1960 NBA Finals: Boston 4, St. Louis 3
Hawks Force Game 7, But Celtics Repeat
In pro basketball, familiarity bred its own sort of contempt in 1960. The NBA was an eight-team league, and over the 75-game schedule opponents saw plenty of each other. The Boston Celtics and St. Louis Hawks, who knew each other well, got to know each other even better when they met for their third NBA Finals in four years.
"At the time, the Hawks were the most intense rivalry we had," Celtics point guard Bob Cousy said. Nothing epitomized this rivalry better than the matchup of Cousy against the Hawks' Slater Martin.
Cousy often looked forward to confronting the bigger guards around the league, because his speed and quickness usually won over their size and strength. Martin, however, was smaller than Cousy and matched his quickness. "Slater was the only one I used to call for help on," Cousy admitted. "I used to tell my big people to set picks as often as they felt like it."
Although Martin was an older veteran, Cousy said he never noticed a diminishing of his quickness nor a slackening of his fierce competitiveness. But for the first time in his 11-year career, injuries began to nag Martin in 1960.
"I'd never wrapped an ankle as long as I played basketball," Martin remembered. "Never had a sprained ankle, never put a piece of tape on it. I could get dressed for a game in 30 seconds. I'd put on my jockstrap, slip on the jersey and I was ready to go."
He pulled a hamstring during the 1960 All-Star Game in St. Louis, and that took a few weeks to heal. Then he pulled another leg muscle during the playoffs. The team was in a tight series with the Lakers and needed a road win. Martin later claimed that Hawks owner Ben Kerner had asked him to play the next game with a shot of novocaine to kill his pain. He agreed, and St. Louis won. But Martin was left on crutches the next day and was through for the season, his last in the league.
The Hawks squeezed past the Lakers and returned to the Finals once more to face the Celtics. Ed Macauley was now in his second season as the Hawks' coach. In a television interview after his team had eliminated the Lakers, Macauley predicted that St. Louis would whip Boston. But that was just his public comment. Privately, he knew his team would be outmanned in the backcourt. "We'll be lucky if we win one game," he told his wife.
The St. Louis lineup had changed considerably since the team's 1958 championship. Bob Pettit and Cliff Hagan were still in the frontcourt, but Jack Coleman, Charlie Share and Macauley were gone. Jack McMahon's playing time had diminished to 25 games, and with Martin injured, Si Green and Johnny McCarthy ran the backcourt.
However, the Hawks' other new players were quite familiar with Finals competition. Larry Foust (who had played with Fort Wayne) and Clyde Lovellette had been acquired from Minneapolis. Dave Pointek, a small forward, had been picked up from Cincinnati. (The Royals had moved there from Rochester in 1957.) Bob Ferry was a rookie sub in the frontcourt, but he learned quickly.
Although this group had been strong enough to win the Western Division with a 49-26 record, most observers, like Macauley, figured they'd never go the distance against the Celtics. After all, the Boston dynasty was off and running, and no team seemed capable of stopping it.
The Celtics had won an NBA record 59 games for 1959-60. They accomplished this in the Eastern Division despite the dominating presence of 7-foot-1 rookie Wilt Chamberlain, who had joined the Philadelphia Warriors after a stint with the Harlem Globetrotters.
Boston was the picture of depth and stability, with Bill Russell and his 24 rebounds per game anchoring the team's performance. Bill Sharman and Cousy started, but Sam Jones averaged about 20 minutes and 12 points as Sharman's backup.
Tom Heinsohn was in his prime and led the team in scoring with an average of 21.7 points per contest. In so doing, he had acquired the nickname of "Ack-Ack," because he shot as rapidly and frequently as an antiaircraft gun. Frank Ramsey boosted the scoring totals by another 15 points per game, and coach Red Auerbach got solid backup efforts from K.C. Jones and Gene Conley, the 6-foot-8, 255-pound former baseball pitcher.
True to expectations, Boston dominated the first game of the series, 140-122. But the Celtics received notice that they were in for a scrap in Game 2, when the Hawks bounced back and upset them 113-103 in Boston Garden. To reaffirm its dominance, Boston thumped the Hawks again, 102-86, in Kiel Auditorium in Game 3.
St. Louis won its second home game, 106-96, to send the series back to the Garden tied at two games apiece. Boston again won big there, 125-102. Even when the Celtics lost Game 6 in St. Louis, 105-102, they returned to the Garden for Game 7 confident of their ability to repeat as champions.
On April 9 they claimed their second consecutive championship and third overall with a comfortable 122-103 win. It was a day of big numbers for Auerbach's stars: Russell scored 22 points to go with his 35 rebounds and four assists; the 6-foot-3 Ramsey had 24 points and 13 rebounds; and Heinsohn added another 22 points and eight boards. As a team, Boston outrebounded St. Louis 83-47.
With Martin out of the lineup, Cousy had been able to maneuver unhampered. He finished with 19 points and 14 assists. All the same, St. Louis had nothing to be ashamed of. The Hawks had won three more games than Macauley had figured they would.
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