The Boston Celtics compiled a 48-34 record for the 4th best mark in the Eastern Conference and went through the playoffs to advance to the Championship Series against the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Celtics led by player coach Bill Russell playing in his 13th and last NBA season averaged 19.3 rpg. John Havlicek 21.6 ppg 7.0 rpg, Bailey Howell 19.7 8.8 rpg, Sam Jones 16.3 ppg, Larry Siegfried 14.2 ppg, Tom Sanders 11.2 ppg 7.0 rpg, and Don Nelson 11.6 ppg 5.6 rpg rounded out the team.
The Lakers 55-17 had three of the greatest players to ever play the game of basketball in Wilt Chamberlain 20.5 ppg 21.1 rpg, Elgin Baylor 24.8 ppg 10.6 rpg and Jerry West 25.9 ppg 5.9 assists per game.
1969 was a rematch of 1968 however the Lakers had added Chamberlain in the previous off season and as was wherever he played whether it was at Overbrook High School in Philadelphia, in college at Kansas, with the Harlem Globetrotters or with Philadelphia in the NBA he created controversy. He had trouble getting along with West and Baylor but most of all he feuded with Lakers’ coach Butch van Brede Kolff.
The Lakers were the second best offensive team in the West and the Celtics were the second best defensive team in the East so you could say it was offense versus defense as well as the team oriented Celtics who had used that concept to win ten titles in the previous twelve years while the Lakers had not won since they were in Minneapolis in 1954 and were desperately seeking an NBA title.
Los Angeles had earned home court advantage and so the first two games were in the Forum in LA. Game one was close as West scored 53 points, Elgin Baylor 24 and Chamberlain playing all 48 minutes of the game pulled down 23 rebounds and had 15 points including the last Laker basket for a 120-118 win.
Havlicek scored 37 for Boston, Russell had 27 rebounds and Sam Jones 21 points in the losing cause for the Celtics.
In game two still at the Forum West continued his scoring streak with 41 points while Baylor added 32 and Chamberlain had 19 rebounds to propel the Lakers to a 118-112 victory and a two games to none lead over the Celtics as the Series headed east to the Boston Gardens. Havlicek again led Boston with 43 points.
Boston rebounded with a strong first half in game three but LA went on a run in the third quarter to tie the score with the Celts rallying to win 111-105 behind Havlicek’s 34 points and Larry Siegfried’s 28. West cooled down and was only 9 for 24 from the field, Baylor 4 for 18 and Chamberlain, never good at the foul line was 4 for 11 from the charity stripe.
Game four was a key game as the two teams played a much closer game with West regaining his stroke with 40 points and Chamberlain adding 27 rebounds and Havlicek scoring 21 and Siegfried 20 but the difference in the game would be Sam Jones playing in his twelfth and last NBA season.
With seven seconds left, a one point lead and the ball it looked good for the Lakers. But the leprechauns that supposedly inhabited Boston Gardens went to work and Elgin Baylor stepped on the line after receiving the inbounds pass and the Celtics had the ball.
They got the ball to Jones who rushed a shot over the 7’ 1” Chamberlain and the ball hit the rim bounced around and as if a leprechaun was up there to tip it in went into the basket and the Celtics escape with a win to tie the series 2-2 with an 89-88 win.
Revved up the Lakers controlled game five at the forum 117-104 with West scoring 39 points and Chamberlain pulling down 31 rebounds while Havlicek was held to 18 points on 6 for 21 from the field.
Game six back in Boston the Celtics dominated even though Havlicek and Siegfried had poor games. They were led by Don Nelson who stepped up with 25 points and the Celtics evened the series 3-3 with a 99-90 victory and the teams move back to LA for the deciding game.
It was a festive atmosphere in the Forum as the fans were sensing a title with balloons suspended from the ceiling waiting to be released if the Lakers won.
Both teams’ stars were playing well as West would end up with 42 points and Baylor 20 while Havlicek had 26, Sam Jones 24 and Emmette Bryant 20 led the Celtics. The Celtics held a 59-56 lead at the half and increased that to 91-76 after three quarters but the Lakers made a charge in the fourth quarter to try to win the game and the title.
One of the more controversial moves in NBA history occurred in the fourth quarter. With five minutes left in the game and behind 103-96 Chamberlain came down awkwardly and injured his knee. He signaled to the bench he needed to come out of the game. He had played 48 minutes in each of the previous six games and up to that point all of that game.
Mel counts replaced him and led a run that pulled LA to within one point of the Celts 103-102 at the two minute mark. Chamberlain signaled to van Breda Kolff that he was ready to reenter the game but the coach waived him off and finished the game with Counts on the floor.
From that point on the Lakers committed turnovers and lost 108-106 with fans and some players feeling van Bred Kolff should have inserted Chamberlain back into the game-at 7’ 1” he might have been able to get an easy basket.
The Celtics had their eleventh title in thirteen years, Van Breda Kolff was fired and Russell and Sam Jones retired.
The Lakers with a new coach would be back the next year and after some rebuilding the Celts would be back in 1974.
Ron Griffitts a contribution columnist for the Daily Advocate