2. 1974-75 New York Nets
The New York Nets appeared to be well on their way to a second straight ABA Eastern Division title in 1974-75, with a 55-22 record after a 115-101 win over the Kentucky Colonels at Nassau Coliseum on March 21.
The Nets relaxed a bit and proceeded to their next four games, including two to Kentucky. That proved problematic as the Colonels roared to the finish with nine straight victories and when the Nets survived in overtime in Norfolk, Va., against the Virginia Squires on April 3, they closed with a 58-26 record.
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The franchise-record number of victories wasn’t quite enough, because a little later that night, the Colonels beat the Memphis Sounds on the road to finish with an identical 58-26 mark.
That’s where the ABA’s archaic rules came into play. While the NBA abandoned tiebreaker games in the 1950s, the ABA had used them four times to resolve ties for fourth place and a final playoff spot.
Based on head-to-head tiebreakers, the Colonels would have won the division by going 6-5 against the Nets.
But instead, the Nets would head to Louisville for a one-game playoff to decide the division title to be played the very next night.
The Colonels won the game 108-99, as Artis Gilmore outrebounded the entire New York team, 33-30. That was due in part to center Billy Paultz going down early in the game with a groin injury.
Paultz didn’t have a bad series against the Spirits, as he gritted out 35.6 minutes per game. But the groin injury affected his ability to get off the floor, as he averaged just nine rebounds per game in the series and had difficulty moving on the defensive end.
The Nets returned to Uniondale two nights after the loss at Louisville and beat the Spirits 111-105 in Game 1. Paultz was an efficient 11-for-12, scoring 24 points, and Julius Erving added 32 points and 12 boards.
But Barnes scored 41 in the Game 1 loss and was unstoppable the rest of the series. He went for 37 points and 18 rebounds as the Spirits blasted the Nets 115-97 in Game 2. Paultz’s groin flared up in Game 2, as he played just 29 minutes, and Erving was just 3-for-14 and dogged by foul trouble.
Barnes added 35 and 14 in a Game 3 win for the Spirits in St. Louis and had 23 and 20 in a 100-89 win in Game 4.
On the brink of elimination in Game 5, the Nets held a double-digit lead in the final four minutes before veteran Freddie Lewis stepped up for St. Louis, scoring the Spirits’ final 10 points in the final two minutes.
Lewis’ 20-foot jumper with three seconds to go won the game — and the series — for the upstart Spirits, who were just 32-52 on the regular season and were 0-11 against New York.
Erving wound up sharing MVP honors with George McGinnis of the Indiana Pacers and was an All-Star and All-ABA first-team selection. Paultz, Larry Kenon and Brian Taylor joined Dr. J in the All-Star Game, with Taylor adding second-team All-ABA and first-team All-Defensive honors.