Thirty-six years ago at the age of 14, I sat in my basement and watched on TV as Garfield Heard heaved a turn-around jumper from the top of the key to send the Phoenix Suns and Boston Celtics into a third overtime in Game 6 of the NBA Finals.
The broadcaster, Rick Barry, screamed like a little kid. He was in shock as I was. Everyone was. Heard's improbable make was the latest of several stunning made shots during the last several minutes of regulation and overtime. John Havlicek banked a shot in and ran off the court thinking his Celtics had won the NBA title only to find out there was still time on the clock. Nick Van Arsdale, the quintessential NBA journeyman ballplayer, nailed a 20 footer in the clutch for the Suns late in the fourth quarter. Celtic guard Jo Jo White played 61 minutes in that game. In the third overtime, while a Sun took two free throws, he sat down on the court to rest. Ever seen that before? Of course not.
But in this game you saw everything and more, and then more. It shocked. It confused. It mesmerized. It dazzled. It amazed. It seemed as if it would never end and only did well past midnight. The crowd stormed the court after Havlicek's shot, then had to get off the court because there was still time left. It was simply the most thrilling and greatest NBA basketball game ever played.
It just kept going on and on and on. I refer to it as "The Gar Game" in honor of the ridiculously clutch shot by Garfield Heard. He was never "Heard" from before or since that shot-that's how improbable his made shot was. Yet it was insanely important and clutch because it kept his team alive in its pursuit of and NBA title.
I hearken back to this game because I have heard talk today that last night's Game 6 between the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs was one of the greatest in NBA history. While the most thrilling I've seen in several years, it was nowhere close to the drama of the Gar Game. Ray Allen hit a major three pointer with five seconds left last night to rescue his Heat from off season humiliation and embarrassment. In the Gar game there were about five of those type shots. The Gar Game was a beautiful buzzer-beater bonanza.
Of all the NBA games I've ever watched, I would put last night's in the top three. It was riveting back and forth theater. Tony Parker's three pointer in late regulation was monumentally clutch and seemed to seal his team's fifth NBA title. LeBron taking over in the fourth quarter was superhuman; we were witnessing a truly desperate man who did not want to be criticized by everyone in the world for not winning another NBA title, for coming up short. And there were guys who were playing games of their lives such as Kawhi Leonard, who at 21 years old was making enormously important shots in the fourth quarter. For the rest of his career he will never play in a more exciting basketball game. These only come along once in a generation.
But for the game to have been as great as the Gar game, it would have needed to deliver several more improbable plays. For instance, journeyman big man for the Spurs, Tiago Splitter, would have had to make a turnaround from the top of the key at the end of the second overtime with one second left. Splitter and Gar Heard are comparable bit players in their respective Series, not stars and not expected to be clutch, and not great or even good outside shooters. But Splitter didn't do that. Gar did, which is why the Gar Game stands above all the rest. His make blew everyone's mind.
There is one other NBA game I would put above last night's all-time classic. In Game 6 of the Finals between the Chicago Bulls and Utah Jazz in 1977, Michael Jordan battled a virulent flu before, during and after the game. Yet he managed to score 38 points including the game winner with two seconds to play. He could hardly stand up when it ended and while on the bench suffered from the pain of overheating with a towel covering his sweaty head. But he still played stupendously great. The whole game you wondered when he would just have to call it quits but he never did. Arguably, it was MJ's finest hour and certainly his most inspiring performance. This is a huge statement given how many fantastic games he played. Like the Gar Game, that one has its own moniker: "The Flu Game."
I can't think of another NBA game that was more thrilling to watch than the Gar Game. Last night's got my juices flowing and ranks third all time in my mind. The most intriguing part about last night was how much pressure the Heat were under not to lose, and how close they were to doing so trailing by 5 points with 28 seconds to play. It was over. The NBA championship trophy was being wheeled out to the court to crown the Spurs with their fifth NBA title. I repeat. The game was over. The Heat were fried.
But they cooked up something classical in the end, orchestrating the crescendo of the all-time great NBA basketball games of any era.
Let's call it "The Heat Game."