- 1969 NBA Finals
The 1969 NBA World Championship Series to determine the champion of the
1968-69 NBA seasonwas played between the Los Angeles Lakersand Boston Celtics, the Lakers being heavily favored due to the presence of three formidable stars: Elgin Baylor, Wilt Chamberlain, and Jerry West.
This series is also notable in that West, with an average of nearly 38 points a game, won the Finals
Most Valuable Playeraward, despite being on the losing team. This remains the only time in NBA Finals history that the MVP was awarded to a player on the losing team.
The Los Angeles Lakers had won 55 games in the regular season, seven more than their perennial rivals, the Boston Celtics, and therefore held homecourt advantage. Both teams had their share of problems in the regular season. The L.A. season had been one big
soap opera, as coach Bill Van Breda Kolffand new star center Wilt Chamberlainterribly clashed throughout the season, frustrating the entire team. In Boston, player-coach Bill Russellwas suffering from overweight issues and exhaustion, hampering the team both as the starting center and as the coach. In addition, perennial scorer Sam Jones played so badly that he lost his position as starting shooting guard to Larry Siegfried. While L.A.'s appearance in the Finals was expected, Boston's campaign was considered a surprise.
On the hardwood, there were several key matchups. On center, low scoring, defensive stalwart Bill Russell (Celtics) was matched up against his long-time nemesis Wilt Chamberlain (Lakers), multiple scoring champion. On forward, agile Celtic
Bailey Howellplayed against perennial All-NBA member Elgin Baylor, captain of the Lakers, while Laker Keith Ericksontried to slow down high-scoring Celtics forward John Havlicek. At guard, a somewhat revitalised Sam Jones was matched up against Lakers superstar Jerry West. X-factors on both teams respectively were Don Nelson, the sixth manof the Celtics, and sharpshooting Laker Johnny Egan, the only other pure guard except West on the L.A. roster.
:"Lakers win 120–118, Lakers lead series 1–0"
Prior to the series, Celtics player-coach
Bill Russelldecided not to double-team Lakers star guard Jerry West. West was initially complaining of exhaustion, but in the game, all was forgotten. He used this freedom to score 53 points on opposing guards Sam Jones and Larry Siegfried. In an action-packed match, the lead changed 21 times, and it was Lakers center Wilt Chamberlainwho sealed the game with a clutch basket 23 seconds before the end.
:"Lakers win 118–112, Lakers lead series 2–0"
Again, Russell declined to double-team West. In a tough, physical match, West continued his scoring dominance by scoring 41 points. Along with fellow guard
Johnny Egan, who scored 26 points, and 31 points of Elgin Baylor(among them the last 12 Lakers points), the Lakers won. Celtics forward Don Nelsonand Lakers forward Bill Hewittrequired a half-dozen stitches each after in-game collisions.
:"Celtics win 111–105, Lakers lead series 2–1"
In Game 3, Russell finally decided to double-team West. With the heightened pressure, West lost his shooting touch. Also, the exhaustion he was complaining about prior to the series became so big that he West asked to be taken out for longer stretches. In both pauses, the Lakers fell back by double digits. The heroics belonged to Celtics forward
John Havlicek: playing with a swollen eye after being poked by Keith Erickson, he scored 34 points.
:"Celtics win 89–88, series tied 2–2"
In an ugly game filled with 50 turnovers and low shooting percentages, the Lakers had a one-point lead with 7 seconds left and the ball. However, Baylor stepped out of bounds, causing a turnover. For the last play, Celtics players Havlicek, Siegfried,
Bailey Howelland Jones executed a so-called "Ohio", with the three former players setting a triple pick for the latter. Jones slipped on his shot, but the ball avoided the block attempt of Lakers center Chamberlain, hit the front rim, bounced on the back rim and somehow dropped in for the series-equalizing buzzer beater.
:"Lakers win 117–104, Lakers lead series 3–2"
Enraged by the unlucky Game 4 loss, the Lakers overran the Celtics with high-power basketball. Wilt Chamberlain played through a swollen eye, after Celtics guard
Em Bryanthad poked him. With just three minutes remaining and the Lakers safely ahead, Bryant stole the ball from West. Instead of letting Bryant run, he lunged for the ball, pulled his hamstring and had to be carried out of the game. It was immediately evident that West's swollen leg would not heal until the end of the series.
:"Celtics win 99–90, series tied 3–3"
In another ugly game, the Celtics were up 55–39 at halftime and never looked back. The Celtics at one point went 6-of-27 from the field, but the Lakers could not make use of this slump. With neither Baylor nor the limping West providing consistent scoring, Boston cruised to an easy victory. This game was also one of Chamberlain's lesser games: with Russell hounding him, the multiple scoring champion scored only 8 points, provoking criticism that the had choked when it counted most.
:"Celtics win 108–106 and win series 4–3"
In anticipation of a Lakers win, Lakers owner
Jack Kent Cookehad put thousands of balloons into the rafters of the Lakers Forum and meticulously planned the victory celebrations, hiring a marching band and working out details how the Lakers should be interviewed after the big win. This display of arrogance motivated the Celtics and angered Jerry West. Celtics coach Russell ordered his men to fast break at every opportunity, because in a running game, it all came down to determination: something the Celtics were good in, as he figured.
The Celtics jumped out to a first-quarter 24–12 lead which was cut to 59–56 at halftime. Then, Celtics
sixth manDon Nelson scored 12 points in quarter 3, while the Lakers hardly connected on a quarter of their field goal attempts: the Celtics led 91–76 after third quarter. But powered by a limping Jerry West, the Lakers came back, trailing by just 103–96. Then, Chamberlain twisted his leg after a rebound and was substituted by Lakers reserve pivot Mel Counts. West and Counts cut the lead to one (103–102), and Chamberlain asked to be subbed back in. However, Lakers coach Bill Van Breda Kolffdeclined, figuring this lineup was doing just fine. Boston and L.A. exchanged several turnovers and bad shots until Nelson hit an awkward shot (the shot hit the back of the rim, bounced up vertically and dropped exactly through the hoop) which put the Lakers away for good. After trading free throws, Boston had won the game and the series.
Jerry West averaged 38 points during the series and had a triple double in Game 7 (42 points, 13 rebounds, 12 assists). West was named Finals MVP, making him the first and only Finals MVP from the losing team. After the game, Bill Russell and John Havlicek went over to him and tried to console him: Russell held his hand, and Havlicek said: "Jerry, I love you."
Game 7 also had a big impact on Lakers coach Van Breda Kolff and Lakers center Wilt Chamberlain. Former was forever branded as the coach who snubbed Wilt Chamberlain when it counted most, and the center was long looked at as a
malingererwho left the game when it mattered most. However, Chamberlain's injury was so severe that he missed the entire pre-season due to leg problems and ruptured the injured knee at the start of the 1969-70 NBA season.
1969 NBA Playoffs
* [http://www.nba.com/history/finals/19681969.html NBA History]
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