Exactly 50 seasons ago: Celtics – Sixers IV

No Math this time, a little History instead (and kinda by request) ...

Ever hear the one about the NBA playoff series in which both teams won three games in a row? Curiously, the scheduling for this match-up would include a five-day break.

Indeed, it was precisely a half-century ago -- albeit a month earlier on a calendar and a round closer to a championship -- when this odd set of circumstances aligned itself into existence during the Eastern Division Final between Bill Russell's Boston Celtics and Wilt Chamberlain's defending champion Philadelphia 76ers.

Here's a brief capsule of that season and series, culled from the Abacus Archive:


Never one to miss a potential windfall, Wilt Chamberlain parlayed his first NBA title, a training camp holdout, and the threat of the fledgling ABA into an precedented $250,000 salary. By comparison teammate Hal Greer, a nine-year vet and seven-time All-Star, was making under $40,000. Of course Greer, a Hall of Famer in his own right, wasn’t getting ready to win his third consecutive MVP award, either.

After a somewhat sluggish start, the 76ers found their stride along with their holiday cheer and cruised to 62 wins and the best record in the league.

Wilt fulfilled a personal goal by leading the league in assists, along with his customary rebounding and Field Goal Percentage crowns. Some of Wilt’s more interesting stat lines that season included 52 points accompanied by 22 missed free throws, and the impressive night when he combined 21 points with 22 assists and 25 rebounds—a triple score before it was a dot-com.

Player-coach Bill Russell’s now K. C. Jones-less Celtics dipped to second in the league in scoring defense for the first time in four years, yet were still able to manufacture a 54-win campaign.

A pre-season strategy session among Russ and his veteran players had devised a more collaborative approach to game management, and a confident team entered the playoff wars.

Despite a 2-1 hole, Boston survived its opening round series, against Detroit, better than did the Sixers, who lost key reserve Billy Cunningham to a broken wrist at the hands of not yet Zen Master, just plain Hatchetman Phil Jackson of the New York Knicks.

Uncanny 58 percent shooting and 87 combined points from John Havlicek, Sam Jones and Bailey Howell allowed Boston to draw first blood in the Division Finals.

After several days postponement in deference to the Martin Luther King national mourning, only Havlicek brought his shot back to the series, as Philly’s balanced attack--four guys hit for 20 or more in Game Four--built a three games to one lead.

Then, inexplicably, midway through the next game, the defending champs lost their collective shooting touch, making just 35 percent of their field goal attempts the rest of the series.

Coach Alex Hannum’s boys couldn’t close out a series they had under control.

The Celtics escaped.

And in his final game in a Philadelphia uniform, a 100-96 home loss, the league’s leading shooter attempted only two second half field goals.

Abacus Revelation for the Road

The victory, Coach Bill's first at the expense of his greatest rival, was sweet vindication for Russell, whose coaching -- from appointment to application -- had drawn more than its share of criticism. Here's more on '67-'68, if you're so inclined.