The Celtics had fought off the challenge of the 76ers in the previous year’s Eastern Division Finals, but Philadelphia was ready to cause more problems for Boston this season.
Rookie forward Billy Cunningham made an immediate contribution, averaging 14.3 points and joined Wilt Chamberlain, Chet Walker and Lucious Jackson up front while Hal Greer and second-year man Wali Jones manned the backcourt. During the season, the 76ers beat the Celtics six times in 10 meetings, and eventually won 55 games, taking the Eastern Division title away from the Celtics for the first time in 10 years. Chamberlain led the league in scoring for what would prove to be the last time, averaging 33.5 points and becoming the NBA’s all-time leading scorer, passing Bob Pettit.
Early in the playoffs, Boston found itself trailing Cincinnati 2-1 in the quarterfinals, but came back to win the series. Up next was Philadelphia, which had two weeks off via a first-round bye in the playoffs. Stale on the court, the Sixers couldn’t keep up with the Celtics in the East finals and were ousted in five games. The series defeat cost coach Dolph Schayes his job in Philadelphia.
Meanwhile, the Lakers sweated out a seven-game Western Finals series over the Hawks to advance to meet Boston.
In Game 1 of The Finals, the Lakers beat the Celtics in overtime and Boston seemed headed for a fall. That’s when Auerbach announced his retirement plans and pulled a trump card, announcing that Bill Russell would succeed him as coach and become the first African-American coach in an American sports league.
Auerbach’s announcement seemed to inspire the Celtics, who held off the Lakers in seven games for their eighth straight championship and ninth in 10 seasons.
Eastern Division semifinals
Boston defeated Cincinnati (3-2)
Western Division semifinals
St. Louis defeated Baltimore (3-0)
Eastern Division finals
Boston defeated Philadelphia (4-1)
Western Division finals
Los Angeles Lakers defeated St. Louis (4-3)
Boston defeated Los Angeles Lakers (4-3)
Points — Wilt Chamberlain, Philadelphia 76ers (33.5)
Assists — Oscar Robertson, Cincinnati Royals (11.1)
Rebounds — Wilt Chamberlain, Philadelphia 76ers (24.6)
FG% — Wilt Chamberlain, Philadelphia (54.0)
FT% — Larry Siegfried, Boston Celtics (88.1)
Most Valuable Player — Wilt Chamberlain, Philadelphia 76ers
Rookie of the Year — Rick Barry, San Francisco Warriors
Coach of the Year — Dolph Schayes, Philadelphia
All-Star Game MVP — Adrian Smith, Cincinnati Royals