1964 NBA Finals: Boston 4, San Francisco 1
Boston 'D' at Center of Title Defense
After Bob Cousy's retirement, Boston coach Red Auerbach's strategy shifted a bit, recalled K.C. Jones.
"Red always added up what the starters would score," Jones said. "I was not a shooter, and Red figured with Cousy gone on offense we would lose seven or eight points. We made that up by increasing our defensive intensity."
"Cousy was the greatest ever running the fast break," Tom Heinsohn said. "We still ran with the ball, but we didn't run the same way because K.C. was now the middle man in the break. He wasn't the same type of passer as Cousy. But with [Satch] Sanders and [Bill] Russell and the Joneses, we had four excellent defensive players."
Auerbach also had another series of crafty personnel moves to crow about: the addition of veteran center Clyde Lovellette and 6-foot-6 Willie Naulls in the frontcourt. Naulls provided double-figure scoring as a key substitute for three important years, and Lovellette gave the Celtics some valuable experience and scoring off the bench. Larry Siegfried, John Havlicek's teammate at Ohio State who later matured into a double-figure scorer, was also on board for his first NBA season.
The big change for 1963-64 came with a shift in the league's balance of power. Maurice Podoloff had retired as commissioner and was replaced by Walter Kennedy. In an even bigger move, the Warriors had left Philly to move to San Francisco, where they took charge in the Western Division with what appeared to be one of the most powerful teams in NBA history.
Wilt Chamberlain was the chief muscle. But there was plenty more. There was 6-foot-11, 230-pound Nate Thurmond, a rookie out of Bowling Green who was a defensive standout but had yet to develop offensively. Then there was 6-foot-8 Wayne Hightower, a fine shooter, and 6-foot-6, 215-pound Tom Meschery, who helped in the muscle department.
"That was a powerful, physical team," recalled Auerbach. "Chamberlain and Thurmond were two of the best centers in the game."
The Warriors' crafty backcourt boasted Al Attles, Guy Rodgers and Gary Phillips, but they were no match for Sam Jones, K.C. Jones and Havlicek.
Boston won the Eastern Division with a 59-21 record, then dismissed Cincinnati and Oscar Robertson in five games in the Eastern Division Finals. The Royals simply had no one to contend with Russell, who averaged 29 rebounds for the series. K.C. Jones, described by one reporter as a "polite man of 31," did the other key job, denying Robertson the ball and slowing down his nearly unstoppable game.
The Warriors finished in first place in the West with a 48-32 record, two games better than St. Louis. They then took the Hawks in a seven-game Western Division Final, which gave Boston a nine-day rest before the NBA Finals opened.
But the Warriors couldn't contend with Boston in the big show. Frank Ramsey, relatively diminutive at 6-foot-3, psyched out Thurmond on defense, and the Celtics waltzed to the lead. Chamberlain was a power, but Russell forced him into taking his fallaway jumper. In one sequence in Boston's 108-96 Game 1 victory, Russell blocked Wilt's shot, only to see Thurmond get the loose ball and take it back up. Russell blocked that one, too.
"He never stops throwing you something new," an impressed Rodgers said afterward.
It was Wilt's first Finals appearance, and the intimidation factor set in for Game 2 as the Celtics won 124-101. Returning to San Francisco for Game 3, the Warriors gathered their poise and imposed a little intimidation of their own. The primary target was Heinsohn, who was having a rough series. The Warriors rolled to a 115-91 win.
But Heinsohn regained his touch in the crucial Game 4. With his team down 52-51, Heinsohn went on a scoring binge that led the Celtics to a 71-60 lead. The Warriors charged back behind Chamberlain, who dominated the boards with 38 rebounds, but the Celtics eked out a 98-95 win and headed back to Boston leading the series 3-1.
Chamberlain scored 30 points in the Garden, but Boston held an 11-point lead early in the final period. With 19 seconds remaining, the Warriors closed furiously to 101-99. Then Russell rebounded a Heinsohn miss and jammed it back through, propelling Boston to a 105-99 win.
Boston had taken the series in five games for its sixth consecutive championship. "A lot of teams have come and gone since we first beat St. Louis in 1957," Ramsey told reporters.
With this seventh overall title, it began to appear as if Boston might never lose. Auerbach projected that much invincibility. "The thrill never goes from winning," he said. "But maybe the reasons change. First, it was just trying to win a title. Now it is a question of going down as the greatest team of all time. That stimulates you."
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