It’s time to introduce an exciting new feature here on The Bonus, tentatively titled, “Actually Writing Something Every Once In A Goddamned While.” Seeing as it’s Throwback Thursday, I’ve decided to watch a classic game and write about it, something we hope will continue each and every Throwback Thursday. It’ll be a journey through NBA space and time, a look back at legendary players, unforgettable moments, and the different ways the game has been played over the decades. Just to prove we’re not messing around, we’re going all the way back to 1963 for Game 6 of that year’s Finals between the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers.
Back in the 1962-63 season, the Boston Celtics, led by MVP Bill Russell, had the best record in the league at 58-22. There were nine, count ’em, nine future Hall of Famers on the Celtics that year: Russell, John Havlicek, Tommy Heinsohn, Sam and KC Jones, Clyde Lovellette, Frank Ramsey, Satch Sanders and last but not least, Bob Cousy. They’d won five of the last six Finals, and they were looking to win one more for Cousy, who had announced his retirement, complete with a big ceremony at Boston Garden before the Playoffs had even started.
Joining the Celtics in the Finals were the Los Angeles Lakers. At 53-27, they held the best record in the Western Division. Led by the legendary duo of Elgin Baylor and Jerry West, Los Angeles was looking to avenge their loss to the Celtics in the previous year’s Finals. However, they found themselves down 3-1 in the ’63 Finals before winning Game 5 to send the series back to LA for Game 6. Without further ado, let’s fire up the NBA app to watch and see what happens…
The first thing to note about this game is that it’s in black and white, which is awesome. Anyway, it was a fast paced first quarter, with each team zooming up and down the court trying to get ahead of the defense. The Celtics looked for fast breaks as often as possible, resulting in some ludicrous looking passes down the court from Bob Cousy. He’d sling the ball over his head so it’d almost look like the ball was being catapulted down the court. It was a little goofy looking, but the accuracy on his passes was impressive, and Boston got many easy layups out of them. Cousy was a real wizard with the ball. On one play, he went up like he was going to shoot, but instead he dropped the ball over his head to Tommy Heinsohn who was behind him for an open jumper. A few of his passes even faked out the camera man. The camera would zoom forward, and the next thing you’d know, someone behind Cousy would be shooting the ball. It makes Cousy look like a real magician, which explains one of his old nicknames: “The Houdini of the Hardwood.” After the Celtics went on a 11-0 run to take an early 16-9 lead, the Lakers took a page out of their opponent’s book and played “helter-skelter” basketball, as our play-by-play man, Bob Wolff, described it. In doing so, the Lakers were able to get many easy baskets of their own to build their lead up to 26-20, but the Celtics responded well, and at the end of the first quarter, the Lakers are holding on to a 35-33 lead.
The pace was quite fast, and instead of today’s set plays, there was much more chaos. Both teams seemed to be running up the court and just seeing what would happen. The fast pace and improvised style of play led to lots of points, and more turnovers than we like to see these days, but it was still awesome to watch.
Other first quarter highlights
– The Celtics got away with a blatant backcourt violation. Bob Cousy crossed the halfcourt line, then casually flipped the ball back to Sam Jones who was still behind the line. It surprisingly wasn’t called, although the mic picked up someone yelling, “BACKCOURT! BACKCOURT!”
– They didn’t keep track of blocks or steals back then, unfortunately, so I have taken it upon myself to keep track of how many blocks Bill Russell comes up with in this one. At the end of the first, he’s got two.
– Play-by-play man Bob Wolff is working alone. No color-commentator to be heard from.
– Foul rules were a little different back then. On any foul that wasn’t a shooting foul, a player would still get one free throw, then the other team would take the ball. Shooting fouls would result in the standard two free throws we’re used to, and once a team was in the penalty, any foul would result in two free throws.
End of the First Quarter: Lakers 35, Celtics 33
Boston scored the first eight points of the second quarter to take a 41-35 lead and set the tone to the end of the first half. They ramped up their defense, bringing KC Jones off the bench to shut down LA’s Jerry West, keeping the high scorer quiet for most of the quarter. The Lakers didn’t have enough additional firepower to keep up with the Celtics offense, nor could they match Boston’s defensive prowess. Bill Russell notched another four blocks during the quarter, and the offense kept flowing, with Bob Cousy leading the way with 16 points at halftime.
Other second quarter highlights
– Another relic from ancient NBA times: each quarter started off with a jump ball at center court. I say this is something the NBA should resurrect.
– There was a play where the ball got batted down the court and actually hit the ref. The Lakers grabbed it and went in for a layup, but John Havlicek came flying out of nowhere for a chasedown block.
– The Celtics were really good at a simple play where whoever had the ball (usually Cousy) would wait for a teammate to come behind them and bounce the ball back to them for what would turn out to be an open jumper. It’s been a pretty unstoppable play for them throughout the game.
– Bill Russell’s up to six blocks on the game.
– Cousy leads the Celtics with 16 points on 7-11 shooting. Tommy Heinsohn’s not far behind with 13, and John Havlicek’s come off the bench to score 11.
– Jerry West, despite having his struggles against KC Jones, has 20 points to lead the Lakers, and Rudy LaRusso’s chipped in to score 13.
Halftime: Celtics 66, Lakers 52
The Lakers tried something different to start off the second half, keeping starting shooting guard Dick Barnett on the bench, and putting small forward Elgin Baylor in the backcourt along with Jerry West. Up front, they went with three big men. Starters Rudy LaRusso and Gene Wiley were joined by Leroy Ellis in an effort to combat Bill Russell on the boards. For awhile, it worked. Baylor got hot from outside, and the big men did a decent job fighting with Russell, and the Lakers were able to close their deficit down to 80-76 midway through the quarter. However, the Celtics turned on the jets again, upping the pace and taking advantage of more of their trademark fast breaks. By the end of the quarter, Boston had built their lead back up to double digits.
Other third quarter highlights
– Bob Cousy intercepted a pass to ruin a potential Lakers fast break. Then, he brought the ball up and from a bit past the left block, flung a lefty jump hook over his head that banked in off the glass. It looked ridiculous, but the shot went down. In fact, more than a few shots in this game have looked like trick shots, but these guys really had them down to a science.
– Everything you’ve heard about Bill Russell’s rebounding are true. He’ll be surrounded by up to three Lakers, and he’ll still corral the board. What a luxury for the Celtics to know that they could leave him by himself under the basket, and he’d still be able to get the ball, allowing for everyone else to get a head start up the court. Russell was a good enough passer to find them up the floor as well. It’s a big reason why the Celtics were able to zip up the court so quickly for all of those fast breaks.
– Speaking of Russell, he’s up to eight blocks.
End of the Third Quarter: Celtics 92, Lakers 80
The game has taken a dire turn early in the fourth quarter. On his way back up the court after a Celtics turnover, Bob Cousy suffered what looks like an injury to his left ankle. As he’s on the ground, he’s joined by Celtics coach Red Auerbach, and a few concerned teammates. Bob Wolff tells us that it could just be a cramp, but adds, “It would certainly be a crushing blow to the Boston Celtics, and a tough way for Bob Cousy to leave if this turns out to be his final game after the most scintillating career of anybody in the professional ranks.” He’s helped up and helped off the floor by the team trainer, and teammate Jim Loscutoff, and he’s not putting any weight on that left leg of his. As he’s brought to the bench, the fans at the Los Angeles Sports Arena give “Mr. Basketball” a standing ovation as they know it might be the last time they ever see him on the court. He leaves the game with 18 points.
Meanwhile, without Cousy, the Celtics offense sputters, while the Lakers quickly take advantage, and after an Elgin Baylor jumper over Bill Russell cuts the Celtics lead all the way down to three, Boston calls a time out as the momentum has clearly shifted to the Lakers, as the fans in the LA Sports Arena are on their feet.
8:01 remaining: Celtics 96, Lakers 93
With Cousy remaining on the bench, the Lakers were able to make it a one point game. With about 4:30 remaining, and the Lakers down, 100-99, Jerry West had a chance to tie the game with a free throw, but he couldn’t hit it. Soon after, Bob Wolff erupted, “Bob Cousy is coming back!” as the Celtics point guard made his way back off the bench and into the game. On the ensuing possession, West had a chance to give the Lakers the lead, but his jumper hit off the rim. Satch Sanders then hit back to back jumpers to extend the Celtics lead, prompting the Lakers to take a time out, and yes, I pumped my fist after the second Sanders jumper. We’re in for a “slam-bang finale,” as Bob Wolff describes it.
3:32 remaining: Celtics 104, Lakers 99
As the clock ticks down, the game continues to be tight. After a Bob Cousy pass went bouncing out of bounds off Satch Sanders, the Lakers took the ball, down 104-102 with 2:35 on the clock. However, Tommy Heinsohn intercepted a lazy pass from Jerry West and took it all the way down the court for a layup, giving the Celtics 106-102 as they continue to hold on to the lead! As the game goes under a minute left, a Sam Jones jumper puts Boston up, 108-104. Dick Barnett responds for the Lakers, going baseline for a layup, plus a foul on Bill Russell! The foul call sends Celtics coach Red Auerbach storming down the sideline in anger, and more importantly, it’ll put Barnett at the free throw line with a chance to make it a one point game. But first, a time out.
0:43 remaining: Celtics 108, Lakers 106
“And you can hold your breath here, because these forty-three seconds may prove to be the most dramatic forty-three seconds in basketball history!” – Bob Wolff
Dick Barnett gets these last remaining seconds off to a good start, hitting his free throw as the Celtics take the ball, clinging to a 108-107 lead. Down the court, Bob Cousy misses a shot, but Tommy Heinsohn wins the battle for the rebound, and is fouled as he goes up with the ball with just 23 seconds left! He’s true on both free throws, and Boston goes up 110-107.
On the other end, Dick Barnett misses a jumper, Bill Russell grabs the rebound, and as Elgin Baylor desperately tries to get his hands on the ball, a jump ball is called. Sure looks like he fouled Russell to me, but it’ll be a jump ball, and not before a time out is called by the Celtics.
0:13 remaining: Celtics 110, Lakers 107
On the jump ball, Boston’s Tommy Heinsohn grabs the ball, and he’s fouled by Rudy LaRusso! It’ll send Tommy to the free throw line with just ten seconds on the clock. He gets two free throws, and C’s are up, 112-107. Down the court, Jerry West misses a shot, but it’s put in after an offensive rebound by Elgin Baylor, but there’s just not enough time to do anything else. Russell inbounds the ball to Cousy and let’s let Bob Wolff tell you what happens as the buzzer sounds…
“Cousy throws it high in the air, and the Boston Celtics are the World Champions!”
After the triumphant Celtics storm off the court, Bob Cousy and Red Auerbach come back onto the floor for an interview with our pal, Bob Wolff.
“Well, believe me, Bob, I’ve been very very fortunate in my thirteen years, and God certainly granted my last wish,” says Cousy. Red Auerbach, meanwhile, says, “I’m going to tell you something, I hope everybody that’s been writing about those Lakers, and the fact that we were dead, I hope they know who won the World Championship. They got a great ball club, seriously, but we’re not dead, and we’re not about to lie over for anybody. Just a wonderful thing, wonderful. Right out here on their home court!” Bob Wolff quickly changes the subject and asks Cousy about what happened with his ankle, though not before reminding Red that the Lakers grabbed a game in Boston earlier in the series.
“Well, it must have been old age creeping up about four minutes too soon,” explains Cousy. “What a thrill,” interjects Auerbach, “they made some comeback… How about that Heinsohn, he didn’t have a real good night, but right in the clutch he came down.” Cousy adds, “Tommy made those big free throws, I think it was a real team victory, everybody should be quite proud.”
“This gives me as great a thrill as any of the others,” continues Red, “because everybody thought we were dead all season, nobody picked us, everybody picked the Lakers, but like I always say, a champ is a champ until he’s beaten, and these guys are champs.” Now, I certainly wasn’t around to tell you what the basketball pundits were saying back in 1963, but that’s quite a chip on Red’s shoulder considering the Celtics had the best record in the whole league that year. Surely plenty of folks were picking Boston over LA for these Finals.
Bob Wolff then goes on to share the scoring totals with Red and Cousy. “Isn’t it nice when you can hold a guy to 28?” jokes Red after he sees Elgin Baylor’s scoring numbers. Then, Wolff mistakenly says that Heinsohn scored 28 for the Celtics. “Twenty-eight!?” says an incredulous Auerbach in disbelief. Turns out Tommy scored 21 for the Celtics instead.
“Looks like we have to say goodbye,” says Wolff, before Red interrupts with, “See everybody back in Boston!” Wolff then shakes hands with the now retired Bob Cousy and has this to say:
“Bob, my congratulations to you, and I want to say, for all of your fans throughout the country, that it was a stirring thing to see you in such a tremendous finale.”
Final Score: Celtics 112, Lakers 109
What a way to go out, am I right? Cousy finished his final game with 18 points, while according to the basketball-reference box score, Tommy Heinsohn led Boston with 22, not the 21 as reported by Bob Wolff. Oh, and in case you were still wondering, I counted a total of eight blocks for Bill Russell.
For the Lakers, Jerry West scored 32 and Elgin Baylor added 28, but the Celtics had a more balanced attack, and the Lakers just weren’t able to take the lead away down the stretch.
Interestingly, this turned out to not be the final game of Bob Cousy’s NBA career. Years later, he was coaching the Cincinnati Royals, and in 1969, he actually suited up to appear in seven games at the age of 41 as part of an effort to boost ticket sales. He only played 4.9 minutes per game, and averaged 0.7 points, so let’s all just agree to pretend that this never happened.