Friday, February 26, 2010

Boston Celtics vs. Los Angeles Lakers, Game 7, 1969 NBA Finals (4th Quarter)

Hey, I haven't done one of these in a while. I thought about watching a complete game, but I wanted to do other things, so instead I decided to watch the 4th quarter of the 7th game of the 1969 NBA Finals instead. The game matched the Boston Celtics against the Los Angeles Lakers, and the court was full of legends. The Lakers had center Wilt Chamberlain, forward Elgin Baylor, and guard Jerry West. You could make the argument that these are three of the top 10 players of all time, and each player was either in or near his prime. For the Celtics, there was center Bill Russell, one of the top five players of all-time, as well as Hall of Famers Sam Jones, and John Havlicek. Quite frankly, these two teams were loaded. The Celtics and Lakers matched up in the finals seven times in 11 years, from 1959-1969, and the Celtics won each of the first six. At the beginning of the 4th quarter, it seemed that Boston was on its way to another championship over the Lakers, as the Celts held a 91-76 lead. A few notes from this historic quarter.

- Early in the 4th, Russell, Jones, and Havlicek picked up their fifth fouls. Meaning that the Celts' three best players played most of the quarter in foul trouble. Jones fouled out with 6 and a half minutes left in the fourth quarter (in his last NBA game, by the way), but Russell and Havlicek were able to stay in, but it did make both players less aggressive on the defensive end.

- Russell was not only the star center of the Celtics, he was also the head coach. There's no way in hell we will ever see a player-coach in the NBA again, but to be honest, I think it might be able to work. Who's to say that a player like Steve Nash or Tim Duncan can't both play and run their team at the same time? It wouldn't work in football, but in a free-flowing sport like basketball, I think it just might be able to work. Besides, a player-coach couldn't be much worse than a lot of these coaches in the NBA today.

 - As I said earlier, the Celtics held a big lead heading into the fourth quarter, but the Lakers were able to make a run and get right back into the game. I should say that Jerry West went on a run and single-handedly brought the Lakers back into the game. I think he scored 18 points in the fourth quarter, making nearly every shot and making plays on the defensive end. The Celtics guards couldn't stop West one-on-one, so they had to double and sometimes even triple-team him. West still found a way to score, though, even with a sore hamstring. I guess that's why they called West "Mr. Clutch".

- Wilt Chamberlain's performance in this quarter was interesting, to say the least. Chamberlain started the quarter with five fouls, and since Chamberlain was determined to never foul out in a game, he played soft defense on Russell for the rest of the quarter. Russell also had to play back on Chamberlain due to his foul trouble, but neither team pounded the ball down low too much in the fourth, which I found perplexing. The Lakers went to West to bring them back into the game, instead of Chamberlain, only the most prolific scorer of his time. The Celtics, meanwhile, went to Havlicek and guards Larry Sigfreid and Em Bryant, and struggled with their shooting. However, since Russell wasn't a dominant scorer, that's more understandable. Then Wilt hurt his leg jumping up for a rebound, which leads to my next point.

- Chamberlain had to come out to rest his game. The Lakers put in backup Mel Counts, and right away the Lakers became a different team, getting out on the fast break quicker and picking up the pace on the tired Celtics. In a move that would be questioned for years, Lakers coach Bill Van Brenda Koff kept Counts in for the rest of the game, keeping his superstar on the bench in the final minutes of Game 7 of the Finals. There have been different theories as to why Van Brenda Koff took this course of action. Van Brenda Koff said that he felt they were doing just fine without Wilt. Other sources have suggested that Van Brenda Koff was sticking it to Wilt, since the two had been feuding for the entire season (Wilt was a notorious coach-killer, getting many of his coaches fired for various reasons). Others have said that Wilt refused to come back in, a charge that Chamberlain denied. Whatever the reason, Van Brenda Koff resigned after the series, and Wilt was further maligned for being an underachieving loser.

- The Lakers got the score to 103-102, and then after both teams exchanged turnovers and missed shots, Don Nelson got the ball after it was tipped away from another Celtic. Nelson, who currently coaches the Golden State Warriors, launched a shot from the free throw line. The ball hit the back of the rim, bounced at least five feet in the air, and dropped in the basket, giving the Celtics a three point lead. The Celtics never looked back after that, winning 108-106 (Laker guard Johnny Egan hit a field goal at the buzzer to bring the deficit to two), after Havlicek and Larry Sigfried closed the game out with clutch free throws. The Celtics, and Bill Russell, won their 11th Championship in 13 years, a record that will never, ever, ever be matched for the rest of the NBA's existence.

- When teams win a championship today, there's a huge celebration on the court, confetti goes flying everywhere, official NBA Championship hats and shirts are passed out, and people are jumping up and down and dancing in a mad frenzy. Forty years ago, after the buzzer went off, the Celtics just jogged back to the locker room, preferring to celebrate in private. There were no T-shirts, no confetti, just a team that wanted to get back to the locker room. A couple of Celtics didn't even smile as they went to back. The announcers didn't even seem that excited. Just the total opposite of what you would see today. I find that interesting.

- Bill Russell was interviewed just after the game in the locker room. The guy looked totally exhausted, more relived that he hadn't lost than excited over the victory, if that makes sense. The announcer asked him a simple "how does it feel" question, and an emotional Russell had to take a couple of seconds to hold back tears before he talked about having a great team, saying before the game that he wouldn't have traded any one of them, that he was so happy to share this with such a great group. Today, you see a team win a title and people might say similar statements, but I wonder if they say that because they mean it or because it's what people expect them to say. With Russell, there was no question about it, it was real. The drive to win, the camaraderie he had with his team, and the realization of all of the hard work put in to achieve their ultimate goal. Just watching that interview, you could tell that that was all real. Russell never played another game after this one, choosing to retire as both player and coach after the season. It's been said about a lot of players over the years, but Bill Russell truly left all he had on the court that night.

So, there's your recap of the 4th quarter of Game 7 between the Lakers and Celtics. It was quite an interesting game to watch, and it's somewhat hard to believe how different the game was back then. There was no three point line, a lot more moving without the ball and help defense, and less dunks and no-look passes. I'm not saying the game was better back then, I'm just saying it was played different, that's all. If you have any ideas for future reviews, then send them to me via e-mail at Whatever your idea is, a movie, a video game, a cereal, a review of carpentry tools, whatever you suggest, I'll try my hardest to write about it and review it.

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