Recap - 1950s

Season Recaps - 1950s

1950-51: Celtics Become A Contender Almost Overnight

In 1950 a series of offseason events completely
transformed the Celtics. The NBA underwent a reorganization that
reduced the league to 11 teams, with the best players from the six
disbanded franchises distributed among the remaining teams. Boston
hit the jackpot not once but twice. When the St. Louis Bombers
folded, the New York Knicks tried to buy the franchise for $50,000
in order to acquire promising young center Ed Macauley. The league
blocked the sale, however, and awarded Macauley to Boston in an
effort to strengthen one of the weakest franchises in the circuit.

The second key acquisition was even more fortuitous. When the
Chicago Stags called it quits, the franchise's players were
distributed in a dispersal draft. Boston, New York, and
Philadelphia were allowed to choose between a trio of guards:
veterans Max Zaslofsky and Andy Phillip, and rookie Bob Cousy. None
of the teams wanted the rookie, so the three names were thrown into
a hat. Boston drew Cousy.

There were other new faces on the team as well. Red Auerbach,
who had led the Washington Capitols to the BAA Finals two years
earlier, took over as head coach. On April 25, 1950, the Boston
Celtics drafted Duquesne star Charles Cooper, the first black
player ever selected by an NBA team and one of three
African-Americans to enter the league that year. (Nat "Sweetwater"
Clifton went to the Knicks, and Earl Lloyd joined the
Capitols.)

Auerbach had serious doubts about Cousy, but the 6-1 Holy Cross
graduate instantly established himself as a star. No one had ever
seen anything like the behind-the-back dribbling and no-look passes
that Cousy brought to the game.

In his 1950-51 debut season he averaged 15.6 points and finished fourth in the league in assists
with 4.9 per game. Teammate Ed Macauley added 20.4 points and 9.1
rebounds per game, while Cooper contributed 9.3 points and 8.5
rebounds per contest.

Auerbach encouraged the Celtics to play an up-tempo,
fast-breaking game. The team led the league in assists in 1950-51
and ranked near the top in points per game. A 39-30 record was the
franchise's first above the .500 mark. But Boston was upset by New
York in the first round of the playoffs as the Knicks swept the
best-of-three series by an average of 14 points per game.

1951-54: Sharman Joins Boston Backcourt

The Celtics made an important addition to their roster
during the offseason by acquiring sharp-shooting guard Bill
Sharman. Boston improved to 39-27 in the 1951-52 campaign, just one
game behind the first-place Syracuse Nationals in the Eastern
Division. Bob Cousy raised his numbers to 21.7 points and 6.7
assists per game, third and second in the NBA, respectively. The
postseason began with a rematch of the previous season's
Celtics-Knicks series. The teams split the first two games before
New York eliminated Boston with an overtime win in Game 3.

The 1952-53 season saw Boston, Syracuse, and New York battle for
the top spot in the Eastern Division. The Nats and the Knicks ended
the season tied with 47 wins, while the Celtics trailed by a single
victory. Behind Cousy, Macauley, and Sharman, Boston employed a
high-powered offense that paced the NBA in both points and assists.
However, the team was weak on defense, ranking near the bottom of
the circuit in points allowed.

Boston beat the Nationals in Game 1 of the Eastern Division
Semifinals. Game 2 was a four-overtime classic. Cousy scored 50
points, 30 of them from the foul line (the two teams combined for
107 fouls in the game), and the Celtics pulled out a 111-105
victory to claim the first playoff series win in franchise history.
The division finals pitted the Celtics against the Knicks, and once
again New York ended Boston's season, this time in four games.

Boston's 1953-54 season followed the same pattern as the year
before. The Celtics, Knicks, and Nationals fought it out for the
Eastern Division title, and the Knicks came out on top by a narrow
margin. Boston led the league in points per game, with Cousy,
Macauley, and Sharman all finishing among the NBA's top scorers.
Cousy also led the circuit with 7.2 assists per game. The club was
still weak defensively, however, and after surviving a round-robin
tournament in the first round of the playoffs, Boston fell to
Syracuse in the Eastern Division Finals.

1954-56: Instant Offense, But No Defense

During the offseason the Celtics picked up Frank
Ramsey, a 6-3 rookie from Kentucky who could play either guard or
forward. Coach Red Auerbach pioneered the sixth-man role the
following year by bringing Ramsey off the bench to provide instant
offense.

In 1954-55 the Celtics became the first team in NBA history to
average more than 100 points. The club made more field goals, sank
more free throws, and handed out more assists than any other team
in the league, but Boston also allowed opponents a record number of
points, giving up 101.5 per game. The result was a 36-36 record and
an early exit from the playoffs at the hands of the Syracuse
Nationals.

The Celtics' defensive woes continued during the 1955-56 season.
The team added rookie forward Jim Loscutoff, who provided some
much-needed muscle and toughness, but Boston was still an
offensively impressive and defensively suspect squad. Bob Cousy, Ed
Macauley, and Bill Sharman were all top-10 scorers, and the team
once again led the league in both points scored and points allowed.
Boston put together a 39-33 season, then fell in the first round of
the playoffs to Syracuse for the second straight year.

After six years of watching his team post decent regular-season
records before bowing out of the playoffs in the early rounds,
Auerbach decided that what he needed was a big man in the middle
who could provide the team with defense and rebounding. The ideal
player came into the 1956 Draft in the form of 6-10 Bill Russell, a
defensive standout who had carried the University of San Francisco
to consecutive unbeaten seasons.

1956-57: Boston Gets Its Big Man

Before the 1956 NBA Draft began, Boston made Tom
Heinsohn of Holy Cross a territorial pick. The territorial system
allowed a team to lay automatic claim to a local college player in
exchange for giving up its first-round draft position. Yet even
though the Celtics had forfeited their first-round pick, Auerbach
still had his sights set on Russell. He got his man when Boston
dealt Macauley and rookie Cliff Hagan to the St. Louis Hawks in
exchange for Russell, whom the Hawks had drafted at No. 2 (behind
Sihugo Green).

In the second round Auerbach drafted K. C. Jones. Although Jones
couldn't join the Celtics for two years because of military
service, Auerbach had assembled all the pieces for what was to
become the most dominating franchise in the history of American
professional sports.

Because Russell was busy helping the U.S. Olympic Team to a gold
medal in Melbourne, Australia, he didn't join the Celtics until
late December. Auerbach added some veterans to the club, including
34-year-old guard Andy Phillip, 32-year-old center Arnie Risen, and
30-year-old forward Jack Nichols. The team was already 16-8 when
Russell played his first NBA game on December 22, 1956.

Russell instantly revolutionized the game. His ability to block
shots or snare rebounds and then make quick outlet passes to Bob
Cousy triggered the Celtics' fast break and turned Boston into an
unstoppable force. With a solid rookie season from Heinsohn (who
averaged 16.2 points and 9.8 rebounds) and additional help on the
boards from Loscutoff (10.4 rpg), plus an enviable backcourt tandem
of Cousy and Bill Sharman (both of whom averaged better than 20
points), Boston became the best team in the league virtually
overnight. At season's end, Cousy was named the NBA's Most Valuable
Player, and Heinsohn won the league's Rookie of the Year Award.

1957-58: Beginning Of A Dynasty

The Celtics reached the 1957 Playoffs with a league-best 44-28 record. They advanced through the early rounds to
face the St. Louis Hawks in the 1957 NBA Finals. Boston was heavily
favored, but the Hawks pulled off an upset in Game 1 with a 125-123
double-overtime win. The Celtics evened the series the following
night, and then the two teams split a pair of games in St. Louis.
After four games the series was tied at two apiece.

Boston won Game 5, 124-109, and was poised to take the
championship in Game 6 two nights later. But Hawks forward Cliff
Hagan tipped in a Bob Pettit miss at the buzzer to give St. Louis a
96-94 win, forcing a seventh and deciding game.

Game 7 ranks among the most memorable NBA games ever played. The
afternoon contest, the first to be seen by a large national
television audience, was a closely played affair. The Celtics had
the upper hand throughout most of the game, but the Hawks kept
battling back. Pettit sank a pair of free throws in the closing
seconds to send the game into overtime. Boston led by two points
late in the first extra period, but St. Louis forced another
overtime when the Hawks scored with just a few ticks left on the
clock. Jim Loscutoff sank a free throw in the final moments of the
second overtime to put the Celtics up by two points, and when
Pettit's buzzer-beater caromed off the rim, the Celtics had a
125-123 win and the franchise's first championship.

Boston tore through the league during the 1957-58 season. With
Bill Russell patrolling the middle, the guards were free to take
risks defensively, and the result was a team that offered breakneck
offense fueled by tenacious trapping defense. Boston posted the
best record in the league for the second year in a row, with Bob
Cousy the NBA's leading assists man and Russell the league's top
rebounder. Russell was named NBA Most Valuable Player, the first of
five such honors he would receive in his illustrious career. The
1958 NBA Finals was a rematch between Boston and St. Louis. As in
the previous year, the series was tied after four games. Russell
had suffered an ankle injury in Game 3, but when the Hawks pulled
out a two-point win in Game 5 he was forced to make an appearance
in Game 6, even though the sore ankle left him with very little
mobility. The injury rendered Russell ineffective, and the Hawks'
Bob Pettit poured in 50 points to give St. Louis a 110-109 victory
and the championship.

1958-59: Celtics Get Another Jones And Another Title

Boston only got better when the next season rolled
around. K. C. Jones joined the team after a two-year stint in the
Army, and second-year player Sam Jones was blossoming into a solid
contributor. The Celtics posted a 52-20 mark in 1958-59 and led the
NBA in field goals made, rebounds, assists, and points per game.
Cousy paced the circuit in assists (6.8 apg), and Russell led the
league in rebounds (23.0 rpg).

Boston faced a surprisingly troublesome Syracuse team in the
Eastern Division Finals. The Nationals' roster included veteran
players George Yardley, Dolph Schayes, and Larry Costello, plus a
promising young guard in Hal Greer. The series went the distance
before the Celtics prevailed in Game 7, 130-125.

Instead of the anticipated renewal of the St. Louis-Boston
rivalry in the NBA Finals, the Celtics faced the upstart
Minneapolis Lakers, a young team riding on the heroics of rookie
star Elgin Baylor. The Lakers were no match for the Celtics,
however, and Boston swept the series to reclaim the
championship.