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A March Marathon - Flashback: 1953's Four-OT Thriller - Boston Celtics vs. Syracuse Nationals
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IF THE SYRACUSE NATIONALS' 111-105 loss in four overtimes to the Boston Celtics in the 1953 Eastern Conference semifinals isn't one of the greatest games in NBA history, Red Rocha says "it's certainly one of the wildest and strangest."

After playing an NBA-record 67 minutes in that game 50 years ago this month, he should know.

Rocha's Nationals and the Celtics were blood rivals in those days. It wasn't uncommon for each meeting to produce a fistfight or two. Rocha recalls seeing footage of one game where police had to come on the court and keep the game from turning into a riot.

"They had three of the best players in the game at the time in Bill Sharman, Bob Cousy, and Ed Macauley, and we had just one big star, Dolph Schayes," Rocha says. "It seemed like every time we played them, they would try to get Dolph to get into a fight. They would try to get him thrown out of the game.

"They would use some guy they didn't care about losing to get our star out of the game. I don't know if that's what they [intended], but that's the way it seemed to US."

The playoffs were no exception. After the Celtics won Game I of the best-of-three series, the teams met in Boston for Game 2. Early in the game, Celtic tough Bob Brannum and Schayes were ejected for fighting.

The Nats--who eventually became the Philadelphia 76ers--battled on with the likes of Rocha, George King, and Billy Gabor. As the game dragged on, players on both sides began fouling out faster than you could say parquet floor. By the time overtime came around, players who had fouled out were allowed to play in order to keep two full squads on the court.

Cousy began to take the game over. Coach Red Auerbach ordered the Celtics to give the ball to the man nicknamed "The Houdini of the Hardwood" every time Boston came down court. Syracuse had no one to guard him. It seemed as if he was going to the foul line every trip down the floor.

"We felt too many fouls went his way," says Rocha, 79, who lives in Washington. "We thought they weren't really fouls and that the refs were being too generous. We wondered how can a guy shoot that many free throws."

The Nats' Paul Seymour could have matched up with Cousy, but he had hurt his ankle early in the game.

"He couldn't move," Rocha says. "He would just stay in the backcourt when we had the ball. He couldn't get up and down the court. We would play four on five on offense. He would just stay back there. He was our pivot guy in the paint"

Years later Cousy would call what Seymour did "one of the most courageous performances I have ever seen."

Regulation turned into one overtime. One overtime turned into two, and two into three. Fatigue became a problem for most of the players, although Rocha says he was so focused on this game--an elimination game for the Nats--that he didn't even notice whether he was tired.

The Nats looked as if they had somehow eked out the win in the third OT, but Cousy hit a 30-footer as time expired to force a fourth overtime--a record for playoff games that stands today.

Cousy was the difference in the fourth overtime, lifting the Celtics to their first playoff series victory in their eight-year existence. He made an NBA-record 30 free throws, missing just twice. He became the first player to score 50 points in a playoff game, and half of those points came in the overtime sessions.

The 106 total personal fouls called that game stood as an NBA record until 1994.

Rocha and Seymour are listed in the record books as having played a playoff-record 67 minutes, Cousy 66. However, Rocha will tell you he actually played more.

"I'm listed as playing 67 minutes," he says. "I sat out about 20 seconds, maybe 25, something like that. Then someone got in foul trouble and I had to go back in, so actually it was 67 1/2 minutes.

"I don't know if some one win break the record. Nowadays you seldom see players play the whole time without a rest. A couple of seasons I averaged 40 mpg. Basically, you're not coming out at all. I don't see players doing that much today. From that standpoint, the record may last for another 50 years."

The NBA's Longest Playoff Game

Eastern semifinals, Game 2; March 21, 1953; at the Boston Garden

Team        1    2    3    4   10T   20T   30T   40T Final

Syracuse   22   20   17   18     9     4     9     6-105
Boston     21   19   22   15     9     4     9    12-111

Syracuse           MIN    FG-FGA    FT-FTA    REB    AST    PF     PTS

Al Cervi            23       1-2     10-11      0      1     7      12
Billy Gabor         11       3-8       3-5      3      0     6       9
Noble Jorgensen     25       2-5       3-4      5      3     6       7
George King         43       4-9       8-9      4      4     6      16
Earl Lloyd          48       3-9       5-7      6      1     5      11
Bob Lochmueller     14       1-4       1-4      2      1     6       3
Wally Osterkorn     26       1-4       0-0      2      1     6       2
Red Rocha           67      5-14      9-11     14      3     6      19
Dolph Schayes       16       2-5       4-4      5      1     2       8
Paul Seymour        67      5-12       8-9      5      4     5      18
Totals             340     27-72     51-64     52     19    55     105

Boston             MIN    FG-FGA    FT-FTA    REB    AST    PF     PTS

Bob Brannum          6      3-3        0-0      2      1     1       6
Chuck Cooper        47      2-7        5-6      5      2     6       9
Bob Cousy           66    10-22      30-32      3      2     5      50
Bob Donham          24      1-2        0-3      2      3     6       2
Bob Harris          35      4-6        6-6     15      3     6      14
Ed Macauley         63     4-10      10-10     15      5     6      18
John Mahnken        19      0-3        1-1      6      0     5       1
Francis Mahoney      8      0-2        0-1      0      0     5       0
Kenny Rollins       24      0-1        2-2      2      1     5       2
Bill Sharman        48     3-10        3-3      2      5     6       9
Totals             340    27-66      57-64     55     22    51     111

Field goals: Syracuse .375, Boston .409; Free throws: Syracuse .797,
Boston .891; Team Rebounds: Syracuse 6, Boston 3; Officials: Arnie Heft
and Charley Eckman. Attendance: 11,058.

COPYRIGHT 2003 Century Publishing
COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group