to tie the series at 3-3). “I didn’t want to have to look at myself in the mirror 20 years later and say I wished I had tried to play,” Reed later recalled thinking, so he received painkiller injections in his thigh and limped to the court during warmups. The crowd already at Madison Square Garden erupted and the Lakers stopped warming up to stare at Reed. “When I saw that,” Knicks guard Walt Frazier said, “something told me we might have these guys.” Reed finished with only four points and three rebounds but gave New York a noble half. He pestered Chamberlain into multiple missed shots while he was in the game, then flipped the keys to Frazier, whose 36 points and 19 assists wound up as one of the greatest and most overshadowed Finals stat lines ever.