Season Review: 1958-59
Boston began a string of eight straight NBA titles in 1958-59, but that first one wasn’t easy.
Rules changes had put offenses in control as the league closed out its first decade of existence; in 22 playoff games that season, only twice did the winning team fail to crack 100 points. And, back in February of that season, Boston beat visiting Minneapolis, 173-139, prompting an investigation by NBA president Maurice Podoloff.
The Celtics had won the East by 12 games, while the Hawks won the West by 16 games. Just about everyone expected a third straight Boston-St.Louis matchup in the NBA Finals. Boston had a tough time with Syracuse, which had acquired George Yardley to add to a front line that already boasted Dolph Schayes and Red Kerr. Pushed to the limit, Boston won the seventh game of the East finals, 130-125.
St. Louis, however, did not even make it back to the Finals for the expected date with the Celtics because of a new rival superstar in the West. Elgin Baylor, a 6-foot-5 forward from Seattle, helped a Lakers’ team that had been 19-53 a year before to a 33-39 record and a playoff berth by averaging 24.9 points and 15.0 rebounds. He made the All-NBA Team as a rookie, which previously had been accomplished only by Bob Pettit and Alex Groza.
Baylor proved to be more than a handful for taller rivals. As strong as any of his counterparts, Baylor had a smooth scoring style that was ahead of its time and his ability to seemingly hang in the air would become the measuring stick for players that followed like Connie Hawkins, Julius Erving and Michael Jordan.
Baylor’s 55-point game in his rookie season was the third-highest in NBA history and signaled a new high-scoring era around the NBA.
But perhaps his most profound impact in his first season came in the playoffs.
Baylor and the Lakers overcame a 2-1 St. Louis lead to win three straight games and oust the Hawks. Nobody gave the Lakers much chance against the Celtics, and although the Lakers kept three of the four games close, Boston recorded the first 4-0 sweep in NBA Finals history.
It was also the first of eight NBA Finals losses for the incomparable Baylor, who never won a title.
Eastern Division semifinals
Syracuse defeated New York (2-0)
Western Division semifinals
Minneapolis defeated Detroit (2-1)
Eastern Division finals
Boston defeated Syracuse (4-3)
Western Division finals
Minneapolis defeated St. Louis (4-2)
Boston defeated Minneapolis (4-0)
Points — Bob Pettit, St. Louis Hawks (29.2)
Assists — Bob Cousy, Boston Celtics (8.6)
Rebounds — Bill Russell, Boston Celtics (23.0)
FG% — Kenny Sears, New York Knicks (49.0)
FT% — Bill Sharman, Boston Celtics (93.2)
Most Valuable Player — Bob Pettit, St. Louis Hawks
Rookie of the Year — Elgin Baylor, Minneapolis Lakers
All-Star Game MVP — Elgin Baylor, Minneapolis Lakers & Bob Pettit, St. Louis Hawks