Riding the NBA stairway to 7

The Cleveland Cavaliers are swimming upstream against history. No team has ever come back from a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals to win a championship. And only three teams have ever won a seventh game on the road.

For just the third time in history, a team has forced a seventh game after trailing 3-1 in the NBA Finals. That would be the Cavaliers, who will go to the mat against the Warriors on the road in Oakland.

In 1951, the Knicks trailed the Rochester Royals 3-0 and rallied to force a Game 7 but lost 79-75 in the final game (shown above). Arnie Risen led all scorers with 24 points as Rochester won its only NBA Championship. The Royals later moved West, first to Cincinnati, then Kansas City-Omaha, and eventually Sacramento. Somewhere in transit they become the Kings.

In 1966 the Lakers trailed the Celtics 3-1, only to win twice and force a decisive game. Boston held on to win that game 95-93 at the Boston Garden and capture a record eighth straight NBA championship. Bill Russell scored 25 points and took down 32 rebounds to lead the way.

Seventh games are a rarity in the NBA Finals. Cleveland-Golden State is just the 19th Game 7 since the league’s first playoff in 1947. Since 1984, only six Finals, including this one, have gone the distance.

And the home team – that would be the Warriors – has the decided edge if history proves true to form. Only three teams have won a seventh game game on the road. The last team to win a Finals Game 7 on the road was the Washington Bullets, who beat the Supersonics in Seattle. The Bullets won 105-89 behind center Wes Unseld, who was named MVP.

The Celtics did it twice – in 1974 against the Bucks in Milwaukee and.in 1969 against the Lakers at the Los Angeles Forum. In 1974, the road team won five times, including the last four games. The Celtics won 102-87 in what turned out to be Oscar Robertson’s final game.

In 1969, Boston, which finished in fourth place in the Eastern Division, came back to take the last two games as Russell outplayed Wilt Chamberlain. Boston held onto what had been a 17-point lead in the finale to win its 11th title 108-106.

Jerry West became the only player on a losing team to win Finals MVP. LA owner Jack Kent Cooke had thousands of balloons in the rafters ready to be released when the Lakers won. The balloons never came down.


Wilt’s ‘Game of the Century’ set the standard


Name a great one. Babe Ruth. Ted Williams. Jim Brown. Tom Brady. Wayne Gretzky. Oscar Robertson, Michael Jordan.

The list goes on and on, but no athlete in the history of professional sports ever had a more dominant game — and a more dominant year — than Wilton Norman Chamberlain, playing for the Philadelphia Warriors in 1961-62.

The crowning achievement of Chamberlain’s year (and his career) occurred on March 2, 1962, when Wilt scored 100 points against the New York Knickerbockers.

The ‘Game of the Century” was played before a half-empty arena with 4,124 in attendance in Hershey, Pa. The contest was not televised — in fact no footage of any kind exists.

Not a single New York sportswriter was there to write about it. There were only two photographers on hand, and one of them left after the first quarter. Veteran broadcaster Bill Campbell broadcast the game over WPHT radio in Philadelphia.

In addition to his 100 points, Wilt established single game records that still stand for field goal attempts (63), field goals made (36), and free throws made (28 on 32 attempts), mind-boggling for such a terrible foul shooter.

No NBA player has ever come close to approaching 100. Kobe Bryant scored 81 points in 2006. David Robinson had 71 in 1994. Michael Jordan scored 69 in an overtime game. Pete Maravich once scored 68 against the Knicks.

Here are 10 interesting sidebars about Wilt Chamberlain and his incomparable 1961-62 ‘Season of the Century’:

1. 50.4 PPG: Chamberlain scored 4,029 points and averaged 50,4 points a game during the 1961-62 season, coming off a 44.8 scoring average the previous year. In the 50 years since, Michael Jordan’s 37.1 ppg in 1986-87 is the NBA high water mark.

2. Scoring Streaks:  In 1962, Wilt  scored more than 50 points 44 times, more than 60 a dozen times and more than 70 twice. In December of 1961, Chamberlain had five straight games of  50, including a then-record 78 against the Los Angeles Lakers. Later that December, he scored 50 or more seven times in a row. He had another streak of six straight 50+ games in January of 1962, topped by 73 against the Chicago Packers. Wilt scored 67, 65 and 61 in the games leading up to 100. And two nights after 100, Chamberlain torched the Knicks for 58 at Madison Square Garden.

3. Rebounds: Wilt averaged 25.6 rebounds per game that year, third best all-time behind his own best 27.2 in 1960-61 and 27.0 in his rookie year, 1959-60.

4. League Leader: Chamberlain led the NBA in at least 10 major categories in 1961-62, including minutes played, field goals, field goal attempts, free throws, free throw attempts, total rebounds, points, minutes per game, points per game and rebound per game.

5. Minute Man: Wilt played every minute of every Warriors game that year, and averaged more than 48 minutes per game (48.52), the only time that’s ever been done. In fact, the top seven seasons of minutes played all belong to Chamberlain, who never fouled out of an NBA game.

6. All-Star Game Record: He set new standards in the NBA All-Star game that year with 42 points and 24 rebounds. But Bob Pettit of the host St. Louis Hawks won the MVP as the West beat the East, 150-130.

7. Playoffs: Wilt’s Warriors finished second in the NBA East in 1961-62 with a 49-31 record, 11 games behind the Boston Celtics (60-20). Philadelphia beat the Syracuse Nationals 3-2 in the best-of-five first round, then lost to the eventual NBA champion Celtics in seven games, with the home team winning each time. Wilt outscored his Boston counterpart, Bill Russell, in all seven games, with a 42-point, 37-rebound effort in Game Two, and a 41-point, 34-rebound performance in Game 4. In the deciding Game 7, Chamberlain had 22 points and 21 rebounds, and tied the game in the last minute with a three-point play, but the Celtics’ Sam Jones hit the game-winner with two seconds remaining. Russell finished with 19 points and 22 rebounds

8. No MVP: Despite putting together the greatest statistical season in NBA (and arguably pro sports) history in 1961-62, Wilt Chamberlain did not with the MVP. That honor went to his rival, Bill Russell. Wilt did win four NBA MVP awards.

9. NBA Leader: Chamberlain won the NBA scoring title his first seven years in the league, beginning with his rookie year in 1959-60. He led the league in rebounds 11 times in 14 seasons, and even won the assist title in 1967-68. He won two NBA titles, with the 1966-67 Philadelphia 76ers and the 1971-72 Lakers.

10. On the Record: The record books are heavy with Chamberlain’s accomplishments. In addition to what’s been outlined above, he holds the NBA record for most consecutive field goals (18), most rebounds in a game (55),  most games with 50+ points (118); most consecutive games with 40+ points (14) most consecutive games with 30+ points (65), most consecutive games with 20+ points (126), highest rookie scoring average (37.6 ppg) and highest field goal percentage in a season (.727).


Celtics-Lakers Make History Again

Bill Russell and Red Auerbach of the Boston Celtics combined to win seven NBA Finals against the Lakers.

Two years ago, the SportsLifer previewed the 2008 NBA Finals between the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers with a look back at their history in championships matchups.

Well the Celtics won that series in six games, their 17th NBA title overall and first in 22 years. Paul Pierce was named Finals MVP.

The Lakers responded in 2009, returning to the Finals for the sixth time in 10 years. Kobe Bryant led the way as Los Angeles beat Orlando in five games to won its 15th championship.

Now the two clubs who have combined for more than half of all NBA championships are meeting for the 11th time, with the Celtics holding a 9-2 advantage in previous meetings.

They’re the Lennon and McCartney of basketball, the Rogers and Astaire of hoops, the Batman and Robin of the hardwood.

They’re the Celtics and the Lakers. These two trademark NBA fantasies have combined for 30 championships, 16 by the Celtics.

They’ve clashed 10 times in the NBA Finals, beginning in 1959 when the Celtics swept the Minneapolis Lakers in four straight to start Boston’s run of eight straight titles.

The Celtics won the first eight matchups; four went the full seven games. The Lakers took the final two, the last in 1987, each in six games.

In 1962, Frank Selvy of Los Angeles had an open jumper with a chance to beat the Celtics in Game Seven. He missed and Boston won in overtime behind 30 points and 40 rebounds from Bill Russell. In that Series Laker forward Elgin Baylor scored an NBA playoff record 61 points to lift his team to a Game 5 win at the Boston Garden. However, with a chance to win the championship on their home floor, the Lakers lost Game Six, and the combatants returned to the Boston Garden for the finale.

The following year, Boston’s Bob Cousy dribbled out the clock in the final game of his historic career as the Celtics once again triumphed, this time in six games.

In 1966, the Celtics held on for a 95-93 win in Game Seven to complete their run of eight straight titles. Boston coach Red Auerbach retired after the game, with Russell assuming player-coach duties.

The Celtics won another seven-game showdown with the Lakers in 1969, although Jerry West, right, was the MVP of the Series, the only player from a losing team to win the NBA Finals MVP. West, whose 29.1 playoff scoring average ranks third to Michael Jordan and Allen Iverson, had 42 points, 13 rebounds and 12 assists in Game Seven, but Boston prevailed 108-106 at the Los Angeles Forum.

Lakers’ owner Jack Kent Cooke was already planning his victory celebration as he ordered thousands of balloons suspended from the Forum rafters.

The Celtics and Lakers resumed their rivalry 15 years later as Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, right, squared off for the first time in the playoffs. And the Celtics again won in seven games, Bird averaging 27.4 points and 14 rebounds per game to win MVP honors.

The next year, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was the Finals MVP and the Lakers finally beat Boston, 4-2, after eight straight playoff losses. And in 1987, Magic Johnson was the Finals MVP, his “junior sky hook” proving to be the turning point of the series, giving the Lakers a 3-1 lead on the way to a six-game triumph.

And they haven’t played since. The Celtics haven’t won an NBA title since 1986, The Lakers won the title again in 1988, beating the Detroit Pistons. Los Angeles last won in 2002, completing a three-peat with a sweep of the New Jersey Nets.


Celtics-Lakers Would Be Historic NBA Final

Bill Russell and Red Auerbach combined to win eight NBA Finals against the Lakers.

They’re the Lennon and McCartney of basketball, the Rogers and Astaire of hoops, the Batman and Robin of the hardwood.

They’re the Celtics and the Lakers. These two trademark NBA fantasies have combined for 30 championships, 16 by the Celtics.

They’ve clashed 10 times in the NBA Finals, beginning in 1959 when the Celtics swept the Minneapolis Lakers in four straight to start Boston’s run of eight straight titles.

The Celtics won the first eight matchups; four went the full seven games. The Lakers took the final two, the last in 1987, each in six games.

In 1962, Frank Selvy of Los Angeles had an open jumper with a chance to beat the Celtics in Game Seven. He missed and Boston won in overtime behind 30 points and 40 rebounds from Bill Russell. In that Series Laker forward Elgin Baylor scored an NBA playoff record 61 points to lift his team to a Game 5 win at the Boston Garden. However, with a chance to win the championship on their home floor, the Lakers lost Game Six, and the combatants returned to the Boston Garden for the finale.

The following year, Boston’s Bob Cousy dribbled out the clock in the final game of his historic career as the Celtics once again triumphed, this time in six games.

In 1966, the Celtics held on for a 95-93 win in Game Seven to complete their run of eight straight titles. Boston coach Red Auerbach retired after the game, with Russell assuming player-coach duties.

The Celtics won another seven-game showdown with the Lakers in 1969, although Jerry West, right, was the MVP of the Series, the only player from a losing team to win the NBA Finals MVP. West, whose 29.1 playoff scoring average ranks third to Michael Jordan and Allen Iverson, had 42 points, 13 rebounds and 12 assists in Game Seven, but Boston prevailed 108-106 at the Los Angeles Forum.

Lakers’ owner Jack Kent Cooke was already planning his victory celebration as he ordered thousands of balloons suspended from the Forum rafters.

The Celtics and Lakers resumed their rivalry 15 years later as Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, right, squared off for the first time in the playoffs. And the Celtics again won in seven games, Bird averaging 27.4 points and 14 rebounds per game to win MVP honors.

The next year, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was the Finals MVP and the Celtics finally beat Boston, 4-2, after eight straight playoff losses. And in 1987, Magic Johnson was the Finals MVP, his “junior sky hook” proving to be the turning point of the series, giving the Lakers a 3-1 lead on the way to a six-game triumph.

And they haven’t played since. The Celtics haven’t won an NBA title since 1986, The Lakers won the title again in 1988, beating the Detroit Pistons. Los Angeles last won in 2002, completing a three-peat with a sweep of the New Jersey Nets.