The Los Angeles Clippers may have surpassed the consecutive wins record set by their franchise predecessors the 74-75 Buffalo Braves on Friday night, but it's not the last time we'll hear about the Braves this season. That long-ago team still holds the single season record for total wins (a near certainty to fall) and many other more obscure marks. For instance, a win tonight in Phoenix would be the Clippers' sixth straight road win, eclipsing the record of five straight first set by, you guessed it, the 74-75 Braves.
I reached out to John Boutet and asked him to share a bit of his perspective on that Braves team. John runs the Buffalo Sports Museum web site and is the exhibit chairman for the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame and has provided us insights on Randy Smith in the past. He was gracious enough to send this first hand account of the (former) best team in franchise history. My sincere thanks to John for providing this historical perspective.
Expectations were high for the Buffalo Braves coming off the hard fought 6 game playoff series against the hated Celtics the year before. The way that series had ended did not sit well with the team and by the time training camp broke that October the team was ready to finally break through. Experts agreed that the Braves were one of the top 5 teams in the NBA heading into that 74/75 season. The problem however was the reigning NBA Champs resided in their own division, the Celtics. Speed was the Braves weapon by 1974. The fast break became a huge part of the Braves attack and the season couldn't have started better. Opening night saw the Braves travel to Boston where the Braves trounced their old enemy 126-119. By November, the team was alone in first place in the Atlantic Division with a 15-3 record and they were in the middle of a franchise record 11 game winning streak. That record would eventually stand 37 years. The only bad news for the team was 1974 Rookie of the Year Ernie Digregorio had been diagnosed with a knee ligament tear that would shelve him for months. Stepping in for him was Kenny Charles, a great ball handler who complimented star guard Randy Smith perfectly. The season however belonged to Bob McAdoo. McAdoo was at his most dominant self during this season as he cruised to the NBA MVP award while averaging close to 35 points a game. Big Mac would play in all 82 of the team's games, averaging over 43 minutes a game.
Injuries started to take their toll on the team as team captain Jim McMillian came down with a ruptured appendix and was lost for over 5 weeks. The team cooled off a little and the Celtics roared back to take the division title. Veteran Gar Heard and newcomers Jack Marin and Bob Weiss contributed off the bench down the stretch to lead the team into the playoffs. Once again the Braves were matched up with one of the top teams in the league as the Washington Bullets waited in the wings. It was sure to be a classic series. The Braves speed vs. the Bullets bulk. Buffalo went into the Cap Center in game 1 and embarrassed the bigger Bullets 113-102. Game 2 saw the series return to Buffalo where Elvin Hayes and Wes Unseld dictated the flow of the game evening the best of 7 at one apiece. McAdoo posted 36 but Hayes replied with 34 of his own leading them to a 120-106 win.
Phil Chenier was hot in game 3 as the Bullets took that game 111-96. Two nights later at the Aud the Braves knotted the series at 2 in a nationally televised game. McAdoo put up a 50 spot in the Braves 108-102 victory. Game 5 in Landover went to the Bullets 97-93. Game 6 at the Aud is remembered as the best played game of the series. McAdoo's 37 led the team with McMillian's 20 and Randy adding 16. Little did anyone know at the time but it would probably be the Braves high point of their remaining days in Buffalo. Game 7 was all Bullets as Mike Riordan dropped 16 to pace them to a 115-96 victory which closed out the season for the Braves.
1974/75 was a great year for the team even though it had ended with another first round loss. Good things seemed to be ahead for the Braves but in truth it would be only one more quality season left for the team. 1976 saw the Braves first and only playoff series win but two years later poor ownership drove the team out of Buffalo into the waiting arms of San Diego. Had ownership committed to winning in Buffalo, things could have turned out very different. Unfortunately that was not to be. 1974 was a great time to be a Buffalo sports fan as the Bills, Braves and Sabres all held the top spot in their respective leagues. Buffalo still loves their Braves, not a day goes by that someone doesn't bring up the team to me.
Site and Exhibit Chairman Greater Buffalo Sports HOF