Boston Celtics Franchise History: 1946-47 through 1955-56

Celtics 1940s

Championships: 0
Conference Titles: 0
Division Titles: 0

Regular Season Record: 330-328
Regular Season Win Percentage: 50.2%
Playoff Appearances: 7
Playoff Series Wins: 2
Playoff Record: 9-16

Later synonymous with championship success, the early years of the Boston Celtics were abysmal. During their first four seasons (3 in the BAA, 1 in the NBA) the Celtics failed to post a winning record and made the playoffs once. The only player who demanded any attention for on-court ability was the leviathan Ed Sadowski who averaged 19.4 PPG and made the All-BAA 1st Team in 1947-48, the lone season Boston made the playoffs.

At least future TV star Chuck Connors shattered the backboard in the Celtics’ very first game back in 1946. Not from a dunk though. The Rifleman actor just happened throw a halfcourt shot way too hard during warm ups. The frantic search for a new backboard took a couple of hours clearly delaying the game.

Boston would have been staggering aimlessly if not for the momentous 1950 offseason. Arnold “Red” Auerbach was hired as coach and the well-known Celtic luck began to work its magic.

For starters, the Celtics shook up the NBA by drafting the first black player in league history. Owner Walter Brown informed the league he was taking Chuck Cooper. When informed of Cooper’s skin tone, Brown said he didn’t care if Cooper was one of any variety of colors, he was Boston’s selection.

In late August 1950, the disbanded St. Louis Bombers had their roster dispersed across the league via a draft. The Celtics fortunately secured the big prize from the defunct roster: lanky offensive center Ed Macauley. “Easy Ed” would go on to a marvelous career blending quick hook shots with timely passing. He’d lead the league in field goal percentage twice and was the MVP of the NBA’s 1st All-Star Game in 1951.

In October 1950, luck struck again after the Chicago Stags also went belly up. With the center spot secure with Macauley, Boston desperately needed a guard. Chicago had two of the premier guards: Max Zaslofsky and Andy Phillip. Zaslofsky was the big prize, while Phillip would be no disappointing consolation. However, Boston got into a tussle with the New York Knicks and Philadelphia Warriors on who got to pick when. Fed up, Commissioner Maurice Podoloff simply wrote the team names on scraps of paper and drew them from a hat to determine selection order.

New York won the pull and smugly selected Zaslofsky. Philadelphia was pulled next and happily took Phillip. Boston was the odd man out and had to select the third guard on the roster, someone Red Auerbach had passed over in the college draft back in April. Auerbach didn’t just pass on him, though. He defended the move to local Boston press deriding the player as some “local yokel”. The Local Yokel eventually wound up being the NBA’s MVP and led the league in assists eight straight seasons.

Yep, it was Bob Cousy,

Macauley, Cousy, and Cooper under the coaching of Auerbach propelled Boston to a 39-30 record for the 1950-51 season. It was easily Boston’s best season to that point. In April of 1951, the Celtics made the first of what would be innumerable trade swindles. They traded center Chuck Share to the Fort Wayne Pistons for guard Bill Sharman. Although Sharman would go on to greatly mold the shooting guard role in basketball, he was hardly someone to cherish at that point. He had averaged 12 PPG in just 31 games for the Washington Capitols. Sharman had played 10 times as many minor league baseball games than NBA games to that point.  It was only the good word and advice of Bones McKinney – Auerbach’s trusted friend and Sharman’s old coach and teammate with the Caps – that led Boston to acquire Sharman.

Soon enough Sharman gelled with Macauley and Cousy to form Boston’s first Big 3.The Celtics became the league’s most exciting offensive show. By 1955 the Celtics offensive output was superb thanks to their Big 3…

Cousy: 21 PPG, 8 APG, 6 RPG
Macauley: 17.5 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 4 APG
Sharman: 18.5 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 4 APG

However, a new theme would develop to haunt Boston: painful playoff heartache. In 1951 and 1952 the Celtics were defeated by the New York Knicks. In 1953, 1954, 1955, and 1956 the C’s were bounced by the Syracuse Nationals. The final defeat, a 102-97 loss on their home court to Syracuse, put Boston at a crossroads in the spring of 1956.

With six straight postseason disappointments, Boston was panned as a run-and-gun team. They were all offense with no defensive or mental resiliency to advance to the Finals. Auerbach knew there was a truth to the critique. In 1956, Boston led the NBA in points scored with 106 but also gave up a league-leading 105 points a game.

A shakeup was needed to give Boston a defensive edge. Auerbach wanted the offensive fire, but he wanted fueled by a center who could sweep the boards and kick-start a fastbreak. As great an offensive center as Macauley was, he was never a great rebounder. Good rebounder, but not great.

So, during the 1956 draft, Auerbach orchestrated a trade sending Macauley and the draft rights to Cliff Hagan on to the St. Louis Hawks for the draft rights to Bill Russell. That was the biggest move of a 1956 offseason that saw Boston go from also-ran to potential dynasty. That same trade also wound up jolting the Hawks into potential dynasty mode, too.

Over the next few seasons, the two clubs would vie for NBA supremacy.

STARTING FIVE

C – Ed Macauley (1950-’56) – 416 Games
18.9 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 3.7 APG, 44.7% FG, 77.4% FT

F – Jack Nichols (1954-’56) – 124 Games
12.1 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 2.5 APG, 39.8% FG, 78.6% FT

F – Chuck Cooper (1950-’54) – 272 Games
6.8 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 1.8 APG, 34.1% FG, 73.9% FT

G – Bill Sharman (1951-’56) – 346 Games
16.4 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 3.4 APG, 43.1% FG, 86.4% FT

G – Bob Cousy (1950-’56) – 421 Games
19.4 PPG, 7.2 APG, 6.3 RPG, 36.9% FG, 80.6% FT

BENCH

F – Don Barksdale (1953-’55) –  135 Games
9.0 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 1.8 APG, 38.0% FG, 65.5% FT

F – Bob Donham (1950-’54) – 273 Games
6.7 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 2.6 APG, 48.0% FG, 50.7% FT

C – Ed Sadowski (1947-’48) – 47 Games
19.4 PPG, 1.6 APG, 32.3% FG, 69.7% FT

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Posted in Franchise Honorees

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