Season Recaps - 1960s
1959-62: Wilt Arrives, But Celtics Prove That Five Stars Are Better Than One
The Celtics' success continued in the following season. Each of the five starters-Frank Ramsey, Tom Heinsohn, Bill Russell, Bill Sharman, and Bob Cousy-averaged better than 15 points, and Auerbach had a bench that included Sam Jones, K. C. Jones, and Gene Conley, who was an All-Star pitcher with the Philadelphia Phillies in the offseason. The 1959-60 Celtics reeled off a 17-game winning streak on their way to winning the division title by 10 games.
The Eastern Division Finals featured a matchup between rookie sensation Wilt Chamberlain of the Philadelphia Warriors and Russell of the Celtics. Chamberlain had turned the league upside down, averaging 37.6 points and 27.0 rebounds during the regular season and claiming the NBA Most Valuable Player Award. But even a superstar wasn't enough to defeat the formidable Celtics, as Boston prevailed in six games.
Boston's victory set up a Hawks-Celtics Finals for the third time in four years. The 1960 matchup saw the two teams split the first four games once again. Boston whipped St. Louis by 25 points in Game 5, but the Hawks responded with a three-point win in Game 6. In the seventh and deciding game at Boston Garden the Celtics pulled out all the stops-Russell snared 35 rebounds, and Boston repeated as champions by virtue of a 122-103 victory.
The club marched to another Eastern Division crown in the 1960-61 season. The roster was basically the same, although Bill Sharman saw a little less time when Sam Jones moved into the starting lineup and K. C. Jones took over as the Celtics' sixth man. The results were almost identical to the season before, as the team chalked up 57 wins.
That year's playoff run proved to be the Celtics' easiest to date-Boston lost only two games on the way to a third straight championship. Facing St. Louis in the Finals yet again, the Celtics dashed any hopes of a Hawks upset by winning the first two games by an average of 21 points. The Hawks staved off a sweep with a win in Game 3, but that was all they would get-Boston took the next two games to win the series. In postseason honors, Russell claimed his second NBA Most Valuable Player Award.
When the 1961-62 season got underway there was a new professional circuit, the American Basketball League. Bill Sharman ended his career with the Celtics to become head coach of the new league's Los Angeles franchise. Otherwise, it was business as usual for "the Team in Green." Bob Cousy averaged 15.7 points and 7.8 assists, while Russell pulled down 23.6 rebounds per game and became the league's first repeat MVP. Second-year player Thomas "Satch" Sanders snared 9.5 rebounds per contest at one forward position, while Tom Heinsohn matched Sanders's rebounding numbers and added 22.1 points per game at the other. Frank Ramsey contributed 15.3 points per contest off the bench. The Celtics became the first team in NBA history to win 60 games in a season. They finished with their sixth consecutive Eastern Division title, besting Philadelphia by 11 games.
If the previous year's playoffs had been a cakewalk, the 1962 postseason was like running a gauntlet for the Celtics. Wilt Chamberlain had averaged 50.4 points and 25.7 rebounds for the Philadelphia Warriors that year, and he gave the Celtics all they could handle in the Eastern Division Finals. With the series tied at three games apiece, the teams battled it out in a closely played Game 7. Sam Jones hit a basket with two seconds remaining and the Celtics held on to win, 109-107.
Boston faced the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals. Elgin Baylor had powered Los Angeles to a 54-26 record during the regular season, and after he scored 61 points in Game 5 the Lakers led the series, three games to two. But the Celtics weren't ready to give up the throne, beating the Lakers, 119-105, in Game 6. In Game 7, after the fourth period ended with the game tied at 100, Boston pulled ahead in overtime to beat Los Angeles, 110-107. The Celtics had now won a record four straight championships and five in the previous six seasons.
1962-63: Cousy Retires With Yet Another Ring
As the 1962-63 campaign began, Bob Cousy, at age 34, announced that the season would be his last. It was clear that Boston was ready for the future, however, when rookie John Havlicek joined the Celtics as the team's first-round draft pick. Boston also added 33-year-old Clyde Lovellette, an experienced center who could provide solid backup for Bill Russell. The season went according to form. Boston posted a 58-22 mark and won the Eastern Division by 10 games, and Russell won his third straight MVP Award. The Cincinnati Royals gave the Celtics a bit of a scare in the division finals, thanks to the brilliant play of Oscar Robertson. After surviving a seven-game matchup with the Royals, Boston moved on to the NBA Finals and dispatched the Lakers in six games.
1963-65: Russell Keeps Dynasty Going
The big question for the Celtics as the 1963-64 campaign rolled around was how the loss of Cousy would affect the team. For years aficionados of the game had debated whether it was Cousy or Russell who provided the foundation for the Celtics' dynasty. Russell answered the question by leading the club to a 59-win season.
Yet as important as Russell's contributions were, Boston prospered by virtue of a total team effort. The guard tandem of Sam Jones and K. C. Jones offered the perfect balance of scoring and defense, while Tom Heinsohn and Satch Sanders anchored the forward positions. The team's highest scorer didn't even start-Havlicek came off the bench to average 19.9 points. Boston waltzed through postseason play to a sixth straight championship, ousting the Cincinnati Royals in five games and then defeating Wilt Chamberlain and the San Francisco Warriors in the title series.
Owner Walter Brown passed away before the 1964-65 season. Brown, one of the founding fathers of modern professional basketball, had owned the Celtics since starting the team in 1946. The club dedicated its season to him and kicked it off with 11 straight victories. Overall, Boston won 62 games and ended the regular season with a 14-game cushion over second-place Cincinnati.
Boston faced the Philadelphia 76ers (formerly the Syracuse Nationals) in the opening round of the playoffs. Philadelphia had established itself as a contender with the acquisition of Wilt Chamberlain from San Francisco midway through the season. The teams traded victories, with Boston winning Games 1, 3, and 5 and Philadelphia claiming Games 2, 4, and 6.
Holding a seven-point lead with 2:00 left in Game 7, Boston appeared to have the contest in hand, but then Chamberlain scored six quick points to pull the 76ers within one at 110-109. With five seconds left, Russell inbounded the ball with a pass that hit a wire supporting the basket, and possession went to Philadelphia. But when the Sixers' Hal Greer threw the ball in to Chet Walker, John Havlicek stepped in and snatched the pass, inciting announcer Johnny Most's legendary shouts of "Havlicek stole the ball! Havlicek stole the ball!"
By comparison, Boston's NBA Finals matchup with Los Angeles seemed anticlimactic. The Lakers were playing without the injured Elgin Baylor, and Jerry West by himself was no match for the Celtics. Boston won Game 1 by 32 points and Game 5 by 34. In between, the Celtics lost only once as they earned their seventh consecutive championship. Red Auerbach was named NBA Coach of the Year.
1965-66: Eight Straight
The following season marked the beginning of a transitional period for the Celtics. Tom Heinsohn retired before the 1965-66 campaign, and three of the team's five starters-Sam Jones, K. C. Jones, and Bill Russell-were more than 30 years old and nearing retirement. Midway through the year Auerbach announced that it would be his final campaign as the team's head coach. (The following season he assumed the post of general manager for the club.)
After a season-long battle for the Eastern Division crown, the Philadelphia 76ers won 18 of their final 21 games. They posted a 55-25 record to edge the Celtics by a single game, ending Boston's 10-year reign as the top team in the East.
The second-place finish meant that the Celtics had to get past Cincinnati in the first round of the playoffs in order to face the 76ers in the Eastern Division Finals. Boston lost two of the first three games to the Royals, then took the final two to advance. Seasoned by the tough five-game series, the Celtics sliced right through the 76ers in the second round, losing only one game.
The 1966 NBA Finals once again pitted Los Angeles against Boston. After the Lakers' surprise overtime victory in Game 1, Auerbach announced that the team would be coached the following year by none other than Bill Russell, a move that inspired the club to win the next three games. Los Angeles managed to extend the series with a victory in Game 6, but the Celtics finished off the Lakers in Game 7, 95-93. Auerbach stepped down as coach with an unprecedented record of eight consecutive championships.
1966-69: Sixers And Celtics Clash In East
Auerbach's retirement as coach coincided with the emergence of the 76ers as the powerhouse of the NBA. The 1966-67 Philadelphia club steamrolled through the league behind Wilt Chamberlain, Hal Greer, Chet Walker, and Billy Cunningham, at one point posting a 45-4 record en route to a season mark of 68-13.
Boston actually improved under player-coach Russell. General Manager Auerbach added a pair of veterans in Bailey Howell and Wayne Embry. Russell piloted the team to 60 wins, good for a second-place finish behind Philadelphia. After ousting the New York Knicks in the division semifinals, the Celtics earned a shot at the 76ers in the Eastern Division Finals. Philadelphia won the first three games and then smashed the Celtics in Game 5 to take the series. That defeat ended the most impressive championship streak in American sports history. It was the first time in 10 seasons that the Celtics had failed to reach the NBA Finals, and it ended a string of eight straight NBA titles.
The Celtics' dynasty seemed to be on the wane. The club took the floor at the start of the 1967-68 season with an aging lineup. K. C. Jones had retired during the offseason, but Russell rallied the team. After the Celtics posted a 54-28 record during the regular season to finish eight games behind the 76ers, the two teams squared off in the Eastern Division Finals for the fourth straight season.
Heavily favored Philadelphia jumped out to lead the series after four games, but Boston rallied to take the next two contests. Game 7 was a thriller. The Celtics were holding a two-point lead with less than a minute to play when Russell took over the game-sinking a free throw, blocking a shot, grabbing a rebound, and then dishing out an assist to secure the victory. Once again the Celtics were on their way to the championship round, in which they beat the Los Angeles Lakers in six games. Boston had captured its ninth title in 10 years.
As the 1968-69 season began the Celtics seemed to have lost their spark. Sam Jones was now 35 years old, Russell 34. The team won 48 games, its lowest win total since the 1956-57 campaign when it played a 72-game schedule. Once again, however, Boston turned on the magic during the playoffs, making short work of the 76ers in the division semifinals and then outlasting the Knicks in the Eastern Division Finals.
Boston moved on to face Los Angeles in the NBA Finals. It was the sixth time in eight years that the two teams had butted heads for the right to wear the crown, and the Celtics had yet to lose. But the Lakers, featuring Chamberlain, Jerry West, and Elgin Baylor, entered the series as the favorites and took the first two games. Boston won Game 3 and then eked out a win in Game 4 when Sam Jones hit a shot at the buzzer to give the Celtics an 89-88 victory. The teams split the next two contests. In Game 7, played at The Forum in Los Angeles, the Celtics built a 17-point fourth-quarter lead, then held off a Lakers rally to win the championship by two points, 108-106.