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After a season of adjustment to the new rules, the NBA flourished in its second go-round with the up-tempo game. The league scoring average surged to 99 points per team per game, and quickness and athletic ability were at an all-time premium. Bob Pettit, an exciting rookie with the Milwaukee Hawks in 1954-55, took the league scoring title with 25.7 ppg in his team’s first year in St. Louis.
Pettit became the first MVP in NBA history after leading the league in scoring (25.7 points) and rebounds (16.2) in just his second season in the NBA. For all his exploits, the Hawks finished 33-39 and lost the West’s second-place tiebreaker to the Minneapolis Lakers.
Baltimore had folded the year before, leaving an eight-team league, with the division champions receiving a bye through the first round of the playoffs.
Philadelphia and Fort Wayne won the East and West Divisions, respectively, to earn first-round byes. Syracuse, which lost the third-place tiebreaker in the East, topped Boston in the East semis. Out West, St. Louis lost the second-place tiebreaker to Minneapolis, but the Hawks ousted the Lakers in the West semis.
Philly and Fort Wayne each won their division finals in five games. Powered by Paul Arizin, rookie Tom Gola and veteran Neil Johnston, the Warriors blasted past the Pistons in their NBA Finals matchup. Arizin, in particular, fueled the title drive as Philly wrapped up the title in five games.
Arizin had a complete offensive repertoire, everything from long set shots to corner jump shots to driving layups and even hook shots. He had returned from two years in the military and didn’t skip a beat, as the new up-tempo style played to his strengths: agility and scoring. In the 10 playoff games in 1956, Arizin scored 289 points, more than anyone but Mikan ever had tallied in postseason.
With the gifted Gola and Jack George in the backcourt to get him the ball and the still-formidable Johnston at center, the 6-foot-4 Arizin proved to be a scoring machine that other teams couldn’t shut off.
Eastern Division tiebreaker (for third place)
Syracuse defeated New York
Western Division tiebreaker (for second place)
Minneapolis defeated St. Louis
Eastern Division semifinals
Syracuse defeated Boston (2-1)
Western Division semifinals
St. Louis defeated Minneapolis (2-1)
Eastern Division finals
Philadelphia defeated Syracuse (4-3)
Western Division finals
Ft. Wayne defeated St. Louis (4-3)
Philadelphia defeated Ft. Wayne (4-1)
Points — Bob Pettit, St. Louis Hawks (25.7)
Assists — Bob Cousy, Boston Celtics (8.9)
Rebounds — Maurice Stokes, Rochester Royals (16.3)
FG% — Neil Johnston, Philadelphia Warriors (45.7)
FT% — Bill Sharman, Boston Celtics (86.7)
Most Valuable Player — Bob Pettit, St. Louis Hawks
Rookie of the Year — Maurice Stokes, Rochester Royals
All-Star Game MVP — Bob Pettit, St. Louis Hawks