Before Friday, the last 4OT NBA playoff game preceded change

The last time there was a four-overtime NBA playoff contest, the game would soon change drastically.

Boston’s 111-105 win over Syracuse on April 16, 1953, was a foul-fest. Both teams would shoot 64 free throws in the game, the matchup turning into the likes of one that wasn’t uncommon in the era before the shot clock. The Celtics and the Nationals both slowed their pace to a crawl, choosing to hold the ball for long stretches and forcing the other side to foul.

“The game was stagnant,” Celtics guard Bob Cousy told “Teams literally started sitting on the ball in the third quarter. That was the way the game was played: get a lead and put the ball in the icebox, while the paying customers started reading the program. The whole game slowed up.”

That wasn’t the case Friday in Portland, where the Trail Blazers topped the Denver Nuggets 140-137 in Game 3 of their Western Conference semifinal series. Their four-OT slugfest matched the Celtics-Nationals game from 66 years ago as the longest in NBA postseason history.

Cousy scored 50 points on that March 1953 night, 30 coming at the foul line in what remains an NBA playoff record. Less than two years later, the NBA adopted a 24-second shot clock — an innovation driven by Syracuse owner Danny Biasone.

“The Boston Celtics, led by the brilliant Bob Cousy, advanced to the second round of the National Basketball Association playoffs for the first time in their seven-year history today by defeating the Syracuse Nationals 111-105 in four overtime periods at the Boston Garden,” read the Associated Press recap from that game.

Friday night, the Blazers and Nuggets didn’t sub much as overtime went along. Per the AP story from 1953, the Celtics and Nationals didn’t sub at all.

“In the last two overtime periods neither team was able to substitute because their replacements had all fouled out,” the AP story said. “The Nats had seven men with the limit of six, resulting in technicals every time they committed a foul.”

The 1953 game had one other major difference from the 2019 game — the police were needed.

Syracuse’s Dolph Schayes and Boston’s Bob Brannum were both ejected in the second quarter for fighting. And apparently, that sparked a bit more than a two-man scuffle.

“The game was delayed 10 minutes as police had to be called to get fans and players off the floor,” the AP wrote.

Cousy had a buzzer-beater at the end of the third overtime to tie the score at 99-99, and rallied the Celtics from a five-point deficit in the fourth overtime.

Syracuse’s Red Rocha and Paul Seymour remain tied for the playoff record by playing 67 minutes in that contest. Denver’s Nikola Jokic came close; he logged 65 minutes Friday. And while the 1953 game was a slog to the foul line, Friday’s was anything but that — Portland shot only two free throws in overtime, and those were by Seth Curry with 2.8 seconds left when the Nuggets were fouling intentionally.

The 2018-19 season becomes the first since that 1952-53 season with two four-overtime games. Atlanta and Chicago played four overtimes on March1. Before the the Syracuse-Boston game, Indianapolis and Rochester played four OTs on Nov. 8, 1952.

After eliminating the Nationals, the Celtics, under third-year coach Red Auerbach, lost to the New York Knicks in the Eastern Conference Finals. They wouldn’t win the first of their 17 NBA titles until 1957.

Biasone, who is in the Basketball Hall of Fame, sold the Nationals in 1963 to investors Irv Kosloff and Ike Richman, who promptly moved the franchise to Philadelphia and changed the nickname to the 76ers.

Tim Reynolds is an Associated Press writer.

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