When it comes to postseason basketball very few can compare to lifelong Boston Celtic, Sam Jones.
By the time he retired in 1969, only Los Angeles Lakers greats Elgin Baylor and Jerry West had scored more playoff points. Only teammate Bill Russell had played in more playoff games. And only Russell had won more NBA championships than Jones’s 10.
And no one it seemed was ever ahead of Jones when it came to clutch, timely baskets in the playoffs. Two of his biggest buckets were of decidedly, absolutely back-breaking nature. In the 1962 Eastern Division Finals against the Philadelphia Warriors, Jones swished a basket in Game 7 with barely a second left to give Boston a two-point victory. In 1969, he flipped up a runner at the buzzer that rolled around the rim before settling into the net. That basket won the game (89-88) and tied the series at 2-2 allowing Boston the breathing room to win the series in seven games.
12 years earlier it would have been unbelievable that Jones could have made two shots like that. In 1957, he was just leaving the military and joining the Celtics as a reserve shooting guard. With the fantastic Bill Sharman ahead of him, Jones would have to wait awhile for a chance to start. Nonetheless, Sharman helped tutor Sam displaying the teaching skills that’d make him a Hall of Fame coach.
By the 1961-62 season, Sharman had retired and Jones was finally inserted into the starting lineup. At age 28, it was a long time coming for Jones. And he was worth every bit of the wait. From that season until his retirement, Jones averaged 21 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 assists per game. He peaked in 1965 with 26 points per game and was a five-time All-Star.
A destructive jump shooter, particularly using the bank shot, Jones could have averaged 25 points in his sleep, if only he dreamt of doing so. The unassuming Jones never sought out the kind of stardom that 25 PPG brought. He was content to be just another great offensive player on the Celtics, not the great offensive player on the Celtics. He wanted nothing of the expectations and criticism that befell a superstar like Jerry West or Oscar Robertson.
All of this made it so odd that Jones would indeed be the man with the ball in the clutch to take and make big shots. He’d deliver the KO and then just slink back silently into the background with no gloating or showboating. That kind of demeanor didn’t go unnoticed, though.
In Game 7 of the 1969 Finals, Jones fouled out in the closing moments of a game that was still undecided. He received a thunderous standing ovation from the crowd as he left his final NBA game. It’d be unsurprising if the game was in Boston, but it was in Los Angeles, the nemesis of the Celtics. And yet, the Laker fans, rose and gave Jones the well-deserved applause for a career that was magnificently well-played. They recognized that the curtain had drawn close on one of the NBA’s class acts and greatest guards.
It’d be a shame to let something silly like a rivalry spoil a moment such as that.
Years Played: 1957 – 1969
10x Champion (1959-’66, 1968-’69)
3x All-NBA 2nd Team (1965-’67)
5x All-Star (1962, 1964-’66, 1968)
NBA - 871 Games
17.7 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 2.5 APG, 45.6% FG, 80.3% FT
Contemporary NBA Ranks (1957-58 through 1968-69 season)
8th Points, 24th PPG
5th FGs Made, 20th FG%
15th FTs Made, 20th FT%
15th, Assists, 35th Rebounds
2nd Games Played, 11th Minutes Played