John Havlicek’s High-Profile Steal Saves the Day: Boston Celtics Championship History Moment No. 11

It’s one of the most famous calls in sports history. An animated Boston Celtics radio announcer Johnny Most let it rip after Celtics forward John Havlicek tipped a pass intended for Philadelphia 76ers forward Chet Walker to teammate Sam Jones.

Most’s “Havlicek stole the ball” call lives on forever in NBA history. Havlicek’s play came on April 15, 1965, during Game 7 of the Eastern Division Finals. It secured Boston’s 110-109 victory, propelling them into the NBA Finals, where they knocked off the Los Angeles Lakers for their seventh straight championship.

In honor of the Boston Celtics’ 17 championships, we’re highlighting 17 signature moments, both good and bad, that took the Celtics from a woeful 22-38 BAA debut in 1946-47 to the current iteration of the longtime powerhouse franchise that’s now coming off an NBA Finals appearance. The 17-part series on the Celtics’ championship history will run through the summer and take us to the beginning of the 2022-23 NBA season, one Boston hopes ends with Banner No. 18.

John Havlicek and Sam Jones lifted the Boston Celtics in Game 7

John Havlicek’s game-saving steal in the 1985 Eastern Division Finals remains a Boston Celtics classic moment. | Getty Images.

The Celtics and 76ers took care of business at home in the 1965 Eastern Division Finals. Back then, every other game was home and away. The Celtics secured homecourt advantage and capitalized, winning Games 1, 3, and 5, while the Sixers won their three games at the Convention Hall in Philadelphia.

Game 7 was back at the Boston Garden, and the Celtics picked up right where they left off in every other home game. The Celtics jumped out to a 36-25 lead after the first quarter, with Havlicek and star guard Sam Jones leading the way.

The series featured a matchup of the NBA’s best centers in Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain. Neither disappointed.

Chamberlain returned for his second stint in Philadelphia after playing for the Philadelphia Warriors in the early part of his career. The Celtics held an 11-point lead late in the game before Chamberlain and the Sixers scored 10 straight points. Chamberlain’s dunk with five seconds remaining brought Philly within a point at 110-109.

Russell then went to inbound the ball from the baseline. His pass hit a wire that was attached to the basket, giving the 76ers possession and a chance to take the lead. Hall of Fame guard Hal Greer looked to pass the ball to Chamberlain, who was denied by Russell. As he flirted with a five-second violation, Green threw it to Chet Walker, but Havlicek anticipated well.

‘Havlicek stole the ball’ lives on forever

It just might be the most iconic basketball call ever. When Havlicek jumped in front of Walker and deflected the pass to Jones, Most, the longtime voice of the Celtics, excitedly painted the picture for the radio listeners.

“Greer is putting the ball into play. He gets it out deep,” Most said, per NBA.com. “Havlicek steals it. Over to Sam Jones. Havlicek stole the ball! It’s all over! Johnny Havlicek stole the ball!”

Jones dribbled out the clock as the Celtics hung on for the 110-109 victory as Celtics fans swarmed the court in celebration. Havlicek and Jones combined for 63 of Boston’s 110 points.

Russell pulled down 29 rebounds and added 15 points. Chamberlain collected 30 points and 32 rebounds. Boston captured its seventh straight championship by defeating the Lakers in five games in the 1965 NBA Finals.

The combination of Most’s call and Havlicek’s anticipation while deflecting the ball away from Walker has kept that memory alive for decades. Fifty years later, Havlicek said he was just doing his job.

“Red Auerbach always said, ‘Look for an edge,’” Havlicek said in 2015, per The New York Times. “I did what I was supposed to do. I never realized it would last this long, but it is everlasting.”

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