Posted Jun 21 2011 9:28AM
Celtics owner Walter Brown died in September 1964, leaving coach Red Auerbach alone to guide Boston to further greatness. Brown's passing and the fact that a new group of young officials had come into the league convinced Auerbach to tone down his act.
He still prowled the sideline while clutching a tightly rolled game program, and he still picked his spots. He just didn't pick them as often or as loudly. In some ways it didn't matter. Every time he stirred from the bench during a road game, the boos followed him.
But could he coach. The Celtics broke their own record for regular-season wins in 1964-65 with 62. Auerbach finally got his Coach of the Year award.
They added their eighth championship that year, but the situation in the Eastern Division became complicated at midseason when San Francisco traded Wilt Chamberlain back to the new Philadelphia 76ers (the old Syracuse Nationals). Boston had easily finished atop the standings but had to fight Philly through another seven-game series in the playoffs. Chamberlain's team wasn't vanquished until John Havlicek stole an inbounds pass under Philadelphia's basket with five seconds remaining, which led to Johnny Most's famous line, "Havlicek stole the ball!"
For the record, Havlicek deflected the ball to Sam Jones, who raced downcourt to celebrate as Most shrieked the phrase again and again.
Having picked up momentum from that drama, the Celtics went on to meet the Lakers in the NBA Finals once again. Los Angeles, however, had been traumatized on April 3 in the first game of the Western Division Finals against the Baltimore Bullets when Elgin Baylor suffered a severe knee injury. "I went up for a shot and my knee exploded," Baylor recalled. "I could hear a crack and a pop and everything else."
Jerry West and Rudy LaRusso were left to lead Los Angeles. They got help from their teammates, most of whom were new, but it was impossible to replace Baylor. Gone were Frank Selvy, Rod Hundley and Jim Krebs (who had been killed in May 1965 in a tree-cutting accident). The new recruits included Gene Wiley, a skinny 6-foot-10 center out of Wichita, and LeRoy Ellis, another 6-foot-10 player from St. John's.
The Celtics waltzed through Game 1 in Boston, 142-110, as K.C. Jones held West to 26 points. "K.C. Jones used to tackle West rather than let him get off a jump shot," remembered Lakers coach Fred Schaus.
West got 45 points in Game 2, but Boston still controlled the outcome, 129-123. Wounded as they were, the Lakers managed a home win in Game 3, 126-105, as West hit for 43 points and Ellis for 29. The Los Angeles crowd celebrated by pelting Auerbach with cigars.
Game 4, however, was another Celtics win, 112-99, as Sam Jones scored 37 points. They went back to Boston to end it, 129-96, as the Celtics outscored the Lakers 72-48 in the second half. At the outset of the fourth period, Boston ran off 20 unanswered points while the Lakers went scoreless for five minutes. In one stretch, West missed 14 out of 15 shots, as they kept hitting the back of the rim. Celtics center Bill Russell played despite an eye injury and had 30 rebounds.
Auerbach had announced that he would coach one more season before moving up to the front office. He explained privately that coaching had become a burden, a drudgery. Perhaps more than any NBA coach ever, he loved winning, but success had taken its toll. He was nearing 50 years old and feeling 70. With Walter Brown's death, the administrative load was heavier. Auerbach no longer felt up to performing the two demanding jobs of coach and general manager.
Reporters asked Auerbach what the highlights of his coaching days had been. "After 1,500 games, who could remember?" he replied. "What you remember is how hard it was to get each individual win."
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