In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com
The Seattle Supersonics win the NBA Championship, beating the Washington Bullets 97-93 in Game 5 at the Capital Centre. It is the second straight season the teams met in the NBA Finals. A year earlier, the Bullets had won a seven-game series. The Sonics won the series, by winning four straight after losing Game 1, with Dennis Johnson earning MVP honors.
Coming off their first NBA Championship the Washington Bullets were out to prove their magical playoff run of 1978 was not a fluke. The Bullets would post the best record in the NBA at 54-28 under Coach Dick Motta. This came despite a late-season slump that saw them drop eight of their last 11 games. In the playoffs, it was a struggle for the Bullets, as they needed seven games to shake off the Atlanta Hawks and San Antonio Spurs.
Shaking off the heartbreak of losing Game 7 on their home floor, the Seattle Supersonics were the best in the West, posting a record of 52-30 under Lenny Wilkens. So popular were the Sonics, that they moved their games from the Seattle Center Coliseum to the Kingdome to accommodate higher ticket demands. In the playoffs, the Sonics took down the Los Angeles Lakers in five games, while they needed seven games to slip past the Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference Finals.
In the opener at the Capital Centre, the Bullets were on target most of the night, building an 18-point lead. However, the Supersonics made a furious comeback, tying the game 97-97 in the final seconds as Gus Williams led the way with 32 points. With the game tied, Larry Wright who led Washington with 26 points off the bench was fouled by Dennis Johnson with one second left. Wright would hit two free throws to give the Bullets a 99-97 win, as a replay showed Johnson’s block was clean and a foul should have not been called. Defense was the name of the game in Game 2, as the Bullets were held to 30 points in the second half as Seattle won the game 92-82 to even the series. Gus Williams led the way with 23 points for the Sonics, while D.J. scored 20.
A record crowd of 35,928 fans was on hand at the Kingdome for Game 3 as the Supersonics dominated the game from start to finish, winning 105-95. Once again, Gus Williams led all scorers with 31 points, while Jack Sikma has 21 points and 17 rebounds and Dennis Johnson narrowly missed a triple-double with 17 points, nine rebounds, and nine assists. Game 4 back at the Seattle Center Coliseum would be the top game of the series, as the two budding rivals went into overtime. Leading the way for the Supersonics was Gus Williams who again led all scorers with 36 points. Dennis Johnson meanwhile was everywhere on both sides of the ball, scoring 32 for Seattle, with ten rebounds and four blocked shots. The Bullets meanwhile got balanced scoring from Elvin Hayes, Kevin Geary and Charles Johnson with 18 points apiece while Wes Unseld and Bob Dandridge added 16 apiece. In the end, it was D.J. making the big plays for Seattle as the Sonics won 114-112 to take a commanding 3-1 series lead.
With their backs against the wall at home, the Bullets came out hot in Game 5, as they scored 30 points in the first quarter with Elvin Hayes getting off to a great start with 20 points in the first half. Hayes, however, scored just nine points the rest of the way was Washington began to lose manpower with Tom Henderson and Kevin Grevey sidelined with injuries. The Sonics were down just one point as the fourth quarter began. With Gus Williams and Dennis Johnson leading the way again, the Supersonics had six players in double digits, including Downtown Freddie Brown who had 14 points off the bench. The Supersonics would win the game 97-93 to claim Seattle its first NBA Championship.
Dennis Johnson was named the MVP of the NBA Finals, averaging 22.6 points, and along with six rounds and six assists per game. Jack Sikma meanwhile averaged a double-double with 16.2 points and 14/8 boards per game, while Gus Williams was the leading scorer of the NBA Finals, averaging 28.6 ppg.
The NBA was struggling as the 1979 NBA Finals was played, as several games were shown in late night on tape delay across the country as television ratings and the league’s popularity were down considerably. Help would be on the way as Larry Bird and Magic Johnson would enter the league the following season. However, looking to make the game more interesting the NBA took a page from the rival ABA and introduced the three-point shot for the 1970/80 season. Making the Sonics Game 5 win the last NBA game played before the three-point arch was introduced.