Updated 7:26 PM EDT May 4, 2019
The last time there was a four-overtime NBA playoff contest, the game would soon change.
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 NBA.com. “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 had a 24-second shot clock — an innovation driven by then-Syracuse owner Danny Biasone, perhaps mindful of what his team went through in that four-OT loss.
“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.
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 — police weren’t needed on the floor.
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 game at 99, and rallied the Celtics from a five-point deficit in the fourth and final 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 on 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 last shooting foul committed by the Nuggets in the game was with 1:04 left in the fourth quarter. For the next 21:01 — nearly a full half — the Blazers never went back to the line.
The 2018-19 season becomes the first since that 1952-53 season with two four-overtime games. Atlanta and Chicago played four overtimes on March 1. Indianapolis and Rochester played four OTs on Nov. 8, 1952, and the Syracuse-Boston four-OT playoff game was later that season.