The NBA went from an unwieldy 17-team league to a more manageable 11 teams in two divisions, with Minneapolis, Rochester and Fort Wayne reverting to the Western Division. The Eastern Division began the season with six teams, but Washington, which had lost Coach Red Auerbach a year earlier, disbanded after going 10-25. The league also held its first All-Star Game on March 2, 1951, where the East defeated the West 111-94 at Boston Garden.
The season also marked the first appearance of black players in the league. Chuck Cooper became the first black player to be drafted when he was chosen by Boston; Nat “Sweetwater” Clifton became the first to sign an NBA contract when he signed with New York, and Earl Lloyd became the first to play in an NBA regular-season game because the schedule had his Washington team opening one day before the others.
Philadelphia won the East by 2½ games, while Minneapolis bested Rochester by three games in the West. The season also was marked by what remains as the lowest-scoring game in the history of the league, a 19-18 win by Fort Wayne over Minneapolis. The game featured eight made baskets — four by each team.
The playoffs were a different story, however. New York blitzed Boston and barely edged Syracuse to reach the Finals, while Rochester, behind 6-foot-9 Arnie Risen and backcourt star Bob Davies, defeated Fort Wayne and finally overcame Minneapolis to meet the Knicks in The Finals.
When Rochester took the first three games of the 1951 Finals, a quick knockout of New York seemed in order. But the Knicks stormed back, winning three games by margins of six, three and seven points to send the series to a seventh and deciding game in Rochester.
The Royals led by as many as 16 points during the first half, but the Knicks battled back to take a two-point lead with two minutes to go. With 40 seconds left and the score tied, Davies was fouled on a drive to the basket and sank two free throws. The Royals hung on for a 79-75 victory, and temporarily interrupted the Minneapolis dynasty.
Eastern Division semifinals
New York defeated Boston (2-0)
Syracuse defeated Philadelphia (2-0)
Western Division semifinals
Minneapolis defeated Indianapolis (2-1)
Rochester defeated Fort Wayne (2-1)
Eastern Division finals
New York defeated Syracuse (3-2)
Western Division finals
Rochester defeated Minneapolis (3-1)
Rochester defeated New York (4-3)
Points — George Mikan, Minneapolis Lakers (28.4)
Assists — Andy Phillip, Philadelphia Warriors (6.3)
Rebounds — Dolph Schayes, Syracuse Nationals (16.4)
FG% — Alex Groza, Indianapolis Olympians (47.0)
FT% — Joe Fulks, Philadelphia Warriors (85.5)
All-Star Game MVP — Ed Macauley, Boston Celtics