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Anointing retroactive Celtic NBA Finals MVP award winners

Series MVP award was started in 1969, after the first 10 Boston crowns were won

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The NBA began giving out its championship series MVP award in 1969, the year a retiring Bill Russell and company put the finishing touches on their 11th title in 13 seasons.

Those aging Celtics, the fourth seed in the East in 1969 with a 48-34 record, upset the Lakers in game seven on the road to send Russell off in high style. But since he scored just 9.1 points a game in the Finals, he was not the series MVP.

Laker great Jerry West, who averaged 38 points a game in that historic Finals, was voted the MVP in a losing effort, the only man to be named as such nearly half a century later.

Since no Celtics were eligible to win Finals MVP honors during their first 10 championships between 1957-68, I thought it would be interesting to award them retroactively.

Without further ado let us took a look back at those pre-NBA Finals Celtic title series wins, and award those MVPs.

1957: Rookie forward Tom Heinsohn averaged a team-high 24 points and 12.6 rebounds per game in a thrilling seven-game series win over the St. Louis Hawks.

Boston won both game one and game seven 125-123 to capture their first-ever NBA title. In the decisive seventh game, series MVP Heinsohn netted 37 points as the Celtics escaped in double overtime - but only after a last-second Hawk shot hung on the rim and dropped off.

1959: Boston swept the Minneapolis Lakers 4-0 in the first of 12 Finals showdowns between the rival franchises. Veteran sharpshooting guard Bill Sharman scored 22.5 ppg and made 16 of his 17 free throws in the sweep to win sweries MVP honors.

1960: In another seven-game thriller won over the Hawks, series MVP Bill Russell pulled down 24.9 rebounds per game and added 16.7 ppg.

1961: Boston repeated over the Hawks 4-1. Veteran playmaker Bob Cousy averaged 19.8 points, 10.6 assists and five rebounds per game in the series. The Houdini of the Hardwood also shot 81.4 percent from the foul line (35-43).

Russell also averaged over 17 points and 28 rebounds per game, including 30 points in the clincher. But the floor game of the aging Cooz gives him the nod as MVP.

1962: In one of the greatest Finals ever, Boston dodged a last-second regulation miss in game seven by Laker guard Frank Selvy, then won in overtime 110-107.

Russell played 48.3 minutes a game in the series, scored 22.9 ppg, grabbed 27 rebounds per and added 5.7 assists.

Elgin Baylor may have had an argument for MVP in defeat as he averaged 40.6 points and 17.9 rebounds per game. In game 2, he scored a record 61 points, a staggering championship series mark that still stands 56 years later. By the way, Jerry West also averaged 31.1 ppg in defeat as well.

Interestingly though, the Lakers went to Selvy on a pass from Hot Rod Hundley for the last shot that could have won the title, even though it appears on film that West may have been open.

Russell scored 30 points and snared 32 rebounds in the finale, including the carom of the Selvy miss at the end of regulation. Normally a poor foul shooter, Russ canned 14 of 17 at the charity stripe in the pressure-packed battle to win the MVP award.

1963: Boston repeated over the rival Lakers, this time by a 4-2 score. Sam Jones topped balanced Boston with 24.7 ppg and Heinsohn netted 23.3 per outing, but Russell was the difference as LA had no one to contend with Bill at center.

The Laker three-headed center of Gene Wiley, Jim Krebs and Leroy Eliis was no match for series MVP Russ, who averaged 26 rebounds, 20 points, 5.3 assists and an unknown number of blocks since the stat was not kept until after he retired.

The dynamic duo of Baylor and West combined to average 63.3 ppg in the series, but the hole in the Laker middle was too much to overcome.

Cousy sprained his ankle in the second half of the sixth game in LA, but guttily came back to help clinch the crown in his swansong. Heinsohn came up with a clutch steal of a West pass and drove in for a critical layup late in the game to help seal a 112-109 win.

After the game, an appreciative LA crowd saluted the retiring Cousy, who was the game's most popular player at that time. I can't imagine them doing that a couple decades later for Larry Bird, or today. By then the Laker fanbase had been hardened and angry after nine Finals defeats at the hands of the Celtics.

1964: In the 1964 Finals the San Francisco Warriors, recently relocated from Philadelphia and led by their two-headed big man duo of Wilt Chamberlain and Nate Thurmond, challenged Russell as they sought to end the run of five straight Celtic crowns.

Wilt averaged 29.2 points and 27.6 rebounds per game while rookie Thurmond contributed 11.2 and 13, respectively. Russell averaged 25.2 rebounds in the series, but only 11.2 points a game.

Sam Jones topped balanced Boston with 21.2 ppg on 55.6 percent field goal accuracy to win the MVP. The Celtics took the series, 4-1. A big three-point play putback by the clutch Heinsohn late in the fifth game helped stave off the Warriors.

1965: The Lakers returned to the Finals, but without the injured Baylor they had little chance to unseat the balanced Bostonians. West averaged 33.8 ppg in the championship series, yet bank-shooting Sam Jones nearly negated his effort with 27.8 ppg on 47 percent field accuracy.

With Baylor on the bench, Boston cruised to another crown, 4-1. Again Russell's defense and 25 rebounds, 5.8 assists and 17.8 points a game earn him MVP honors and title number seven in a row.

1966: In 1966, LA nearly ended the Boston run of banner seasons but their game seven rally fell just short, 95-93. A more ground-bound Baylor was back despite a compromised knee and tallied 25 points with 16.4 rebounds per game in the Finals to support West, who ripped the nets for 33.9 ppg.

Once again, Russell was the difference vs. the center-challenged Lakers. For the first and only time he led Boston in scoring during a Finals with 23.6 ppg. He also pulled down a series-best 24.3 rebounds per game and played suffocating defense, as usual, to win yet another MVP.

John Havlicek averaged 23 points, 10 rebounds and four assists per outing to finish second in the MVP retroactive voting.

1968: After finally seeing their run of eight straight titles ended in 1967 by the eventual champion 76ers, the Celtic dynasty appeared over as Philadelphia took a 3-1 lead in the 1968 East Finals.

But Boston proved reports of their demise were premature as they rallied to win the final three games and dethrone Philadelphia 4-3.

Back in the championship series for the 11th time in 12 years, Boston then defeated the Lakers once again, 4-2.

The incredibly versatile "Hondo" Havlicek averaged 27.8 points, 8.7 rebounds and 6.7 assists per game to lead Boston to their 10th crown in 12 years.

Havlicek played forward, guard and was a defensive stopper as well. With the series knotted 2-2, Hondo scored 31 in a crucial 120-117 game five overtime win.

Then in the sixth game clincher at LA, series MVP Havlicek poured in 40 points (including shooting a perfect 12-12 from the free throw line) as the Celtics won 124-109 to return to the top of the NBA.

1969: In 1969, the Celtics upset the Lakers in game seven on the road, 108-106 to win the 11th championship of the Russell era. It was the final game for Boston legends Russell and Sam Jones.

Laker superstar Jerry West, despite an injured hamstring, recorded a 42-13-12 triple-double in the climactic seventh game to become the first (and still only) Finals MVP from a losing team - in the initial year the award was given.

The already historic finale featured added drama when new Laker center Wilt Chamberlain twisted his knee in the fourth period and asked to come out with five fouls (he never fouled out of an NBA game in his career).

With the Lakers rallying from 15 down in the fourth quarter to within a point behind the shooting of West, Wilt asked to go back in but remained on the bench in a controversial decision by coach Butch van Breda Kolff.

Russell, also playing with five fouls, came up with a clutch late block of a reverse layup by Wilt's replacement (and former Celtic teammate) Mel Counts, then added a backbreaking steal.

Boston eventually edged LA by two when Don Nelson's foul line jumper in the waning moments hit the back iron, bounced high above the top of the backboard and swished down through the hoop to record the final Celtic basket.

The tireless Havlicek could have been named co-MVP after he averaged 28.3 points, 11 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game while playing his customary great defense. The indefatigible swingman played ALL 336 minutes of the thrilling series, as did Russell.

But fan favorite and all-time great West tallied 37.9 ppg and 7.4 assists to get the honor, one he would gladly have traded for a ring.

In a 120-118 game one Laker win, West outscored Hondo 53-37. In a game two shootout, John out-pointed Jerry 43-41 but LA won again, 118-112. In the game three Celtic victory, Hondo outscored Mr. Clutch, 34-24.

For the series, Hondo took 34 less field goal attempts than West and hit on 50 of 59 free throws, while Jerry canned 73 of 87 at the charity stripe.

At the very least, the duo could have shared the MVP award that a crestfallen West disdained, filled with disgust after losing for a sixth time to Boston.

The Finals MVP retroactive tally: Russell five MVPs; Havlicek 1.5; Heinsohn, Sam Jones, Cousy and Sharman one apiece.

PS: I think Dave Cowens has a very legitimate claim to the 1976 Finals MVP over teammate Jo Jo White, as does Larry Bird in 1981, both of which I have written about previously on this site.

To contact author Cort Reynolds directly, you can email him at

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