John Havlicek stole the ball - and preserved a big Celtics playoff win - 55 years ago today


It's one of the great plays in Celtics history and it happened 55 years ago today.

Sadly, it's the first year John Havlicek won't be around to commemorate the night he stole the ball and preserved the Celtics' Game 7 Eastern Conference Finals series victory over the Philadelphia 76ers on April 15, 1965.

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Havlicek died at 69 nearly a year ago on April 25, but the play lives on through the iconic call of C's radio voice Johnny Most, the video of the steal (see above) and the preserved memories of those who were there, including the man himself and fellow Celtics legend Bill Russell, whose mistake set up the dramatic finish.

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A few years ago, Havlicek and Russell recalled the play. With four seconds left and the Celtics leading by one, Russell's inbound pass struck the guide wire next to the basket, turning the ball over to Philly.

Havlicek remembered Russell saying in the Celtics' huddle during the ensuing timeout, "Will someone please take these goat horns off my head that seem to be growing about an inch a minute?"

Havlicek, a three-sport star in high school who was a draft pick of the NFL's Cleveland Browns, used those athletic skills to time Hal Greer's inbound pass, intercept the ball and tip it to teammate Sam Jones. Celtics 110, Sixers 109.

"It's all over," as Most screamed. 

Cue the mob scene on the Garden floor, where a relieved Russell was the first to get to Hondo.


The C's would go on to yet another NBA Finals victory over the Lakers. Years later, you can still hear the relief in Russell's voice.  

"Now, that's one of the great sports stories in the history of American sports," Russell said. "Havlicek stole the ball."