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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 won the East by 12 games, while the Hawks won the West by 16. 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 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 boost a 19-53 Lakers team to a 33-39 record — and a playoff berth — by averaging 24.9 points and 15.0 rebounds. He made the All-NBA First 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 February 1959 was the third-highest in NBA history to that point.
But perhaps his most profound impact in his first season came in the playoffs, when Baylor and the Lakers overcame a 2-1 deficit to win three straight games against St. Louis and oust the Hawks. Nobody gave the Lakers much chance against the Celtics, and although the Minneapolis kept three of the four games close, Boston recorded the first 4-0 sweep in NBA Finals history.
It marked the first of eight NBA Finals losses for the incomparable Baylor, who retired without winning 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 (4-3)
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 (47.7)
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