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1960’s NBA Part 2

March 15, 2013

Continued from 1960’s NBA Part 1

March 30, 1966 – East Semifinals, Game 4: Boston Celtics 120 @Cincinnati Royals 103

Before the 1966 NBA Season, Boston coach Red Auerbach announced that he was going to retire as coach at the end of the season.  Auerbach routinely lit a victory cigar after every Celtic win (and a lot of times before the game was even over) and by the mid-1960’s it had grown annoying for those not associated with the Celtics or Boston (just read this account).  Auerbach was also known for instigating and intimidating the officials (one of the early coaches to do that) and that act had grown annoying among his peers.  But the biggest annoyance with Auerbach among others around the league was that his team just kept winning!  In 1966, they were going for their eighth straight championships.  And Auerbach was giving every team one more chance to knock him off.

For the first time since 1956, the Celtics did not finish first in the Eastern Division in the regular season.  The 76ers now had Wilt Chamberlain for the full season and their already talented roster added guard Wali Jones and rookie Billy Cunningham.  Philadelphia finished 55-25 and Boston finished 54-26.  So this meant that the Celtics had to play third place Cincinnati in the best-of-5 Eastern Division Semifinals while Philadelphia waited for a winner (the NBA would go to a 4 team per division playoff format next season).

The Royals won Game 1 and Game 3 in Boston and now were going back home to try and eliminate Boston in Game 4.  The largest playoff crowd in Cincinnati Royals history packed the Cincinnati Gardens on Jerry Lucas’ 26th birthday.  But that was where the good vibes ended for the Royals.  The tape of this game picked up at the start of the 2nd half with Don Gillis calling play-by-play by himself on Boston’s WHDH-TV.  The Celtics had a 58-48 lead and Oscar Robertson had 4 fouls.  The Royals came to within eight several times early in the third quarter, but they would never get any closer.  The big factor in the Celtics favor was that the 6’4″ Sam Jones was guarded by the 6’1″ Adrian Smith and in the third quarter Jones got several good post-up bank shots that helped the Celtics gain an advantage.  One wonders looking back about how good Oscar Robertson’s defensive presence was because Oscar was 6’5″ and I’d probably have him play Sam while putting Smith on K.C. Jones.  I guess one didn’t want Oscar using his energy chasing Sam Jones sideline to sideline when you needed him so much on offense, but the Celtics got their momentum by going to Jones against Smith in the post.  Jones along with the offensive rebounding and shooting of Satch Sanders gave the Celtics an 87-72 lead after three.

Oscar had 27 points to that point as he was getting to his favorite area in the free throw line area and making shots but the Royals couldn’t stop the Celtics.  Cincinnati had a chance for some momentum when the 4th quarter began with Oscar blocking a shot and then getting the ball to forward Happy Hairston for a fast-break dunk.  The Royals got another stop and with a chance to cut it to 11, Oscar went to the post but missed a shot off the side of the backboard but the ball was knocked off the Celtics.  But Robertson threw away the inbounds pass ignited a Boston fast break where Larry Siegfried got a layup.  The next few minutes had the Celtics led by Siegfried matching Oscar basket for basket and not allowing the Royal’s star to get his team back into the game.  The Celtics kept their double-digit advantage and the last few minutes involved debris being thrown onto the court and there being mentions of fights in the stands.  The Royals still had the do-or-die Game 5 in Boston, where they had won twice in the series already

Boston starters (points scored)

John Havlicek (18) – Small Forward

Satch Sanders (28) – Power Forward

Bill Russell (8) – Center

K.C. Jones (8) – Point Guard

Sam Jones (32) – Shooting Guard

Boston bench (points scored)

Larry Siegfried (16)

Don Nelson (6)

Willie Naulls (4)

Boston Coach: Red Auerbach

Cincinnati starters (points scored)

Happy Hairston (7) – Small Forward

Jerry Lucas (22) – Power Forward

Wayne Embry (7) – Center

Oscar Robertson (34) – Point Guard

Adrian Smith (11) – Shooting Guard

Cincinnati bench (points scored)

Tom Hawkins (4)

Jack Twyman (2)

Jon McGlocklin (11)

Tom Thacker (3)

George Wilson (2)

Cincinnati Coach: Jack McMahon

April 1, 1966 – East Semifinals, Game 5: Cincinnati Royals 103 @Boston Celtics 112

Game 5 was two days later and showcased on an NFL Films-like highlight called ‘The Final Game.’  There were a few historical inaccuracies in this.  They billed this as the game that won the Celtics the championship.  And like the 1964 NBA Finals highlights talked about in part 1, they seem to have mixed two games together.  They show Larry Siegfried making a shot at the buzzer to cut the Royals’ halftime lead to 57-56.  Well the score at halftime of Game 5 was 61-56 Celtics (look at it here).  OK, OK I know this only bothers me.  To others, it is the Hollywood Drama.

This game starts with Cincinnati getting the first possession and Russell tipping in their first basket while trying to get a defensive rebound (Wayne Embry got credit for it).  The Royals took this momentum to a 10-2 lead after getting 2 steals from Boston and Lucas and Embry scoring 4 points apiece.  The Celtics came back quickly to cut it to 13-12 as K.C. Jones, Sam Jones and Russell led the way.  The highlight shows some great Celtic offense, like Russell getting the ball at the foul line and the guards criss-crossing around him cutting to the basket while the forward (usually Havlicek) came to Russell and got the ball for a jump shot off a Russell back-pick (if the guards didn’t get the ball for layups).  The Royals kept the lead though as Oscar had a hot first half, scoring 24 points.  The Royals had a 10-point lead in the 2nd quarter (according to this highlight) but the Celtic’s bench of Larry Siegfried and Don Nelson led them back.  Russell had some tremendous coast-to-coast layups (and defense) and Sam Jones led Boston with 18 first half points.

The third quarter was back and forth until the Royals grabbed an 81-76 lead late in the 3rd.  After the film highlighted Auerbach speaking to his team during the time out, the Celtics ripped off a 10-0 run.  After the Royals cut the lead to 92-88, the Celtics pulled away as the highlight showed several Celtic great plays while dramatic music played in the background.  The Celtics won the game 112-103 (the final score is not shown in the film).

Boston went on to beat Philadelphia in 5 games in the Eastern Division Finals and would play the Lakers once again for the NBA Championship.

Cincinnati starters (points scored)

Happy Hairston (13) – Small Forward

Jerry Lucas (17) – Power Forward

Wayne Embry (5) – Center

Oscar Robertson (37) – Point Guard

Adrian Smith (4) – Shooting Guard

Cincinnati bench (points scored)

Connie Dierking (9)

Tom Hawkins (4)

Jack Twyman (3)

Jon McGlocklin (7)

Tom Thacker (4)

Cincinnati Coach: Jack McMahon

Boston starters (points scored)

John Havlicek (23) – Small Forward

Satch Sanders (10) – Power Forward

Bill Russell (16) – Center

K.C. Jones (6) – Point Guard

Sam Jones (34) – Shooting Guard

Boston bench (points scored)

Larry Siegfried (14)

Don Nelson (9)

Boston Coach: Red Auerbach

6162CelticsCincinnatiRoyalsDriveOscarRobertson

Oscar Robertson dribbles against Bill Russell *photo courtesy of greatestbasketballers.blogspot.com

April 24, 1966 – NBA Finals, Game 5: Los Angeles Lakers 121 @Boston Celtics 117

To be frank, I only have parts of the last 10 seconds of this game (from Vintage NBA: Elgin Baylor), so I can’t really tell you much but it was an ABC telecast in the first year of its NBA deal.  The always excitable Chris Schenkel and former Celtic Bob Cousy were calling the game.  The Lakers had surprisingly won Game 1 at the Boston Garden in overtime, but headlines were stolen from the Lakers victory when Auerbach announced after the game that Bill Russell would succeed him as coach for the 1967 Season.  The was of course big news because Russell would be the first black head coach of a professional team in any sport.  The Celtics won the next three games after this announcement and were going for the championship on their home court in Game 5.

The broadcast only showed Jerry West made two free throws to put the Lakers up 119-115 and then Rudy LaRusso made two more for the Laker’s final 121-117 margin.  Schenkel did a bit of a recap when the free throws were being shot, the Lakers had gotten off to a good start and led by as many as 17 (and were up 37-23 after one quarter).  But Boston came back and had as much as an 8-point lead but the Lakers came back and Jerry West had the go-ahead bucket in the fourth.  Meanwhile, Schenkel mentions to Cousy that this isn’t the night that Auerbach lights up his last victory cigar as coach.  Cousy then mentions that Red Auerbach may now be concerned about ever lighting a cigar saying you can’t give a team like the Lakers momentum.  Los Angeles won Game 6 at home and took it back to the Garden for Game 7.  Red would light his final cigar but it was too soon.

Los Angeles starters (points scored)

Jerry West (31) – Small Forward

Elgin Baylor (41) – Power Forward

LeRoy Ellis (17) – Center

Jim King (6) – Point Guard

Gail Goodrich (5) – Shooting Guard

Los Angeles bench (points scored)

Rudy LaRusso (14)

Walt Hazzard (5)

Darrell Imhoff (2)

Los Angeles Coach: Fred Schaus

Boston starters (points scored)

John Havlicek (25) – Small Forward

Satch Sanders (13) – Power Forward

Bill Russell (32) – Center

K.C. Jones (8) – Point Guard

Sam Jones (15) – Shooting Guard

Boston bench (points scored)

Larry Siegfried (16)

Don Nelson (5)

Mel Counts (3)

Boston Coach: Red Auerbach

April 28, 1966 – NBA Finals, Game 7: Los Angeles Lakers 93 @Boston Celtics 95

This game was recently recapped with some live action on NBATV where Andre Aldridge had guests Sam Jones and Satch Sanders in the studio.  The interesting thing about this presentation was that instead of putting the audio on the announcing team of Don Gillis and Tom Heinsohn they had Satch and Sam recalling all of these plays years later as a stroll down memory lane.

Boston got off to a quick start in this game, or perhaps to put it more accurately the Lakers got off a slow start that they did not need.  When you haven’t won a championship as a franchise in Los Angeles and you have a great opportunity to do so, you cannot be down 10-0 after 4 minutes of action.  Russell easily controlled the opening jump to K.C. Jones who gave a quick pass to Havlicek in the left corner who nailed a jumper, and that would be the closest the Lakers would be until the final margin.  Among the Lakers slow start was West missing an easy follow-up layup that would have made it 2-2 and then missing a free throw a minute later.  Sam Jones would make two free throws and two jumpers and Satch got a driving dunk.  It wasn’t until 4:15 into the game that a jumper from the free throw line by LeRoy Ellis put the Lakers on the board.  Ellis and Walt Hazzard actually helped the Lakers cut the Celtics lead to 24-20 late in the first.  But the Celtics would lead 27-20 after one and 53-38 at the half, as Baylor and West combined for 3-for-18 in the first half.

The broadcast would pick up in the fourth quarter, Satch Sanders would get a fast break layup and a subsequent free throw to put the Celtics up 89-76.  The Celtics had as much as a 19-point lead but the Lakers had cut it to 10 before Sanders 3-point play.  It was at this point that the Lakers made their final run.  Jerry West made back-to-back jumpers and then West and Rudy LaRusso each made 1 free throw.  But with a chance to cut it to 5 with under two minutes left, West missed a jumper and Ellis hustled after the rebound at the sideline in front of the Celtics bench but stepped on it.  Then after running down the 24 second clock, Russell made a post-up jumper in the lane and it was 91-82.  West made 1-of-3 free throws on the next possession (this was back when the NBA had 3 shots to make 2 at the free throw line, as well as 1 free throw attempt on a foul committed by a team before they were in the penalty).  Boston again ran down the shot clock and Sam Jones made a long set shot off the glass for a 93-83 Celtics lead with under a minute left.

The last minute was chaotic, Hazzard went coast-to-coast for a leaner then Russell drove past Ellis for an uncontested dunk.  While the fans were surrounding the court ready to storm it, West raced back and hit a jumper then stole the ball from Russell and made another one and the score was 95-89 with 20 seconds left.  At this point, Auerbach had lit his victory cigar and the press had actually come onto the court and was taking pictures of him puffing it and posing with the Governor of Massachusetts John Volpe.  Action had to be stopped for a minute while the refs cleared the court.  After play resumed, K.C. Jones got the ball in front of his bench guarded closely and got called for an offensive foul.  At this point, the Celtics bench and fans had the ‘this is not happening, I can’t believe this’ reaction while Auerbach continued smiling and shaking hands with the lit cigar in his mouth.  Jim King drove the baseline for a quick reverse layup and then Sam Jones, after receiving the inbounds pass, lost the ball on the baseline.  To be fair, Sam was probably fouled and it probably would have been called today.  But with 6 seconds left, the Lakers inbounded to Ellis in the left corner who immediately made the jumper and it was 95-93 with 4 seconds left.  The Celtics got it inbounds to K.C. Jones who dribbled out the clock while the Lakers were reaching in for the ball but not fouling deliberately.  The fans then stormed court again for a championship.  Of the 9 championships the Celtics had won in the past 10 years, all but two of them were at the Boston Garden.  So the fans had traditionally stormed the court for a championship (ironically the Celtics would win their next 5 championships on the road).  The last 4 seconds were kind of anti-climactic in my view because the Lakers NEEDED to foul and send K.C. to the line (he was a career .647 percent foul shooter).  It was even mentioned by Sam Jones to Aldridge on NBATV that even if they are good foul shooters, you never know when the pressure is on.

Los Angeles starters (points scored)

Jerry West (36) – Small Forward

Elgin Baylor (18) – Power Forward

LeRoy Ellis (12) – Center

Jim King (2) – Point Guard

Gail Goodrich (6) – Shooting Guard

Los Angeles bench (points scored)

Rudy LaRusso (7)

Walt Hazzard (12)

Bob Boozer (0)

Darrell Imhoff (0)

Los Angeles Coach: Fred Schaus

Boston starters (points scored)

John Havlicek (16) – Small Forward

Satch Sanders (7) – Power Forward

Bill Russell (25) – Center

K.C. Jones (5) – Point Guard

Sam Jones (22) – Shooting Guard

Boston bench (points scored)

Larry Siegfried (12)

Don Nelson (8)

Willie Naulls (0)

Boston Coach: Red Auerbach

auerbach

Red Auerbach almost had to blow out his lit cigar in Game 7 of the 1966 NBA Finals *photo courtesy of Boston.com

April 9, 1967 – Eastern Division Finals, Game 4: Philadelphia 76ers 117 @Boston Celtics 121

For the 1967 Season, the Philadelphia 76ers went 68-13.  It was the best record in NBA History at the time.  Before the season, the 76ers had gotten coach Alex Hannum from the San Francisco Warriors.  Hannum had been given credit while in San Fran of making Wilt Chamberlain involve his teammates in the offense and that he didn’t need to score all the points for his team to win.  That philosophy came together more than ever for the 1967 76ers.  Philadelphia had an awesome lineup of Chet Walker, Lucious Jackson and Wilt in the front court and Hal Greer and Wali Jones at guard (with Hall-of-Famer Billy Cunningham coming off the bench).  The 76ers were on a mission to beat the Celtics and win Wilt’s first NBA Championship.  They ran off to a 47-5 start.  They held off the 60-21 Celtics to win the Eastern Division.  In the off-season, Auerbach made the only trade he’d make in Bill Russell’s career.  He acquired forward Bailey Howell from Baltimore for Mel Counts.  He also signed Cincinnati center Wayne Embry as Russell’s backup.

With the addition of the Chicago Bulls for the 1967 Season, the NBA was at 10 teams and went to 4 playoff teams per division.  So 8 of the 10 teams made the playoffs (including the expansion Bulls) and for the first time since 1954, the number one seed had to play a Semifinal series.  For whatever reason, the 1 seed played the 3 seed while the 2 seed played the 4 seed.  So Philadelphia took care of 3 seeded Cincinnati while Boston eliminated New York (both were 3-1 series).  Philadelphia then continued their mission by winning the first 3 games of the Eastern Finals versus Boston.  Game 4 was broadcast on ABC but interestingly there was an announcers strike as the 18,000 members of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) went on strike from March 29 – April 10, 1967.  So director Chet Forte and his New York accent (‘Bowston’) was the play-by-play announcer and producer Chuck Howard was the color guy.

The replayed broadcast started at the start of the 2nd half.  Boston was up 66-60.  The Celtics were led by Sam Jones’ 19 points in the first half.  The 76ers were led by powerful Lucious Jackson’s 20 points and 9 boards, followed closely by Hal Greer’s 18 points.  Chamberlain was held to 6 points in the first half, but got 6 early in the third but the Celtics maintained their advantage.  They stretched it to as high as 10 on a Sam Jones pull-up bank shot.  The Philadelphia back court of Greer and Wali Jones were in foul trouble as each picked up their fourth early in the third quarter.  Jones then picked up his fifth and Hannum went to his only available backup guard, rookie Matt Guokas.  Guokas sparked Philadelphia in the 2nd half (Jones would not return) and they cut Boston’s lead to 91-88 at the end of the third.

The Celtics stretched it back to 101-91 on back-to-back jumpers by Havlicek and Sam Jones.  But Philadelphia cut into it and with 6 minutes left, a Chamberlain offensive putback and free throw cut the lead to 103-100.  Greer then hit a jumper and then Walker was fouled by Bailey Howell.  Howell fouled out on that call, he finished with 15 points and 9 rebounds.  Walker hit the first free throw to tie the game for the first time.  But Walker was short on the second, which would have given Philadelphia their first lead of the game.  Havlicek then scored four straight points, but Lucious Jackson came back with a 3-point play and it was 107-106 Boston.  Guokas then hit two fast break jumpers and Philadelphia had a 110-107 lead and was a few minutes away from sweeping the Celtics and ending their championship streak.  But Russell came back with a 5 foot baseline jumper over Wilt and Don Nelson (who came in for Howell) hit a jumper from the elbow.  After a Philadelphia timeout, Russell brought in Embry to play alongside him and match the 76ers powerful lineup of Jackson and Chamberlain.  It would be a factor as Embry would get a layup off a Siegfried feed to put Boston up 115-114.  After Russell blocked a Chet Walker shot, Sam Jones hit a bank shot with under a minute left.  He then stole the ball from Jackson and was fouled hard by Guokas on the fast break nearly causing a melee.  Jones hit the two free throws for a 119-114 Celtics lead with 15 seconds left.  Jones finished with 32 points on 13-of-25 shooting after averaging 18.3 points per game in the first 3 games.  After Guokas hit a free throw, Jackson put back an intentionally missed second free throw and it was a 2-point game.  But Russell clinched the game with 2 free throws and a block.

The Celtics were only alive for 2 more days though as Philadelphia killed them 140-116 in Game 5.  Wali Jones came back with a strong game and his hot streak in the third quarter opened the game up.  The game ended with Philadelphia fans chanting ‘Boston is Dead,’ and they finally were.  Philadelphia would beat San Francisco in the NBA Finals in 6 games for their first championship since moving from Syracuse.  They were named the Greatest Team in NBA History in the NBA’s 35th anniversary celebration.

Philadelphia starters (points scored)

Chet Walker (18) – Small Forward

Lucious Jackson (29) – Power Forward

Wilt Chamberlain (20) – Center

Wali Jones (7) – Point Guard

Hal Greer (28) – Shooting Guard

Philadelphia bench (points scored)

Billy Cunningham (4)

Matt Guokas (11)

Philadelphia Coach: Alex Hannum

Boston starters (points scored)

John Havlicek (31) – Small Forward

Bailey Howell (15) – Power Forward

Bill Russell (11) – Center

Larry Siegfried (18) – Point Guard

Sam Jones (32) – Shooting Guard

Boston bench (points scored)

Satch Sanders (2)

Don Nelson (2)

K.C. Jones (6)

Wayne Embry (4)

Jim Barnett (0)

Boston Coach: Bill Russell

Chamberlain-Russell

Wilt Chamberlain finally beat Bill Russell and won a Championship in 1967 *photo courtesy of Sportige

December 9, 1967: Detroit Pistons 124 @New York Knicks 121

This is I’m afraid the only game I have from the 1968 Season.  I would have no account if not for a 30-minute highlight film that ABC created as a season-in-review (they have this for every season that they put NBA games on TV).

This particular game was significant in that this was the highly anticipated first game in the NBA career of Bill Bradley.  Bradley had become a household name at Princeton University averaging 29.8 points per game.  He was the Player of the Year in his senior season of 1965 and led his unheralded team to the Final Four.  After losing to Michigan in the National Semifinals, Bradley put up 58 points in the Final Four consolation game against Wichita State and was named the Most Outstanding Player (it took a performance like that in a game that ultimately didn’t matter to take the Most Outstanding Player award away from UCLA’s Gail Goodrich, who only scored 42 points in the title game).

tx_bradley

Bill Bradley *photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated

Bradley was the territorial pick of the Knicks in the 1965 draft, but Bradley decided to go to Oxford University in England on a Rhodes Scholarship for 2 years.  He dropped out two months prior to his April, 1967 graduation to join the Air Force (Oxford eventually allowed Bradley to take special exams to graduate in 1968).  Bradley served 6 months in the Air Force and as a result joined the Knicks when the 1967-1968 season was already underway.

The game was called by a young 26-year-old Marv Albert on WHN 1050 New York.  The game reached the men in service and Princeton, New Jersey.   The Detroit Pistons came into the game in third place in the Eastern Division with a 16-11 record and had stars in Dave DeBusschere and Dave Bing.  The Knicks were in fourth place with a 12-16 record and were three weeks away from ousting coach Dick McGuire for Red Holzman and their fortunes would start changing.  The Knicks had stars like Dick Barnett, Willis Reed, Walt Bellamy and 1966 number one draft pick Cazzie Russell.  So Bradley came off the bench and didn’t see action until the start of the second quarter with the Knicks up 35-23.

Bradley got cheered loudly by the crowd in pre-game but it was nothing compared to when he entered the game and then got his first basket.  Bradley got his first basket on a fast break dish from Russell (a Reed block started the break).  Bill’s shot put the Knicks up 40-23, but that would be New York’s last field goal for a while.  Led by Bing and his back court partner Eddie Miles, the Pistons went on a 19-1 run to take a 42-41 lead. They then continued the run to go up 55-47 and by as much as 11.  New York cut it to 62-56 at the half and Barnett scored the first 6 points of the second half.  New York used this momentum to grab a 94-90 lead at the end of the third.  But Detroit grabbed it back in the fourth and maintained a 116-110 lead on a Bing three-point play.  Free throws by center Joe Strawder and baskets by Bing held off a late Knicks rally.  Bradley finished with 8 points on three field goals and 2-for-6 from the line.

The cheers for Bradley in this game would soon turn to boos as he struggled with the pressure of being great (and he playing an unnatural position at guard).  Bradley would never live up to the lofty-high expectations but he would find his niche and become a solid player.  These two teams engaged in a trade that was said to be the final piece for the great 1970’s Knicks teams.  On December 19, 1968 Dave DeBusschere was traded to New York for Walt Bellamy and guard Howard Komives.  The trade allowed Willis Reed to move to his natural position at center and allowed up-and-coming star guard Walt Frazier more playing time, as well as gave the Knicks a solid team player and defender in DeBusschere.

Detroit starters (points scored)

John Tresvant (9) – Small Forward

Dave DeBusschere (20) – Power Forward

Joe Strawder (13) – Center

Eddie Miles (25) – Point Guard

Dave Bing (32) – Shooting Guard

Detroit bench (points scored)

Terry Dischinger (20)

Jimmy Walker (2)

Len Chappell (3)

George Patterson (0)

Detroit Coach: Donnie Butcher

New York starters (points scored)

Cazzie Russell (17) – Small Forward

Willis Reed (14) – Power Forward

Walt Bellamy (22) – Center

Emmette Bryant (1) – Point Guard

Dick Barnett (32) – Shooting Guard

New York bench (points scored)

Dick Van Arsdale (10)

Walt Frazier (7)

Howard Komives (10)

Phil Jackson (0)

Bill Bradley (8)

New York Coach: Dick McGuire

After Holzman replaced McGuire the Knicks climbed to 3rd place while Detroit fell to 4th place.  Philadelphia once again finished ahead of Boston and they beat New York in 6 games in the Semifinals while Boston beat Detroit in 6.  Martin Luther King was assassinated the day before the Celtics/76ers series was set to begin.  This had an affect on the series as both teams wondered whether or not to play Game 1.  The Celtics had a meeting and a team vote about it before traveling to Philadelphia and decided to play the game to try and halt the chaos a little bit that was going on in the U.S. as a reaction.  While the 76ers were told by management that it was too late to cancel the game and they had to play it.  Chamberlain tried to organize a team vote pre-game (only 2 players from Philadelphia voted not to play, one was Chamberlain) but several 76ers were dispirited and weren’t happy that they were given no choice but to play Game 1.

The game was played and the Celtics won but the series was delayed for 5 days.  The 76ers won the next 3 games but there was still some uneasiness on the team.  The Celtics came together to win games 5 and 6.  In Game 7 in Philadelphia Wilt, who was driven to become the first center to lead the league in assists, only took 2 shots in the second half despite teammates Walker and Jones shooting 8-for-22 and Greer shooting 8-for-25.  The Celtics won 100-96 and would beat the Lakers in 6 games.  Wilt was criticized largely and wasn’t happy with management.  He demanded a trade to the Lakers and that summer he got it.

Wilt Chamberlain goes for a layup

Wilt’s 76ers blew a 3-1 lead against Russell’s Celtics in 1968, it was Chamberlain’s last series with the 76ers *photo courtesy of dubsism

January 14, 1969 – NBA All-Star Game at Baltimore: East 123, West 112

For the 1969 Season, the big surprise was the host team of the All-Star Game – the Baltimore Bullets.  After finishing last in the East in 1968, the Bullets came into the 1969 All-Star break with a league-best 33-11 record.  They had three representatives for the East team.  All of them would have a major impact on the East’s victory but none would end up getting the MVP.  The Bullets’ Earl Monroe started in the back court with veteran Oscar Robertson, and ‘Earl The Pearl’ got the East off to an 18-10 lead in the first 5 minutes by hitting his first two shots and scoring 7 points.  The East led 35-19 at the end of the first.

Interestingly, this All-Star Game was played on a week day (Tuesday night) and still covered prime-time by ABC.  But President Lyndon Baines Johnson was giving his State-of-the-Union address on that same night (six days before Nixon was sworn in as the new president).  So at 9:00 Eastern time that night, ABC was going to go to live coverage of Johnson’s address and would bring live coverage for the second half of the All-Star Game.  Interestingly, halftime was actually delayed as ABC was showing game action of the 2nd quarter to the viewers.

The West had cut the lead to 60-53 at the half.  The East back court of Robertson and Monroe each had 10 points to lead all scorers.  The West had gotten back into the game when Wilt Chamberlain had come into the game and started being a defensive presence inside.  The West’s starting center Elvin Hayes was the only other center on the West roster and he was more known for offense then defense.  So Chamberlain started the second half for the West along with reserves Jeff Mullins and Joe Caldwell.  Elgin Baylor and Lenny Wilkens were the only starters going against the East’s starting five.

The West scored the first 5 points of the 2nd half and then an Elgin Baylor drive by Bill Russell and reverse layup plus the foul on Russell tied the game at 61.  Then after Chamberlain secured a defensive rebound and threw a full-length of the court pass to Caldwell the West had taken a 65-64 lead.  A Baylor jumper, 2 of his 11 third quarter points, gave the West its biggest lead at 69-64.  But then Oscar led the East back to tie the game at 75 late in the 3rd.  It was then that Baltimore rookie Wes Unseld checked into the game in the middle for Russell.  Unseld, who would win Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player, scored 7 late points to give the East an 86-83 advantage going into the fourth quarter.  It was then that the Bullet’s Gus Johnson made his impact.  On the first play he blocked a Don Kojis jumper, retrieved the ball, and finished on a 2-on-1 fastbreak (a great play).  Two Oscar Robertson three-point plays completed a 7-0 run and put the East up 101-96.  Then Monroe hit Johnson with a three-quarter length of the court pass for a dunk, then Johnson pulled down a defensive rebound and got a fastbreak layup off an Oscar assist.  This run broke the game open.  Gus Johnson ended up going out of the game after spraining his ankle (in a sad irony, Johnson would miss the playoffs for the 1st place Bullets that season after he tore an ACL).  With the East in control at 118-106, game-MVP Robertson, Monroe, and Russell were substituted out of the game to a standing ovation.

West starters (teams) and point totals

Elgin Baylor (Los Angeles Lakers) 21 – Small Forward

Don Kojis (San Diego Rockets) 8 – Power Forward

Elvin Hayes (San Diego Rockets) 11 – Center

Lenny Wilkens (Seattle Sonics) 10 – Point Guard

Jerry Sloan (Chicago Bulls) 4 – Shooting Guard

West bench (teams) and point totals

Jeff Mullins (San Francisco Warriors) 14

Wilt Chamberlain (Los Angeles Lakers) 4

Rudy LaRusso (San Francisco Warriors) 6

Dick Van Arsdale (Phoenix Suns) 4

Lou Hudson (Atlanta Hawks) 13

Joe Caldwell (Atlanta Hawks) 12

Gail Goodrich (Phoenix Suns) 5 – replaced an injured Jerry West

West Coach: Richie Guerin (Atlanta Hawks)

East starters (teams) and point totals

John Havlicek (Boston Celtics) 14 – Small Forward

Jerry Lucas (Cincinnati Royals) 8 – Power Forward

Bill Russell (Boston Celtics) 3 – Center

Oscar Robertson (Cincinnati Royals) 24 – Point Guard

Earl Monroe (Baltimore Bullets) 21 – Shooting Guard

East bench (teams) and point totals

Gus Johnson (Baltimore Bullets) 13

Dave Bing (Detroit Pistons) 3

Billy Cunningham (Philadelphia 76ers) 10

Willis Reed (New York Knicks) 10

Wes Unseld (Baltimore Bullets) 11

Hal Greer (Philadelphia 76ers) 4

Jon McGlocklin (Milwaukee Bucks) 2

East Coach: Gene Shue (Baltimore Bullets)

nba_u_frazier_gb1_576 unseld gusjohnson_350_080519

In the 1969 NBA All-Star Game in Baltimore, the three Bullets representatives showed well – from right: Earl Monroe, Wes Unseld, and Gus Johnson (at bottom) *photos courtesy of ESPN, Spokeo, and Waiting for Next Year

May 5, 1969 – NBA Finals, Game 7: Boston Celtics 108 @Los Angeles Lakers 106

This was the year for the Lakers!  They had acquired Wilt Chamberlain in the off-season to match up against Bill Russell.  The Lakers had won the West with a 55-27 record and had beaten San Francisco in 6 games (after losing the first two at home) and Atlanta in 5 games in the playoffs.  They had home court advantage in the Finals against the Celtics.  Boston had finished in 4th place in the East behind first-place Baltimore, second-place Philadelphia (going with a small-ball lineup without Chamberlain), and third-place New York.  But the Celtics had gotten through the first two rounds beating the 76ers in 5 games and then the Knicks in 6.

Jerry West was determined to make this the year the Lakers finally beat Boston.  He opened the series with 53 and 41 points as the Lakers won the first 2 games at the new Fabulous Forum.  But Boston won the next two games at the Garden.  Game 4 was won on a game-winning off-balance jumper by Sam Jones at the buzzer that bounced in.  The two teams got home victories in the next two games to bring it to Game 7.  Jerry West was averaging 37.2 points per game while John Havlicek was leading the way for Boston with a 28.6 average thru 6 games.  However, a concern for the Lakers was that West pulled his hamstring late in Game 5 and had struggled a bit in Game 6 (despite scoring 26 points).

But Laker owner Jack Kent Cooke didn’t seem too concerned.  He had placed balloons in the rafters that were to be released when the Lakers won the Championship and the USC band was going to play ‘Happy Days Are Here Again.’  The plans were placed on the program for the game so the fans knew what was going on.  Unfortunately for Cooke, the Celtics got their hands on the plans too (and really the best quote was from Auerbach post-game ‘what are they gonna do with those balloons? they’ll eat em!’).

The Celtics came out smoking, hitting 8-of-10 from the field to take a 24-12 lead but the Lakers came back to cut it to 28-25 at the end of the quarter and 59-56 at halftime.  The Lakers went cold in the third quarter and Wilt Chamberlain picked up his fifth foul.  The Celtics took advantage by going inside and grabbed a 91-76 going into the fourth.

The fourth quarter is the only broadcast of the game I have, but its better than nothing!  The Celtics continued their momentum despite 5 fouls on both Russell and Sam Jones.  They built a 100-83 lead on an Emmette Bryant jumper.  But then Boston went cold as they repeatedly fired up outside shots and Jerry West scored 5 straight points to bring his total to 33 for the game.  Jones came back into the game at 7:53 to try and spark the offense but committed his 6th foul 48 seconds later after going for a West fake.  It was known that this was Jones’ last season (it was not known that it would be Russell’s last season).  Sam got an ovation from the crowd and West hit a free throw to cut it to 101-90.  After Baylor and Havlicek traded jumpers, West came back with another jumper.  Havlicek tried to answer at the other end but missed and Wilt grabbed the rebound.  But as Wilt came down he landed awkwardly on his knee and was wincing.  Chamberlain played for two more possessions but called timeout after getting the next defensive rebound.  After a numbing spray was applied Wilt tried to play one more possession but had to go out after West got fouled.

Wilt was visibly frustrated as he went to the bench (slamming the chair).  As the story goes, Chamberlain said he only needed a minute or two to rest but Lakers’ coach Butch Van Breda Kolff wouldn’t put Wilt back in because his replacement Mel Counts ‘was playing better.’  Van Breda Kolff and Chamberlain didn’t like each other that season and were battling all season, so Butch was probably going to get fired.  I’m not saying he wanted to cost the Lakers a championship to prove to Wilt that he was the boss but having injuries like that in my life, something like that does hurt like hell for a minute but once you rest it for a minute it’s fine.  So I believe Wilt could have been put back in and while Counts didn’t play terribly and hit a big jumper, he also got called for traveling and had his layup blocked by Russell on two big possessions.

Anyway, back to the game.  West hit the two free throws and then a pull-up jumper on the next possession and it was 103-98.  After Don  Nelson missed a free throw, West hit two more to bring his total to 42 points on 13-for-17 from the line.  Counts hit his jumper from the free throw line at 3:00 and it was 103-102 and the Forum was bedlam.  The next 6 possessions were chaotic and added to the tension, but didn’t produce points.  After Russell missed an easy layup in front of the rim, Baylor missed a tough baseline shot over Bailey Howell.  Havlicek then missed a free throw after a loose-ball foul on Keith Erickson.  West turned the ball over trying to split a double-team and then Nelson charged into West at 1:53 trying to drive (similar to a bull running through a china shop).  Then Erickson had the ball in the right corner and was going up for a jumper when he saw Baylor cutting to the basket wide open.  Unfortunately for the Lakers, Erickson saw Baylor too late and Russell dropped back and deflected the ball to Bryant.

The next possession was just as chaotic as the last few.  Larry Siegfried tried to drive and was cut off so he passed to Havlicek at the right elbow.  Hondo tried to drive as well but he the ball knocked away from him by Erickson.  The ball went right to Nelson just inside the free throw line and Nellie’s shot hit the back rim, bounced high and went in.  It was 105-102 with 1:15 left.  After West missed a jumper, Siegfried committed an offensive foul at 46 seconds.  Then the Lakers last gasp was sniffed out when Russell blocked Counts driving layup and Siegfried killed some time before he was fouled.  Larry hit two free throws and the Celtics held on for their 11th championship in 13 years.

Russell first made his retirement announcement with Sports Illustrated in the summer.  The Celtics would actually recover remarkably quickly, next making the playoffs with the top seed in the East in 1972.  By then they had drafted Jo Jo White and Dave Cowens.

Boston starters (points scored)

John Havlicek (26) – Small Forward

Bailey Howell (9) – Power Forward

Bill Russell (6) – Center

Emmette Bryant (20) – Point Guard

Sam Jones (24) – Shooting Guard

Boston bench (points scored)

Larry Siegfried (7)

Don Nelson (16)

Boston Coach: Bill Russell

Los Angeles starters (points scored)

Keith Erickson (6) – Small Forward

Elgin Baylor (20) – Power Forward

Wilt Chamberlain (18) – Center

Johnny Egan (9) – Point Guard

Jerry West (42) – Shooting Guard

Los Angeles bench (points scored)

Mel Counts (9)

Tom Hawkins (2)

Los Angeles Coach: Butch Van Breda Kolff

russell west_display_image west walking off court

Bill Russell played his last game in Game 7 while Jerry West became the only losing player to be named Finals MVP (at bottom: West walking off the court with another disappointing loss as the Celtics celebrate behind him) *photos courtesy of Mitchell and Ness, Bleacher Report, and LA Times Lakers Blog

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One Comment
  1. Jack Runkle permalink

    Nicely done. I enjoy this kind of article on historical sporting events.

    As for the seeming oddity of matching 1 seed with 3, and 2 with 4, this had been the common practice in the 6-team NHL for over a quarter century, and many of these teams shared buildings with NHL teams and likely shared business models on post-season scheduling, In a four-team seeding, it gives the best chance for an eventual matchup between one- and two-seeds.

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