1981 NBA playoffs
DatesMarch 31–May 14, 1981
Season1980–81
Teams12
ChampionsBoston Celtics (14th title)
Runners-upHouston Rockets (1st finals appearance)
Semifinalists

The 1981 NBA playoffs were the postseason tournament of the National Basketball Association's 1980–81 season. The tournament concluded with the Eastern Conference champion Boston Celtics defeating the Western Conference champion Houston Rockets 4 games to 2 in the NBA Finals. Cedric Maxwell was named NBA Finals MVP.

The playoffs are notable for being the third and final time to date that a team with a losing record advanced to the NBA Finals (the St. Louis Hawks did it first in 1957 with a 34–38 record, the Minneapolis Lakers did it in 1959 with a 33–39 record), as the Rockets won their first Western Conference title despite having a 40–42 record.

This was the only time in NBA history in which two teams with a losing record played each other in a Conference Finals, though the 1957 Western Division Finals did feature two teams with losing records. The Rockets and the Kansas City Kings, both with a 40–42 record, played in the Western Conference Finals which saw the Rockets prevail 4–1.

The Kings' playoff series victories over the Blazers and Suns were their last in Kansas City. Their last playoff series in Kansas City was a 3-game sweep in the first round in 1984 by the Lakers. They moved to Sacramento after the 1984–85 season and didn't win a playoff series representing northern California until 2001.

The Pacers became the last former ABA team to make their playoff debut, but were quickly swept by the 76ers 2–0.

This is the last year to date that an NBA playoff game was played in March.

The Celtics replicated their 1968 comeback by beating the Sixers in 7 after trailing 3–1. This is the only time a team came back from a 3–1 series deficit to win against the same team twice.

This was the last time the Los Angeles Lakers were not the number one seed in the Western Conference until 1991.

Bracket

  First Round Conference Semifinals Conference Finals NBA Finals
                                     
E4 New York 0 E1 Boston* 4  
E5 Chicago 2 E5 Chicago 0  
  E1 Boston* 4
Eastern Conference
  E3 Philadelphia 3  
E3 Philadelphia 2 E3 Philadelphia 4
E6 Indiana 0 E2 Milwaukee* 3  
  E1 Boston* 4
  W6 Houston 2
W4 Portland 1 W1 Phoenix* 3
W5 Kansas City 2 W5 Kansas City 4  
  W5 Kansas City 1
Western Conference
  W6 Houston 4
W3 Los Angeles 1 W6 Houston 4
W6 Houston 2 W2 San Antonio* 3

* Division winner
Bold Series winner
Italic Team with home-court advantage


First Round

Eastern Conference First Round

(3) Philadelphia 76ers vs. (6) Indiana Pacers

March 31
Indiana Pacers 108, Philadelphia 76ers 124
Scoring by quarter: 33–38, 16–29, 30–24, 29–33
Pts: Billy Knight 25
Rebs: Knight, C. Johnson 7 each
Asts: Johnny Davis 8
Pts: Julius Erving 32
Rebs: Caldwell Jones 12
Asts: Andrew Toney 11
Philadelphia leads series, 1–0
April 2
Philadelphia 76ers 96, Indiana Pacers 85
Scoring by quarter: 27–23, 25–18, 18–24, 26–20
Pts: Julius Erving 23
Rebs: Caldwell Jones 11
Asts: Maurice Cheeks 6
Pts: Johnny Davis 21
Rebs: Clemon Johnson 13
Asts: Billy Knight 4
Philadelphia wins series, 2–0

This was the first playoff meeting between the Pacers and the 76ers.[1]

(4) New York Knicks vs. (5) Chicago Bulls

March 31
Chicago Bulls 90, New York Knicks 80
Scoring by quarter: 12–24, 23–16, 25–18, 30–22
Pts: Ricky Sobers 18
Rebs: Artis Gilmore 16
Asts: Ricky Sobers 6
Pts: Ray Williams 19
Rebs: Micheal Ray Richardson 13
Asts: Micheal Ray Richardson 6
Chicago leads series, 1–0
April 3
New York Knicks 114, Chicago Bulls 115 (OT)
Scoring by quarter: 36–32, 26–20, 25–28, 19–26Overtime: 8–9
Pts: Campy Russell 29
Rebs: three players 6 each
Asts: three players 5 each
Pts: Reggie Theus 37
Rebs: Dwight Jones 14
Asts: Reggie Theus 11
Chicago wins series, 2–0
Chicago Stadium, Chicago, Illinois
Attendance: 19,901

This was the first playoff meeting between the Bulls and the Knicks.[2]

Western Conference First Round

(3) Los Angeles Lakers vs. (6) Houston Rockets

April 1
Houston Rockets 111, Los Angeles Lakers 107
Scoring by quarter: 32–26, 28–24, 29–31, 22–26
Pts: Moses Malone 38
Rebs: Moses Malone 23
Asts: Allen Leavell 8
Pts: Magic Johnson 26
Rebs: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 15
Asts: Norm Nixon 10
Houston leads series, 1–0
The Forum, Inglewood, California
Attendance: 15,517
April 3
Los Angeles Lakers 111, Houston Rockets 106
Scoring by quarter: 27–18, 27–29, 30–23, 27–36
Pts: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 27
Rebs: Magic Johnson 18
Asts: Norm Nixon 11
Pts: Moses Malone 33
Rebs: Moses Malone 15
Asts: Calvin Murphy 8
Series tied, 1–1
The Summit, Houston, Texas
Attendance: 16,121
April 5
Houston Rockets 89, Los Angeles Lakers 86
Scoring by quarter: 27–29, 22–18, 22–20, 18–19
Pts: Moses Malone 23
Rebs: Moses Malone 15
Asts: Tom Henderson 7
Pts: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 32
Rebs: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 18
Asts: Magic Johnson 9
Houston wins series, 2–1
The Forum, Inglewood, California
Attendance: 14,813

This was the first playoff meeting between the Rockets and the Lakers.[3]

(4) Portland Trail Blazers vs. (5) Kansas City Kings

April 1
Kansas City Kings 98, Portland Trail Blazers 97 (OT)
Scoring by quarter: 23–18, 26–30, 18–29, 23–13, Overtime: 8–7
Pts: Otis Birdsong 29
Rebs: King, Lacey 12 each
Asts: Sam Lacey 10
Pts: Billy Ray Bates 25
Rebs: Kermit Washington 17
Asts: Kelvin Ransey 10
Kansas City leads series, 1–0
April 3
Portland Trail Blazers 124, Kansas City Kings 119 (OT)
Scoring by quarter: 22–21, 33–31, 39–34, 18–26Overtime: 12–7
Pts: Mychal Thompson 40
Rebs: Kermit Washington 18
Asts: Kelvin Ransey 7
Pts: Scott Wedman 31
Rebs: Sam Lacey 9
Asts: Sam Lacey 8
Series tied, 1–1
April 5
Kansas City Kings 104, Portland Trail Blazers 95
Scoring by quarter: 22–29, 27–19, 25–20, 30–27
Pts: Reggie King 28
Rebs: Reggie King 15
Asts: Ernie Grunfeld 6
Pts: Billy Ray Bates 34
Rebs: Kermit Washington 17
Asts: Kelvin Ransey 8
Kansas City wins series, 2–1

This was the first playoff meeting between the Trail Blazers and the Kings.[4]

Conference Semifinals

Eastern Conference Semifinals

(1) Boston Celtics vs. (5) Chicago Bulls

April 5
Chicago Bulls 109, Boston Celtics 121
Scoring by quarter: 23–32, 29–22, 29–40, 28–27
Pts: Dwight Jones 19
Rebs: Dwight Jones 9
Asts: Jones, Sobers 4 each
Pts: Larry Bird 23
Rebs: Larry Bird 12
Asts: Bird, Maxwell 5 each
Boston leads series, 1–0
Boston Garden, Boston, Massachusetts
Attendance: 15,320
April 7
Chicago Bulls 97, Boston Celtics 106
Scoring by quarter: 14–32, 24–21, 28–23, 31–30
Pts: Reggie Theus 21
Rebs: Gilmore, Jones 10 each
Asts: three players 4 each
Pts: Archibald, Parish 27 each
Rebs: Larry Bird 12
Asts: Larry Bird 9
Boston leads series, 2–0
Boston Garden, Boston, Massachusetts
Attendance: 15,320
April 10
Boston Celtics 113, Chicago Bulls 107
Scoring by quarter: 32–35, 25–25, 30–25, 26–22
Pts: Larry Bird 24
Rebs: Larry Bird 17
Asts: Larry Bird 10
Pts: Reggie Theus 26
Rebs: David Greenwood 12
Asts: Reggie Theus 8
Boston leads series, 3–0
Chicago Stadium, Chicago, Illinois
Attendance: 19,995
April 12
Boston Celtics 109, Chicago Bulls 103
Scoring by quarter: 25–24, 30–29, 25–27, 29–23
Pts: Larry Bird 35
Rebs: Larry Bird 11
Asts: Tiny Archibald 6
Pts: David Greenwood 24
Rebs: Artis Gilmore 15
Asts: Theus, Sobers 7 each
Boston wins series, 4–0
Chicago Stadium, Chicago, Illinois
Attendance: 18,249

This was the first playoff meeting between the Celtics and the Bulls.[5]

(2) Milwaukee Bucks vs. (3) Philadelphia 76ers

April 5
Milwaukee Bucks 122, Philadelphia 76ers 125
Scoring by quarter: 37–32, 26–34, 27–27, 32–32
Pts: Junior Bridgeman 32
Rebs: Marques Johnson 14
Asts: Quinn Buckner 8
Pts: Julius Erving 38
Rebs: Caldwell Jones 11
Asts: Caldwell Jones 7
Philadelphia leads series, 1–0
April 7
Milwaukee Bucks 109, Philadelphia 76ers 99
Scoring by quarter: 21–25, 33–20, 23–32, 32–22
Pts: Marques Johnson 22
Rebs: Bob Lanier 10
Asts: Quinn Buckner 6
Pts: Bobby Jones 22
Rebs: Julius Erving 13
Asts: Maurice Cheeks 6
Series tied, 1–1
Spectrum, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Attendance: 15,259
April 10
Philadelphia 76ers 108, Milwaukee Bucks 103
Scoring by quarter: 28–32, 26–22, 33–25, 21–24
Pts: Erving, Dawkins 23 each
Rebs: Caldwell Jones 13
Asts: Maurice Cheeks 9
Pts: Marques Johnson 29
Rebs: Marques Johnson 9
Asts: Marques Johnson 8
Philadelphia leads series, 2–1
MECCA Arena, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Attendance: 11,052
April 12
Philadelphia 76ers 98, Milwaukee Bucks 109
Scoring by quarter: 21–35, 28–26, 24–17, 25–31
Pts: Julius Erving 22
Rebs: Caldwell Jones 8
Asts: Maurice Cheeks 8
Pts: Marques Johnson 35
Rebs: Sidney Moncrief 10
Asts: Marques Johnson 7
Series tied, 2–2
MECCA Arena, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Attendance: 11,052
April 15
Milwaukee Bucks 99, Philadelphia 76ers 116
Scoring by quarter: 22–27, 25–31, 26–30, 26–28
Pts: Mickey Johnson, Moncrief 20 each
Rebs: Mickey Johnson 13
Asts: Marques Johnson 7
Pts: Cheeks, Hollins 20 each
Rebs: Julius Erving 9
Asts: Maurice Cheeks 10
Philadelphia leads series, 3–2
Spectrum, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Attendance: 15,384
April 17
Philadelphia 76ers 86, Milwaukee Bucks 109
Scoring by quarter: 19–24, 26–20, 21–30, 20–35
Pts: Julius Erving 25
Rebs: Julius Erving 7
Asts: Maurice Cheeks 7
Pts: Mickey Johnson 22
Rebs: Mickey Johnson 12
Asts: Lanier, Buckner 6 each
Series tied, 3–3
MECCA Arena, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Attendance: 11,052
April 19
Milwaukee Bucks 98, Philadelphia 76ers 99
Scoring by quarter: 28–28, 20–30, 25–21, 25–20
Pts: Marques Johnson 36
Rebs: Bob Lanier 10
Asts: four players 4 each
Pts: Julius Erving 28
Rebs: Caldwell Jones 12
Asts: Maurice Cheeks 11
Philadelphia wins series, 4–3

This was the second playoff meeting between these two teams, with the Bucks winning the first meeting.

Western Conference Semifinals

(1) Phoenix Suns vs. (5) Kansas City Kings

April 7
Kansas City Kings 80, Phoenix Suns 102
Scoring by quarter: 20–23, 26–28, 12–24, 22–27
Pts: Reggie King 15
Rebs: Reggie King 8
Asts: Lloyd Walton 6
Pts: Johnson, Davis 16 each
Rebs: Jeff Cook 12
Asts: three players 4 each
Phoenix leads series, 1–0
April 8
Kansas City Kings 88, Phoenix Suns 83
Scoring by quarter: 24–20, 19–23, 18–20, 27–20
Pts: Scott Wedman 24
Rebs: Reggie King 12
Asts: Ernie Grunfeld 8
Pts: Dennis Johnson 31
Rebs: Truck Robinson 8
Asts: Alvan Adams 4
Series tied, 1–1
April 10
Phoenix Suns 92, Kansas City Kings 93
Scoring by quarter: 20–22, 29–18, 21–28, 22–25
Pts: Johnson, Adams 19 each
Rebs: Dennis Johnson 9
Asts: three players 4 each
Pts: Reggie King 29
Rebs: Sam Lacey 12
Asts: Ernie Grunfeld 7
Kansas City leads series, 2–1
April 12
Phoenix Suns 95, Kansas City Kings 102
Scoring by quarter: 27–33, 23–22, 22–23, 23–24
Pts: Truck Robinson 23
Rebs: Truck Robinson 13
Asts: Alvan Adams 4
Pts: Ernie Grunfeld 27
Rebs: Sam Lacey 11
Asts: Sam Lacey 10
Kansas City leads series, 3–1
April 15
Kansas City Kings 89, Phoenix Suns 101
Scoring by quarter: 25–23, 15–29, 23–21, 26–28
Pts: Reggie King 29
Rebs: Douglas, Lacey 8 each
Asts: Ernie Grunfeld 8
Pts: Walter Davis 20
Rebs: Truck Robinson 20
Asts: Johnson, Davis 4 each
Kansas City leads series, 3–2
April 17
Phoenix Suns 81, Kansas City Kings 76
Scoring by quarter: 23–21, 19–16, 20–20, 19–19
Pts: Dennis Johnson 17
Rebs: Truck Robinson 10
Asts: Alvan Adams 7
Pts: Scott Wedman 19
Rebs: Sam Lacey 12
Asts: Ernie Grunfeld 8
Series tied, 3–3
April 19
Kansas City Kings 95, Phoenix Suns 88
Scoring by quarter: 22–18, 22–26, 24–12, 27–32
Pts: Grunfeld, King 23 each
Rebs: King, Lacey 7 each
Asts: Scott Wedman 9
Pts: Dennis Johnson 28
Rebs: Johnson, Adams 7 each
Asts: Dennis Johnson 5
Kansas City wins series, 4–3

This was the third playoff meeting between these two teams, with the Suns winning the first two meetings.

(2) San Antonio Spurs vs. (6) Houston Rockets

April 7
Houston Rockets 107, San Antonio Spurs 98
Scoring by quarter: 26–27, 36–26, 22–20, 23–25
Pts: Moses Malone 27
Rebs: Moses Malone 10
Asts: Reid, Murphy 6 each
Pts: George Gervin 30
Rebs: George Johnson 12
Asts: Paul Griffin 7
Houston leads series, 1–0
April 8
Houston Rockets 113, San Antonio Spurs 125
Scoring by quarter: 26–30, 25–32, 29–26, 33–37
Pts: Calvin Murphy 34
Rebs: Moses Malone 12
Asts: Robert Reid 10
Pts: Mark Olberding 34
Rebs: G. Johnson, Griffin 7 each
Asts: Dave Corzine 7
Series tied, 1–1
April 10
San Antonio Spurs 99, Houston Rockets 112
Scoring by quarter: 34–29, 23–32, 27–25, 15–26
Pts: George Gervin 33
Rebs: Gervin, G. Johnson 8 each
Asts: Mark Olberding 5
Pts: Moses Malone 41
Rebs: Moses Malone 15
Asts: Reid, Murphy 4 each
Houston leads series, 2–1
The Summit, Houston, Texas
Attendance: 16,121
April 12
San Antonio Spurs 114, Houston Rockets 112
Scoring by quarter: 23–25, 32–28, 31–24, 28–35
Pts: George Gervin 33
Rebs: Dave Corzine 11
Asts: Mark Olberding 6
Pts: Robert Reid 33
Rebs: Moses Malone 9
Asts: Reid, Henderson 6 each
Series tied, 2–2
The Summit, Houston, Texas
Attendance: 16,121
April 14
Houston Rockets 123, San Antonio Spurs 117
Scoring by quarter: 29–29, 31–27, 31–28, 32–33
Pts: Calvin Murphy 36
Rebs: Moses Malone 13
Asts: Tom Henderson 7
Pts: Reggie Johnson 25
Rebs: George Johnson 11
Asts: George Gervin 9
Houston leads series, 3–2
April 15
San Antonio Spurs 101, Houston Rockets 96
Scoring by quarter: 27–33, 35–24, 17–23, 22–16
Pts: George Gervin 26
Rebs: three players 8 each
Asts: Mark Olberding 8
Pts: Moses Malone 36
Rebs: Moses Malone 10
Asts: Reid, Henderson 7 each
Series tied, 3–3
The Summit, Houston, Texas
Attendance: 16,121
April 17
Houston Rockets 105, San Antonio Spurs 100
Scoring by quarter: 34–30, 23–36, 22–12, 26–22
Pts: Calvin Murphy 42
Rebs: Moses Malone 16
Asts: Tom Henderson 8
Pts: George Gervin 21
Rebs: George Johnson 10
Asts: Johnny Moore 10
Houston wins series, 4–3

This was the second playoff meeting between these two teams, with the Rockets winning the first meeting.

Conference Finals

Eastern Conference Finals

(1) Boston Celtics vs. (3) Philadelphia 76ers

John Hollinger of ESPN.com ranked this as the greatest playoff series in NBA history[9]

April 21
Philadelphia 76ers 105, Boston Celtics 104
Scoring by quarter: 24–32, 31–22, 22–25, 28–25
Pts: Andrew Toney 26
Rebs: Julius Erving 9
Asts: Maurice Cheeks 8
Pts: Larry Bird 33
Rebs: Robert Parish 13
Asts: Tiny Archibald 9
Philadelphia leads series, 1–0
Boston Garden, Boston, Massachusetts
Attendance: 15,320
April 22
Philadelphia 76ers 99, Boston Celtics 118
Scoring by quarter: 22–30, 25–36, 26–25, 26–27
Pts: Andrew Toney 35
Rebs: Dawkins, Toney 7 each
Asts: Andrew Toney 7
Pts: Larry Bird 34
Rebs: Larry Bird 16
Asts: Larry Bird 5
Series tied, 1–1
Boston Garden, Boston, Massachusetts
Attendance: 15,320
April 24
Boston Celtics 100, Philadelphia 76ers 110
Scoring by quarter: 20–31, 27–31, 26–27, 27–21
Pts: Larry Bird 22
Rebs: Larry Bird 13
Asts: Tiny Archibald 5
Pts: Julius Erving 22
Rebs: Caldwell Jones 14
Asts: Maurice Cheeks 8
Philadelphia leads series, 2–1
Spectrum, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Attendance: 18,276
April 26
Boston Celtics 105, Philadelphia 76ers 107
Scoring by quarter: 27–34, 21–31, 31–17, 26–25
Pts: Cedric Maxwell 20
Rebs: Larry Bird 17
Asts: Tiny Archibald 14
Pts: Julius Erving 20
Rebs: Caldwell Jones 10
Asts: Maurice Cheeks 10
Philadelphia leads series, 3–1
Spectrum, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Attendance: 18,276
April 29
Philadelphia 76ers 109, Boston Celtics 111
Scoring by quarter: 22–24, 37–25, 26–35, 24–27
Pts: Lionel Hollins 23
Rebs: Darryl Dawkins 8
Asts: Erving, Hollins 5 each
Pts: Larry Bird 32
Rebs: Larry Bird 11
Asts: Tiny Archibald 7
Philadelphia leads series, 3–2
Boston Garden, Boston, Massachusetts
Attendance: 15,320
May 1
Boston Celtics 100, Philadelphia 76ers 98
Scoring by quarter: 18–31, 24–20, 28–22, 30–25
Pts: Larry Bird 25
Rebs: Larry Bird 16
Asts: Tiny Archibald 6
Pts: Darryl Dawkins 24
Rebs: Caldwell Jones 8
Asts: Maurice Cheeks 8
Series tied, 3–3
Spectrum, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Attendance: 18,276
May 3
Philadelphia 76ers 90, Boston Celtics 91
Scoring by quarter: 31–26, 22–22, 22–23, 15–20
Pts: Julius Erving 23
Rebs: Caldwell Jones 15
Asts: Maurice Cheeks 7
Pts: Larry Bird 23
Rebs: Larry Bird 11
Asts: Tiny Archibald 7
Boston wins series, 4–3
Boston Garden, Boston, Massachusetts
Attendance: 15,320

This was the 16th playoff meeting between these two teams, with the Celtics winning eight of the first 15 meetings.

In Game 4, the Sixers led 93–86 midway through the fourth quarter, when Cedric Maxwell scored and drew the foul on Darryl Dawkins. He completed the three-point play. Larry Bird pushed the ball up court after a Sixers turnover. He pulled up and hit a mid-range shot to make it 93–91. Then after a Dawkins miss, Bird grabbed the rebound and threw a quick outlet pass that led to a fast-break layup to tie it at 93.

The teams traded baskets for four straight trips before the Sixers took a 101–97 lead with 4 minutes left. They traded baskets again, with Julius Erving finishing the scoring for the 76ers with a dunk over Robert Parish and two free throws for a 107–103 lead with 2:30 left. With over a minute left, Caldwell Jones lost his shoe in a scramble and played defense with it in one hand. Nate Archibald took advantage and drove right at Jones, who allowed him a free lane for an easy lay-up to make it 107–105 (he held the shoe instead of tossing it away to have both hands free or using it to his advantage to block the shot).

In the final minute, Philadelphia committed a shot-clock violation, giving Boston a chance to tie or go ahead. But Parish's turn-around shot rolled out. The rebound was tipped between two Sixers players and almost went out-of-bounds before Erving got it to Maurice Cheeks with 30 seconds left. The Sixers used as much time as they could, but Bobby Jones missed a runner and Maxwell got the rebound with 7 seconds left. He passed it to Archibald, who forced a half-court pass to Bird that Bobby Jones intercepted to end the game and give Philadelphia a 3–1 series lead.

Game 5 was back in Boston, and the Celtics were in a must-win situation. Bobby Jones' block on Gerald Henderson led to a fast-break lay-up by Andrew Toney to give the 76ers a 103–99 lead. The teams traded buckets the next four trips until a missed jumper by Bird and two Dawkins free throws made it 109–103 with 1:51 left. Dawkins got a steal, but Maxwell's game-saving block prevented a Philadelphia lay-up and led to an Archibald three-point play with 1:20 left that made it 109–106. Boston then got another block by Parish. The Sixers recovered the ball, but lost it out-of-bounds seconds later.

Bird's lay-up made it 109–108 with 47 seconds left. After a Sixers timeout, Bobby Jones' inbounds pass was deflected by Bird, then tipped by Dawkins. Bird reached for the ball while Jones put his hands up to show he didn't touch it as the ball went out-of-bounds. The referees gave the 76ers the ball, much to Bird's dismay. He argued to the refs that he didn't touch it. They met to make a decision. After a few minutes, possession was awarded to the 76ers, and Jones cleanly inbounded to Dawkins. He passed to Hollins, who gave it to Toney, who almost lost and palmed the ball, but the referees let play continue despite the jeers from the crowd. Toney tried to get the ball to Erving, but M.L. Carr deflected it out-of-bounds.

The last 29 seconds had a few moments that were reminiscent of earlier Boston Garden lore. Erving stood in almost the same spot where Hal Greer had his pass stolen by John Havlicek to seal the 1965 Eastern Division Finals. However, the 76ers were ahead this time. Erving inbounded the ball, but it got past Jones and started rolling along the sideline. Bird grabbed it and drove to the hoop with only Jones to stop him. He beat Bird to the hoop to challenge his floater. Carr got the rebound and missed, but a foul was called on Erving. With the season on the line and 20 seconds left, Carr hit both to give Boston a 110–109 lead.

After a timeout, Lionel Hollins took the ball up court and passed to Bobby Jones, who passed it to Erving. With Maxwell defending and Bird coming to double-team, Erving passed back out to Jones. With the clock ticking away, he drove and missed a floater with 7 seconds left. Carr got the rebound and ran the clock down to 1 second before Erving fouled him. Like Game 5 of the 1976 NBA Finals, the fans and media ran onto the court thinking it was over. Once it was cleared, Carr had to shoot the free throws. He hit the first to make it 111–109, then intentionally missed the next two (the 3-to-make-2 rule). Dawkins got the rebound and called timeout. The crowd huddled around the court with 1 second left and Jones standing in nearly the same spot that Curtis Perry stood before passing the ball to Gar Heard. This time, things turned out better as Parish stole it to keep Boston alive. But the Sixers still led 3–2 and were going back home.

In Game 6, Philadelphia was looking to clinch at home, and it looked like they would, as they were up by 17 at one point. But with the season on the line yet again, the Celtics fought back. With the game tied at 87 late in the fourth, Erving was blocked from behind by Bird underneath the basket. On the Celtics' end of the court, Archibald missed a 15-footer, but followed his own miss and went right back up for a layup. Cheeks hit a reverse lay-up to tie it at 89. He fouled out on the next possession. Parish hit both free throws to give Boston a 91–89 lead. After Boston failed to capitalize on a Sixers turnover, Erving tied it at 91 with a layup over Parish. After Bird traveled, Dawkins was fouled and hit both free throws to give the Sixers a 93–91 lead. This was short-lived, as Parish hit a baseline jumper and drew the foul. He completed the 3-point play to give Boston a 94–93 lead with under 3 minutes left.

A Dawkins dunk and two Archibald free throws further swayed the lead. A Hollins miss gave Boston a chance to build the lead, but Parish left after being called for an offensive foul, his sixth. That brought in rookie Kevin McHale to guard Dawkins. The Sixers went right at him, but he played good defense and forced Dawkins to miss. Bird hit an 18-footer to give Boston a 98–95 lead with 1 minute left. Toney answered by hitting a 20-footer with 54 seconds and stealing the ball from Bird with 29 seconds left and the Sixers down 1. He went for the lead, but McHale blocked it and got the ball with 14 seconds left. He passed the ball ahead to Archibald and Boston played keep away. The Sixers didn't foul until 2 seconds left. Maxwell made both foul shots to give Boston a 100–97 lead. After a timeout, the Sixers inbounded at midcourt.

The first attempt was deflected out-of-bounds by Bird, but 2 seconds still showed on the clock. However, it moved the position of the inbounds pass upcourt, making Billy Cunningham decide to take their final timeout to draw up a play from the new position. McHale's defense prevented Jones from inbounding to Toney in the corner, but he found Dr. J at the top of the key, who was immediately fouled by Archibald to prevent him from handling the ball cleanly to even try to shoot a 3. So with 1 second left, Erving had two foul shots while down 3. The Sixers still had a chance if he made the first and missed the second. He missed the first. Erving hit the second to make it 100–98. After a timeout, the Celtics inbounded from midcourt and tied the series at 3 heading back home for Game 7.

Like the last three games, Game 7 came down to the wire. It finally looked like the 76ers' night as they led by 7 with 4:34 left. Maxwell and Archibald brought Boston within 4 from the line. A Parish steal and a turn-around jumper cut it to 2. Parish blocked Dawkins' lay-up, which led to a fast-break, but Maxwell lost his balance and traveled. "Tiny" Archibald got a steal leading to a Bird dunk attempt that missed, but was fouled by Erving; his fifth. Bird missed the first, but made the next two to tie it at 89 with 2:51 left.

The 76ers' next trip downcourt was a wild one. Dr. J almost traveled, a pass got deflected out of bounds, Caldwell Jones got the offensive rebound off a Dr. J miss, and a Bird block on Erving, led to a scramble for the ball that saw bodies fly all over the court. It eventually rolled to Hollins, who got it off before the shot clock expired, but missed. A battle for the rebound almost saw Bird tip it out-of-bounds, but as the ball bounced precariously near the baseline, he grabbed it and got it to "Tiny" to give Boston a chance to take the lead.

On Boston's possession, Parish threw up an airball that went out-of-bounds off Hollins, giving the Celtics a second chance. However, "Tiny" missed a long-range 2, and the rebound bounced off Boston. The Sixers then put the ball in the hands of Erving and Dawkins as they traded the ball back and forth to wear down the Celtics defense. Parish, Maxwell, and Bird played tough defense, and forced a Dawkins miss that Bird rebounded. He led the fast-break himself and hit a mid-range bank shot to give Boston a 91–89 lead with 1:03 left.

With the 76ers looking to tie or go ahead, Erving's pass was stolen by Carr with 47 seconds left. But Boston was without Archibald, who got injured a couple plays back. Henderson had the ball poked away by Hollins to Cheeks, who kept it on the fast-break. He drove to the basket and got fouled hard on a missed lay-up. He took a few moments to get up. He gutted it out though, and went to the line with a chance to tie it with 29 seconds left. He split the pair to make it 91–90.

The 76ers chose not to foul and played tough defense. Boston used up the entire shot-clock before Carr finally took a shot with 7 seconds. He missed, but Parish momentarily had a series-ending offensive rebound, but lost it. Bobby Jones finally got the rebound and called time with 1 second left. So with a chance to win, he had to inbound the ball with fans, security, and media huddled around the court. With Bird defending, Jones lobbed a pass towards the basket, but it hit the top of the backboard. Cedric Maxwell tipped it to end the series as the Garden crowd stormed the court. Boston became the fourth team in NBA history to overcome a 3–1 series deficit, and the third team to do so in the Conference Finals. This would happen again in 2016 between the Golden State Warriors and Oklahoma City Thunder.

Western Conference Finals

(5) Kansas City Kings vs. (6) Houston Rockets

April 21
Houston Rockets 97, Kansas City Kings 78
Scoring by quarter: 20–23, 24–18, 22–19, 31–18
Pts: Moses Malone 29
Rebs: Moses Malone 12
Asts: Mike Dunleavy 6
Pts: Ernie Grunfeld 20
Rebs: Reggie King 12
Asts: Lacey, Ford 7 each
Houston leads series, 1–0
April 22
Houston Rockets 79, Kansas City Kings 88
Scoring by quarter: 26–22, 22–25, 13–21, 18–20
Pts: Moses Malone 18
Rebs: Moses Malone 15
Asts: Tom Henderson 7
Pts: Reggie King 31
Rebs: Reggie King 10
Asts: King, Lacey 6 each
Series tied, 1–1
April 24
Kansas City Kings 88, Houston Rockets 92
Scoring by quarter: 16–24, 22–23, 20–25, 30–20
Pts: Wedman, King 22 each
Rebs: Reggie King 8
Asts: Scott Wedman 7
Pts: Reid, Paultz 20 each
Rebs: Malone, Paultz 12 each
Asts: Mike Dunleavy 10
Houston leads series, 2–1
The Summit, Houston, Texas
Attendance: 16,121
April 26
Kansas City Kings 89, Houston Rockets 100
Scoring by quarter: 19–20, 26–26, 24–29, 20–25
Pts: Reggie King 24
Rebs: King, Lacey 8 each
Asts: Phil Ford 10
Pts: Moses Malone 42
Rebs: Moses Malone 23
Asts: Robert Reid 9
Houston leads series, 3–1
The Summit, Houston, Texas
Attendance: 16,121
April 29
Houston Rockets 97, Kansas City Kings 88
Scoring by quarter: 20–25, 30–25, 23–27, 24–11
Pts: Moses Malone 36
Rebs: Moses Malone 11
Asts: Tom Henderson 6
Pts: Scott Wedman 20
Rebs: Reggie King 16
Asts: Sam Lacey 7
Houston wins series, 4–1

This was the first playoff meeting between the Rockets and the Kings.[11]

NBA Finals: (E1) Boston Celtics vs. (W6) Houston Rockets

Main article: 1981 NBA Finals

May 5
Houston Rockets 95, Boston Celtics 98
Scoring by quarter: 29–24, 28–27, 24–25, 14–22
Pts: Robert Reid 27
Rebs: Moses Malone 15
Asts: Mike Dunleavy 7
Pts: Larry Bird 18
Rebs: Larry Bird 21
Asts: Larry Bird 9
Boston leads series, 1–0
Boston Garden, Boston, Massachusetts
Attendance: 15,320
Referees: Darell Garretson, John Vanak
May 7
Houston Rockets 92, Boston Celtics 90
Scoring by quarter: 22–26, 23–23, 23–19, 24–22
Pts: Moses Malone 31
Rebs: Moses Malone 15
Asts: three players 3 each
Pts: Larry Bird 19
Rebs: Larry Bird 21
Asts: Archibald, Henderson 4 each
Series tied, 1–1
Boston Garden, Boston, Massachusetts
Attendance: 15,320
Referees: Jake O'Donnell, Ed T. Rush
May 9
Boston Celtics 94, Houston Rockets 71
Scoring by quarter: 21–17, 20–13, 24–18, 29–23
Pts: Cedric Maxwell 19
Rebs: Larry Bird 13
Asts: Larry Bird 10
Pts: Moses Malone 23
Rebs: Moses Malone 15
Asts: three players 2 each
Boston leads series, 2–1
The Summit, Houston, Texas
Attendance: 16,121
Referees: John Vanak, Earl Strom
May 10
Boston Celtics 86, Houston Rockets 91
Scoring by quarter: 26–26, 24–24, 17–25, 19–16
Pts: Cedric Maxwell 24
Rebs: Cedric Maxwell 14
Asts: Larry Bird 7
Pts: Mike Dunleavy 28
Rebs: Moses Malone 22
Asts: Tom Henderson 9
Series tied, 2–2
The Summit, Houston, Texas
Attendance: 16,121
Referees: Darell Garretson, Ed T. Rush
May 12
Houston Rockets 80, Boston Celtics 109
Scoring by quarter: 19–34, 18–25, 18–18, 25–32
Pts: Moses Malone 20
Rebs: Moses Malone 11
Asts: Allen Leavell 6
Pts: Cedric Maxwell 28
Rebs: Cedric Maxwell 15
Asts: Larry Bird 8
Boston leads series, 3–2
Boston Garden, Boston, Massachusetts
Attendance: 15,320
Referees: Earl Strom, Paul Mihalik, Joe Gushue
May 14
Boston Celtics 102, Houston Rockets 91
Scoring by quarter: 25–24, 28–23, 29–20, 20–24
Pts: Larry Bird 27
Rebs: Larry Bird 13
Asts: Tiny Archibald 12
Pts: Robert Reid 27
Rebs: Moses Malone 16
Asts: Henderson, Reid 5 each
Boston wins series, 4–2
The Summit, Houston, Texas
Attendance: 16,121
Referees: Jake O'Donnell, Jack Madden

This was the third playoff meeting between these two teams, with the Celtics winning the first two meetings.

References

  1. ^ "Team Rivalry Finder — Indiana Pacers versus Philadelphia 76ers (Playoffs)". basketball-reference.com. Retrieved May 24, 2015.
  2. ^ "Team Rivalry Finder — Chicago Bulls versus New York Knicks (Playoffs)". basketball-reference.com. Retrieved May 24, 2015.
  3. ^ "Team Rivalry Finder — Houston Rockets versus Los Angeles Lakers (Playoffs)". basketball-reference.com. Retrieved May 24, 2015.
  4. ^ "Team Rivalry Finder — Portland Trail Blazers versus Sacramento Kings (Playoffs)". basketball-reference.com. Retrieved May 24, 2015.
  5. ^ "Team Rivalry Finder — Boston Celtics versus Chicago Bulls (Playoffs)". basketball-reference.com. Retrieved May 24, 2015.
  6. ^ "Team Rivalry Finder — Milwaukee Bucks versus Philadelphia 76ers (Playoffs)". basketball-reference.com. Retrieved May 23, 2015.
  7. ^ "Team Rivalry Finder — Phoenix Suns versus Sacramento Kings (Playoffs)". basketball-reference.com. Retrieved May 23, 2015.
  8. ^ "Team Rivalry Finder — Houston Rockets versus San Antonio Spurs (Playoffs)". basketball-reference.com. Retrieved May 23, 2015.
  9. ^ Hollinger, John. "Ranking the greatest series ever". ESPN. Retrieved 18 August 2011.
  10. ^ "Team Rivalry Finder — Boston Celtics versus Philadelphia 76ers (Playoffs)". basketball-reference.com. Retrieved May 23, 2015.
  11. ^ "Team Rivalry Finder — Houston Rockets versus Sacramento Kings (Playoffs)". basketball-reference.com. Retrieved May 24, 2015.
  12. ^ "Team Rivalry Finder — Boston Celtics versus Houston Rockets (Playoffs)". basketball-reference.com. Retrieved May 23, 2015.