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Last-Gasp Win for the Celtics - Remembering NBA Finals of 1962

by Jorge Costa, Fortis Media

1962 SPORTS HISTORY

The 1962 NBA Finals brought together the Western champions, the Los Angeles Lakers, and the Boston Celtics, who were the Eastern Division champions. It turned out to be an engrossing affair that went down to the wire and that set the scene for one of the sport’s enduring rivalries.

  The History

The Celtics were playing in their sixth consecutive NBA finals and were in the middle of a golden era, driven by the iconic Bill Russell, that would see them win 11 out of 13 NBA titles, including eight victories in a row. This was one of seven Finals meetings between these teams in the same decade, as they fought to become the league’s top team. Ultimately, the Celtics dominated the 60s, but it was in 1962 that the Lakers were a single throw from toppling them. The Celtic got to this stage by winning 60 regular season games and only losing 20 of them. Across on the West coast, the Lakers won 54 and lost 26.

 
Boston Garden 1962
Boston Garden, where the Celtics played in 1962 (Photo Copyright by Steve Lipofsky, Basketballphoto.com, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.)
  The First Games in Boston

These Finals started off with a young Lakers team lining up against a far more experienced Celtics lineup. As well as the formidable Russell, who was arguably even better than Michael Jordan, the Boston team had top scorer Tom Heinsohn and other great players such as Sam Jones and Frank Ramsey. It is fair to say that Russell is one of the most underrated NBA players in history, even though he doesn’t figure in BetAmerica’s top 10. You can check the complete list here: https://extra.betamerica.com/nba/the-nbas-most-underrated-players/ .

The Lakers relied on big names like Elgin Baylor and Jerry West and were thought to be more athletic than the Celtics, if less experienced. Russell inspired his team to a 122-108 victory in the first game in Boston, with 15 points, 28 rebounds, and 6 assists. Baylor outscored him, with 35 points, but was unable to guide his team to victory. The second game took place the following day, also in Boston, but the LA team won by 129-122. Baylor scored 36 points and Jerry West discovered his best form with 40 points. So, it was 1-1 after the first couple of games.

 
Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena
Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena, where the Lakers played in 1962
  The Next Games in Los Angeles

The next two games in LA were incredibly tense, as both teams understood the critical importance of winning. The third game of the series was enthralling, with the Lakers finally edging a 117-115 win. A day later, the Celtics turned in a powerful performance to win the fourth game of the series by 115 to 103, leveling the Finals at 2-2. Even if you bet on NBA games regularly and watch a lot of basketball, you will be hard pushed to find a more finely-balanced series of games.

  Back to Boston for Match 5 and LA for Number 6

The fifth game was another close affair, with very little between the teams all the way. This time, though, it is the turn of Elgin Baylor to lead the way with his 61 points still the top performance in any NBA Finals game. Baylor’s genius inspired a 126-121 victory for the LA team. The Lakers were now expected to win the sixth game on their home territory to seal the Finals victory. However, Baylor was limited to 34 points by Tom Sanders this time and the Celtics won by 119-105 to set up a thrilling decider in the seventh and final game of the series.

    The Seventh Game Turns into an Epic

April 18, 1962 saw these closely-matched teams meet yet again, this time in Boston. It was an eagerly-awaited affair, as the Lakers were looking to get their first title since 1954 while the Celtics wanted to keep a stranglehold on the NBA. It was incredibly tight and tense. With five seconds left of regulation time, the Lakers’ Frank Selvy missed an open 12-footer from the baseline that would have sealed the title. Instead, it ended 100-100 and overtime was needed. Bill Russell had a memorable performance, as he set a remarkable record of 40 rebounds, giving him a Finals-best record of 189 over the seven games. On the other side, Elgin Baylor was forced off after six personal fouls, having scored 41 points. The Celtics won 110-107 to set themselves up perfectly for a period of domination, while the Lakers were left to rue a missed opportunity and wait for another chance to claim basketball’s top title.

 
1962 NBA champion Boston Celtics
1962 NBA champion Boston Celtics team photo (Photo from Fortis Media, used by permission.)
 

All photos by the author and Copyright © 2021 - Donald Dale Milne, except as noted.

All other content Copyright © 2021 - Donald Dale Milne.

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