Celtics Decade Night: Recapping the 1960s

60s Night Presented by Wellesley Mazda

Monday marks the second of seven Decade Nights that the Boston Celtics will be hosting this season in celebration of theirs and the NBA's 75th anniversary.

TD Garden will be turning back the clock to commemorate the glorious 1960s, which is only fitting since the Celtics will be hosting the same Philadelphia 76ers team that they faced in six different postseason matchups over the course of that decade.

Throughout the game, fans will be taken back in time to relive some of the Celtics’ most memorable moments from the ‘60s, many of which we have included in our decade recap below.

1960 Playoffs – Russell Wins First Playoff Matchup vs. Wilt En Route to Title

Bill Russell began the 1960s by introducing himself to a rookie named Wilt Chamberlain. And that introduction came in the form of a 4-2 win over Chamberlain’s Philadelphia Warriors in the 1960 East Division Finals. Chamberlain, who had won Rookie of the Year and MVP that season, averaged a remarkable 30.5 points and 27.5 rebounds per game in the series. However, the more well-rounded Celtics prevailed behind Russell’s 20.7 points and 27.0 rebounds per game.

Boston went on to face the St. Louis Hawks in the Finals for the third time in four years. The two teams traded wins all the way to Game 7, which the Celtics won 122-103 behind Frank Ramsey’s 24 points and 13 rebounds, and Russell’s 22 points and 25 rebounds. Boston would then coast to another championship over the Hawks in 1961 with a 4-1 Finals victory, giving the franchise its third straight championship and fourth overall.

1962 Finals, Game 7 – Boston Edges L.A. in OT

The Celtics and Lakers faced off in the Finals a remarkable six times in the 1960s with Boston emerging victorious each year. The closest L.A. came to beating the Celtics was in Game 7 of the 1962 Finals, but it just barely missed its chance at the end of regulation.

With less than five seconds remaining in a tie game, Laker guard Frank Selvy got a wide-open look along the baseline from 12-feet away. However, he missed the shot that could have prevented a Celtics four-peat. The game would then go into overtime, where the Celtics prevailed 110-107 behind a monster 30-point, 40-rebound effort from Bill Russell, giving them their fifth championship banner and fourth in a row.

1963 Finals – Cousy Dribbles Out Final Seconds of Celtics Career

A 34-year-old Bob Cousy was on the verge of retirement in the spring of 1963, but the eight-time NBA assists leader had one final challenge to take care of before he hung up the sneakers: hand the Lakers one more loss in the Finals.

Cousy and the C’s won the first two games, but he fouled out early in Game 3, during which Boston suffered a 20-point defeat. The Celtics and Lakers split the next two games, setting up a Game 6 elimination game in Los Angeles.

Cousy sprained his ankle early in the fourth quarter of Game 6, which sent him to the sideline and enabled the Lakers to cut a nine-point deficit down to one. However, he returned with about five minutes remaining and helped to hold off LA’s comeback attempt.

The Celtics were up three with less than 15 seconds remaining and the Lakers needed to foul to have a chance to win. But the Houdini of the Hardwood lived up to this name by dribbling LA in circles, working his ball-handling magic all the way until the final buzzer to secure Boston’s fifth straight title.

Dec. 26, 1964 – Celtics Roll Out First All-Black Starting Lineup

The Celtics made history on Dec. 26, 1964 by becoming the first NBA team to have an all-Black starting lineup. After Tom Heinsohn got injured during a Christmas matchup against Detroit, coach Red Auerbach called upon Willie Naulls to take Heinsohn’s spot in the starting five.

Naulls joined forces with KC Jones, Sam Jones, Bill Russell, and Satch Sanders to take down the St. Louis Hawks, 97-94. The 6-foot-6 forward logged 12 points, three rebounds, and three assists in the effort.

Naulls remained in the starting lineup for all 12 games that Heinsohn missed, and the Celtics went undefeated during that stretch.

1965 East Division Finals – Havlicek Steals the Ball

The road to the 1965 championship included arguably the most famous play in Celtics history: when John Havlicek stole the ball to secure a one-point win over the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 7 of the Eastern Division Finals.

Philadelphia was inbounding on the game’s final possession with a trip to the Finals on the line. Hal Greer was looking to get the ball to the reliable Wilt Chamberlain; however, Bill Russell was guarding Chamberlain so tightly that Greer could not deliver to his intended target.

Instead, Greer attempted to lob the ball to Chet Walker. But the pass never reached Walker’s hands. Havlicek anticipated the play perfectly and was able to cut off the high-arcing toss, tapping the ball to Sam Jones who then dribbled out the clock before the fans stormed the court at Boston Garden to celebrate.

The play also sparked the most famous call of Johnny Most’s Hall-of-Fame radio announcing career: ”Greer is putting the ball into play. He gets it out deep and Havlicek steals it! Over to Sam Jones! Havlicek stole the ball! It's all over! It's all over! Johnny Havlicek is being mobbed by the fans!”

Havlicek’s steal allowed the Celtics to advance to the 1965 Finals, where they’d beat the Lakers 4-1.

1966 Finals – Celtics Win Record Eighth Straight Title

The Celtics established a North American professional sports record in the spring of 1966 which will likely never be broken in winning their eighth straight championship.

The Finals that year were full of surprises, the first coming in the form of a 133-129 Lakers win in overtime in Game 1 at Boston Garden. After that loss, Red Auerbach shocked the basketball world by announcing that he would step down from his head-coaching role following the season and hand the job over to Bill Russell.

The Celtics wanted their architect to go out with a bang, so they went on to win the next three games, including two in Los Angeles. However, the Lakers battled back in Games 5 and 6 to force a Game 7.

It would be another 50 years until a team would overcome a 3-1 deficit in the Finals when Golden State rallied all the way back to beat the Cleveland Cavaliers with three straight wins in the 2016 Finals. However, the Celtics would not afford the Lakers such fortune in 1966.

Boston went into Game 7 and got out to a 53-38 lead at halftime and was up 76-60 at the end of three quarters. The Lakers nearly clawed all the way back in the fourth quarter, but came up just short as the Celtics snuck away with a 95-93 win.

Boston would have its championship streak broken the following season when it failed to reach the Finals, but their record remains secure as no other NBA team has won more than three in a row since.

1966-69 – Russell takes over for Auerbach, Wins Two Titles as Player-Coach

Bill Russell took over Red Auerbach’s coaching duties during the offseason of 1966 and the Celtics just barely skipped a beat. They won 60 games in the 1966-67 season, but fell to the Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Division Finals ending their hopes of a ninth straight title.

However, Boston would get its revenge the following season, knocking off the 76ers in a postseason rematch that went seven games. Boston was barely clinging onto a two-point lead late in Game 7, but Russell helped them seal the deal with a clutch free-throw, a blocked shot, a rebound, and an assist all in the final minute.

The Celtics went on to face the Lakers again in the Finals, whom they beat in six games en route to their ninth championship in 10 years.

1969 Finals, Game 4 – Sam Jones Game-Winner

The sixth and final championship bout between the Celtics and Lakers in their 1960s glory days featured a couple of the most epic moments in NBA history, including Sam Jones’ game-winning shot in Game 4 of the 1969 Finals.

With an 88-87 lead at Boston Garden, L.A. was just seven seconds away from taking a 3-1 series advantage, until Boston swung the momentum back in its favor with one quick play. John Havlicek, Bailey Howell, and Larry Siegfried set a triple pick for Sam Jones, who then took an off-balance jumper that sailed over the outstretched fingertips of Wilt Chamberlain before caroming off the front-rim and through the net at the buzzer for an 89-88 win. That single shot prevented the C’s from facing early elimination, and completely changed the tide of the series.

1969 Finals, Game 7 – Don Nelson Pops L.A.’s Balloon

The Lakers were so confident that they were going to win Game 7 of the 1969 Finals that owner Jack Kent Cooke had thousands of balloons suspended in the rafters of the Forum in anticipation of a celebration. According to the Washington Times, he had flyers printed and placed on every seat that read: “When, not if, the Lakers win the title, balloons will be released from the rafters, the USC marching band will play "Happy Days Are Here Again" and broadcaster Chick Hearn will interview Elgin Baylor, Jerry West and Wilt Chamberlain in that order.”

Well, those flyers made their way into the visitors’ locker room before tip-off, and the Celtics weren’t impressed. In fact, Bill Russell let Jerry West know during warmups that those balloons would not be descending to the court on his watch.

Boston wound up leading for the majority of the game, but a late 8-0 run by the Lakers cut the C’s advantage down to one point with just under two minutes remaining. At the 93-second mark, John Havlicek nearly committed a costly turnover after being swiped by Keith Erickson; however, Don Nelson was in just the right position to pick up the loose ball and managed to get off a wild 18-footer just before the shot-clock buzzer, which miraculously bounced off the rim and through the net to give Boston a 105-102 lead.

That single shot sucked the air out of L.A.’s comeback attempt. The Lakers committed a couple of costly turnovers during the final minute and a half, allowing Boston to escape with a 108-106 win.

And up in the rafters, the balloons remained.


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