1962 NBA Finals: Boston 4, L.A. Lakers 3
Celtics, Lakers Work OT to Start Rivalry
Once again, the Boston Celtics returned to the NBA Finals, this time to meet the Los Angeles Lakers, who were coming off a wonderful season.
With their success in the 1961 playoffs, the Lakers had quickly gathered a following in Los Angeles, and they soon became popular with the Hollywood crowd. Among the courtside celebrities in those days were Doris Day, Danny Thomas, Dinah Shore and Pat Boone. Not exactly Jack Nicholson, Arsenio Hall and Dyan Cannon, but the Lakers nevertheless attracted the stargazers, and their games became a place to be seen.
For the team itself, it was one of those golden seasons in which almost everything seemed to go right. Even their only real setback during the regular season had its advantages. Elgin Baylor began the year like a terror but was called into reserve duty with the Army at Fort Lewis, Wash. As a result, he was able to appear in only 48 regular-season games. He made the lineup mostly on weekends or with an occasional pass, and when he did he was fresh, ready and virtually unstoppable. His average of 38.3 points per game was second only to the prodigious Wilt Chamberlain's.
When Baylor wasn't there, Jerry West had to carry the load, and that pushed him to improve his game. Early in his career, West had been less secure in his abilities and had often deferred to Baylor on offense. "I didn't feel I was competent enough to be consistent," West said of his early years in the pros. "I would have outlandish scoring games, but the rest of my performance might not be what it should have been."
The Lakers' looseness made them the perfect team for West, particularly in 1962. "It was an enjoyable year," Baylor recalled. "Our cameraderie was great. On and off the court, we did things together. We enjoyed one another. As a team we gave the effort every night."
It was hard not to enjoy the likes of Rod Hundley, reserve forward Tommy Hawkins, veteran guard Dick Barnett and second-year forward Rudy LaRusso. Known in Boston as "Roughhouse Rudy" (the nickname courtesy of Celtics radio announcer Johnny Most), LaRusso was a 6-foot-8, 220-pound youngster out of Dartmouth who quickly found a niche as the Lakers' enforcer.
Even with Baylor's intermittent schedule, this harmony translated into success. They won the Western Division with a 54-26 record, 11 games better than Cincinnati, and whipped Detroit in six games in the division finals.
In a sense, the Lakers were relieved when Boston defeated Philadelphia. "In all honesty, we had no post game," coach Fred Schaus explained. They had no means of slowing Chamberlain's overwhelming offensive presence. Boston's Bill Russell was dominating as a defensive player, but he didn't present the same problems for the Lakers as Wilt did.
In the post, Los Angeles alternated 6-foot-8 Jimmy Krebs and 6-foot-11 Ray Felix. Krebs could score, and Felix could muscle around, do a little rebounding and play defense. "Krebs was effective against the Celtics," Schaus said, "because he was a perimeter pivotman. When we sent him outside to shoot, he brought Russell away from the basket." With Russell unable to hang in the lane, the Lakers worked their offense and sometimes got decent shots.
And the Lakers had someone to lead them; their two young superstars seemed fearless. "Both West and Baylor had fantastic playoffs," recalled Schaus.
Even so, the Celtics won the first game in the Garden, 122-108. But the Lakers bounced back the next night with a 129-122 upset that sent them home tied.
A record crowd of 15,180 packed the Sports Arena. They were rewarded for their support in the closing seconds when West scored to tie the game at 115 apiece. Then Sam Jones tried to inbound the ball to Bob Cousy with four seconds remaining. West stole the ball and drove for the winning layup at the buzzer, making the final score 117-115, Lakers.
Boston coach Red Auerbach later contended that it was impossible for West to dribble 30 feet and score with only three seconds left. The Lakers' bench had apparently felt the same way. Everyone there shouted for West to pull up and shoot. But he kept digging for the basket and laid the ball in as the buzzer sounded.
"I had deflected the ball on the run," West explained. "I knew I would have enough time, because I knew what the shot clock was. Quite often I'm surprised today that more young players don't pay attention to the shot clock."
The crowd went wild after the play, but the Celtics promptly killed any thoughts of prolonged jubilation in Los Angeles by taking Game 4, 115-103. They headed back to Beantown with the series tied at two apiece. There, it was all Baylor. He scored 61 points (a record for an NBA Finals game) and grabbed 22 rebounds, while the Celtics' defensive specialist, Satch Sanders, contemplated another line of work. "Elgin was just a machine," Sanders said later.
Boston had attempted to double-team him in the past, but Baylor passed the ball too well for that to work. In fact, nothing could stop him. The Lakers took the fifth game, 126-121, and headed home with the series lead. Asked about his big scoring night, Baylor said, "All I remember is that we won the game. I never thought about how many points I had."
It was one of those nights where Baylor's every effort seemed to guide him to just the right spot on the floor, said West. "He had that wonderful, magical instinct for making plays and doing things that you had to just stop and watch. He is without a doubt one of the truly great people who played this game. I hear people talking about forwards today. I don't see many that can compare to him."
The Celtics, however, again doused the jubilation in Los Angeles by tying the series with a 119-105 win in the Sports Arena. Then, on Wednesday, April 16, the two rivals faced each other in Game 7 in Boston. The Celtics took a 53-47 lead at the half, despite the fact that Sam Jones was only 1-for-10 from the floor. The Lakers knew that a prodigious night from Baylor had delivered them earlier and that to win tonight they would need another one. He took 18 shots in the first half and made eight of them.
The Celtics maintained their lead through most of the third quarter and were ahead 73-67 heading into the period's final minute. But West scored seven points in a row to help tie the game at 75 apiece as the fourth quarter opened. From there, it only got wilder.
The Celtics first rushed up by six points, then fell back into a tie at 88 apiece with only six minutes left. Boston went back up by three again. Then Tom Heinsohn fouled out, joining Sanders and Jim Loscutoff on the pine. All three had fallen trying to stop Baylor, who already had 38 points.
But Russell scored on a stickback seconds after that, and Boston breathed easier at 96-91. That was a mistake. West canned a jumper, and Baylor hit one of two free throws to make it 96-94. Boston then added two Russell free throws, and West answered with another jumper, bringing the score to 98-96. Sam Jones blocked Frank Selvy's shot and hit two free throws at the other end to widen the margin to 100-96. LaRusso picked up an offensive foul with a minute to go, and the Lakers seemed doomed.
But Selvy saved them momentarily by getting a rebound and driving the length of the floor for a layup. Seconds later, he repeated the act, driving the length of the floor, missing the shot, then getting the rebound and scoring to tie the game at 100 apiece.
The Celtics got the ball back with 18 seconds left. Frank Ramsey tried a driving hook shot in traffic and missed. LaRusso clutched the rebound, and the Lakers had a shot to win it. Schaus called a timeout with five seconds to go.
The coach set up Baylor as the first option, West as the second, and whoever else was open as the third. Hundley, who was in the game to handle the ball, had dreamed the night before that he would make the winning shot. Now, with the ball, Hundley quickly moved into the open for a good shot. West and Baylor were covered.
But Selvy was open on the left baseline. Cousy, who was guarding him, had gambled for a quick double on West. Hundley rifled a pass to Selvy, and Cousy rushed back to cover him as the ball was released. It was a 7- or 8-foot shot, one that Selvy made eight out of 10 times.
It hit the rim and fell away, to be known forever as the shot that could have ended Boston's dynasty and the Lakers' agony. "I would trade all my points for that last basket," Selvy told reporters afterward. "It was a fairly tough shot. I was almost on the baseline." The ball came off the rim, and Russell, who finished the game with 30 points and 40 rebounds, wrapped it in his arms to force an overtime.
In the extra period, the Celtics escaped with their fourth straight title as they built a five-point lead and then won, 110-107. Sam Jones scored five of his 27 points in the extra period. Ramsey finished with 23, and the Lakers could only dwell on what might have been.
"Selvy thought Bob Cousy fouled him," Baylor said. "I thought Cousy fouled him. He took the shot from a spot where he was very proficient. Cousy said he never fouled him. I was in a position to get the offensive rebound. But somebody behind me shoved me out of bounds right into the referee. There was no foul call there, either. I looked around and saw Russell and Sam Jones behind me."
Some years later Baylor got a copy of the game's film and confirmed what he had suspected. Sam Jones had shoved him out of bounds, away from the rebound. Jones later joked about it with him and admitted pushing him.
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