Posted Feb 27 2013 9:13AM
The Boston Celtics and St. Louis Hawks staged one of the best rivalries of the NBA's early era, meeting in the NBA Finals four times in five years beginning with the 1956-57 season.
That would be the first of a record 17 titles that immortalized the Boston Celtics as the most successful franchise in pro basketball, and it went down to the wire. The Celtics survived for a 125-123 double-overtime victory in Game 7 as St. Louis player-coach Alex Hannum threw a court-length inbounds pass off the backboard to Hawks star Bob Pettit, whose attempt at a tying shot rolled off the rim as time expired.
Revenge for Pettit and the Hawks came swiftly. One season later, the same two teams squared off in the 1958 NBA Finals, and this time it was Pettit and the Hawks who had the last laugh.
They stunned the Celtics by winning Game 1 104-102 at Boston Garden. After Boston tied the series by winning Game 2, Celtics star Bill Russell suffered a sprained ankle in Game 3 that would hamper him for the rest of the series. The teams split Games 3 and 4, but the Hawks took command with a 102-100 win in Game 5 and returned to St. Louis determined to close out the series in Game 6.
The 6-foot-9 Pettit turned in one of his finest performances, scoring 31 points in the first three quarters and then dominating the fourth period by tallying 19 of his team's last 21 points. His final basket came on a tip-in with 15 seconds remaining and gave the Hawks a three-point lead, enabling them to withstand a late Celtics basket for a 110-109 win and the Hawks' only title.
Pettit's 50-point game matched what was then the NBA record, set by Bob Cousy of Boston in a four-overtime game in 1953. The record is now 61 points, set by Elgin Baylor of the Lakers in 1962.
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