Posted Mar 2 2013 10:38PM
After years of Finals frustration at the hands of the Celtics, it took an ex-Boston player-turned-coach to help lift Jerry West and the L.A. Lakers to a championship.
Former Celtic Bill Sharman, the Lakers' new coach, was crucial to the cause as stars Wilt Chamberlain and West put it all together for a championship in 1971-72. After longtime Lakers star Elgin Baylor retired nine games into the season due to injuries and age, Sharman put in a unique gameplan.
With Chamberlain (35) and West (33) in sight of the end of their careers, Sharman needed to fit the other pieces around his aging stars to win now. Forward Jim McMillian and Happy Hairston and guard Gail Goodrich were the perfect pieces as the Lakers and romped through the season. Los Angeles won 69 games, a league record that would stand for almost a quarter-century. It set a league record, too, by winning 33 straight games from Nov. 5, 1971 to Jan. 7, 1972.
Chamberlain led the league in field goal percentage (.649) and rebounding (19.2), while Goodrich (25.9) and West (25.8) handled the bulk of the scoring.
Los Angeles dispatched Chicago with a sweep in the conference semifinals, then bested the Milwaukee Bucks in the conference finals as Chamberlain outdueled fellow big man (and future Laker) Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The New York Knicks, without Willis Reed, proved no match for L.A. in The Finals as the Lakers claimed their first championship since moving from Minneapolis in 1960.
Like Baylor, West had been brilliant in defeat for so many years in the NBA Finals, almost didn't seem right that he was no longer a dominant player when the Lakers finally won the championship.
"I played terrible basketball in the Finals and we won," West said. "And that didn't seem to be justice for me personally, because I had contributed so much in other years when we lost. Now, when we won, I was just another piece of the machinery. It was particularly frustrating because I was playing so poorly that the team overcame me."
"But maybe that's what a team is all about."
Eastern Conference semifinals
Boston defeated Atlanta (4-2)
New York defeated Baltimore (4-2)
Western Conference semifinals
Milwaukee defeated Golden State (4-1)
Los Angeles defeated Chicago (4-2)
Eastern Conference finals
New York defeated Boston (4-1)
Western Conference finals
Los Angeles defeated Milwaukee (4-2)
Los Angeles defeated New York (4-1)
PPG -- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Milwaukee (34.8)
FG% -- Wilt Chamberlain, Los Angeles (.649)
FT% -- Jack Marin, Chicago (.894)
Assists -- Jerry West, Los Angeles (9.7)
Rebounds -- Wilt Chamberlain, Los Angeles (19.2)
Most Valuable Player -- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Milwaukee Bucks
Rookie of the Year -- Sidney Wicks, Portland Trail Blazers
Coach of the Year -- Bill Sharman, L.A. Lakers
All-Star Game MVP -- Jerry West, L.A. Lakers
Finals MVP -- Wilt Chamberlain, L.A. Lakers
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