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The NBA took giant strides in cementing its big-league image when the Fort Wayne Pistons moved to Detroit and the Rochester Royals moved to Cincinnati. Just three years earlier, half the NBA’s teams were based in metropolitan areas with less than a million people; now only Syracuse was in that category.
Fans in Detroit were treated to the offensive exploits of George Yardley, who led the league in scoring while becoming the first player in NBA history to score 2,000-plus points in a season (2,001).
In a January 12 rout of those same Pistons, Syracuse’s Dolph Schayes racked up the 23 points needed to surpass George Mikan as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer. Mikan scored 11,764 points in 439 games; Schayes had 11,770 points in 655 games at the time.
On the team side, Boston in the East and St. Louis in the West were clearly the class of the league, each winning its division by eight games over a 72-game schedule.
Boston took Philadelphia in five games to win what was now a best-of-7 Division finals, while St. Louis also bested Detroit in five games.
When St. Louis and Boston split the first two games in Boston, it seemed another classic series was in the offing. But Bill Russell’s sprained ankle in Game 3 turned the series in the Hawks’ favor. Boston showed gritty determination, tying the series with a win in Game 4 without Russell. But St. Louis won Game 5 in Boston by two points and Hawks forward Bob Pettit exploded for 50 points in Game 6 to give St. Louis its only league title.
Pettit won only one championship during his illustrious career, but with the Celtics dominant during that period than about the desire of the 6-foot-9, 215-pound forward from LSU. Pettit burned with an inner fire that never let him be satisfied with his performance: “When I fall below what I know I can do, my belly growls and growls.”
Eastern Division semifinals
Philadelphia defeated Syracuse (2-1)
Western Division semifinals
Detroit defeated Cincinnati (2-0)
Eastern Division finals
Boston defeated Philadelphia (4-1)
Western Division finals
St. Louis defeated Detroit (4-1)
St. Louis defeated Boston (4-2)
Points — George Yardley, Detroit Pistons (27.8)
Rebounds — Bill Russell, Boston Celtics (22.7)
Assists — Bob Cousy, Boston Celtics (7.1)
FG% — Jack Twyman, Cincinnati Royals (45.2)
FT% — Dolph Schayes, Syracuse Nationals (90.4)
Most Valuable Player — Bill Russell, Boston Celtics
Rookie of the Year — Woody Sauldsberry, Philadelphia Warriors
All-Star Game MVP — Bob Pettit, St. Louis Hawks