Bill Russell in Finals-Clinching Games

Rings! Russell

Bill Russell, as we all know, is the Lord of the Rings in the NBA. The great Boston Celtics teams he captained in the 1950s and 1960s won 11 NBA championships in a 13-year span. These were superb teams with great players stacked from the bench to the starting five. Yet, it still seems to me that Russell’s personal brilliance gets misinterpreted or overlooked. I’m still searching for the right word to describe it. Maybe it’s just forgetfulness and ignorance that comes with the passage of time.

In any event, Russell was a destructive force when it came time to close out a Finals series. Here are Russell’s spectacular performances in such situations.

NOTE: the blocks are estimated totals provided by
ALSO NOTE: This does not include Game 6 of the 1958 NBA Finals where the Celtics lost. Russell missed two games with an ankle injury and played the deciding Game 6 on the bum ankle managing just 20 minutes in the loss.

Bill Russell in Deciding Finals Game

Seems kinda good. No wonder he has all those rings.

57: The Hawks’ Magic Number

It's a hawk! (wolfpix via Flickr)
It’s a hawk! (wolfpix via Flickr)

Wilkins, last year’s NBA scoring champ, scored a league season-high 57 points, equaling his own career best, as the Atlanta Hawks routed Jordan and the Chicago Bulls 123 – 95 Wednesday…

“They caught me in my rhythm,” Wilkins said. “I feel like I’m on the top of my game.”

-Via the Gadsden Times

Oh, I do believe scoring a career-high 57 points in a 123 – 95 thrashing of the Chicago Bulls counts as being on the top of one’s game. On December TENTH, 1986, in 40 minutes of action the Human Highlight Film simply couldn’t miss. He was 19-28 from the field (68%) and 19-21 from the free throw line (91%). Now the curious thing about Nique’s offensive explosion isn’t that this was the second time he hit exactly 57 points, but it was the fourth time in Hawks franchise history that a player had hit for exactly 57 points.

At the end of the previous season, on April TENTH, 1986, Wilkins had eviscerated the New Jersey Nets for 57 points in a late season match-up that the Hawks won 126 – 117. In that game Wilkins was similarly en fuego with 21-37 shooting (57%) and 15-19 free throws (79%).

Nearly 17 years earlier, in just the Hawks second season based in Atlanta, Lou Hudson on November TENTH, 1969, torched the Chicago Bulls for 57 points much like Wilkins would. Hitting 7 of his 8 free throws and netting 25 of his 34 field goals.

Sweet Lou’s down right nasty destruction of the Bulls tied him with his old teammate Bob Pettit who also dropped 57 points. Pettit did his damage as a member of the St. Louis Hawks against the Detroit Pistons. Hitting 25 of his 42 field goal attempts and making seven of nine free throws, Pettit unfortunately hit his franchise-record points in a game on February EIGHTEENTH, 1961.

Although Pettit ruined the streak of all 57 point games being done on the TENTH of a month, he did haul down 28 rebounds that night… and he was the first Hawk to reach 57 points, so maybe it was the other two gentleman who ruined the synergy.

In any case, these three men are the only men to have their jerseys retired by the Hawks franchise. So, if Josh Smith or even DeShawn Stevenson wants their jersey number retired, all you have to do is go for 57, the Hawks’ magic number.

Wilt Chamberlain’s 55-Rebound Game


Corbis Images

Yesterday was the 52nd anniversary of Wilt Chamberlain grabbing 55 rebounds against the Boston Celtics. The Philadelphia Warriors’ big man in the process set the all-time record for rebounds in a single game. How Herculean was the Big Dipper’s performance?

Looking at the boxscores from last night’s games, 16 teams were in action and only one team grabbed more rebounds last night than Chamberlain did that night in 1960. As you see, the Los Angeles Lakers snared 61 total rebounds against the hapless Dallas Mavericks who shot an abysmal 37% creating a wealth of rebounding opportunities.

And this is just how Wilt also pumped up his rebounding numbers. The NBA of his era was operating at warp speed as team’s jacked up lots of shots, but also missed a good share of them. Still, to grab fifty-five rebounds is nothing I’m going to belittle. Just another one of Wilt Chamberlain’s larger-than-life accomplishments.

Do Call It A Comeback

Editor’s Note: Originally appeared August 28, 2011 at Hardwood Paroxysm

Tortoise Hare
Photo by peretzpup from Flickr

Paul Pierce’s teammates mobbed him at center court until he broke free and jumped atop the scorer’s table. Coach Jim O’Brien’s ever-present poker face disappeared, the most stoic of NBA coaches pumping his fist to the crowd and walking triumphantly off the court… “It was purgatory, it might have been closer to Hell for three quarters, but that last one was Eden. Damn, that was great,” [Jim] O’Brien said.

Via “Colossal Collapse” by the Associated Press

Some readers may be too young and others too senile to remember that Paul Pierce nearly a decade ago enjoyed perhaps his finest individual moment as a Celtic. It occurred during a surprise trip to the Eastern Conference Finals against New Jersey in 2002. The two clubs split the first two games, but Game 3 at first seemed to be the possible unraveling of Pierce as a legit go-to player in this league. However, by the time it was over, the Celtics had pulled off the largest 4th quarter comeback in playoff history thanks to Pierce.

I witnessed this historic game back on May 25, 2002, in beautiful San Antonio, Texas. Visiting my great-grandmother in a nursing home, my brother and I found comfort from the specter of debilitating old age by watching the Nets and C’s duke it out on the TV.

Actually, it wasn’t much of a fight. New Jersey quickly opened the flood gates swishing jumpers and fastbreaking Boston into oblivion. The Celtics had their fair share of easy shots within a few feet of the rim, but only Eric Williams was of any use as Boston fell behind by 15 points. Pierce was abysmal going 0-5. Boston showed some fight with a 13-4 run to cut the lead to 6 in the 2nd, but like Sebastian Shaw absorbs blows and hurls energy back at enemies, New Jersey swelled its lead to 20 points by the half. Pierce was now an abysmal 1-9.

As the 3rd Quarter got underway, the Boston crowd was restless. Boos rained down, Celtics players look discombobulated, and New Jersey continued the assault pushing the lead up to 25 points at times. Toward the quarter’s end Pierce finally showed signs of life beyond that of an amoeba. This glimmer of animation came when he and Kidd received a double technical for jawing at each other. However, the truth is that Paul was still turning in a putrid performance with 9 points on 2-14 shooting. Amoebas everywhere are ashamed as the quarter comes to a close.

With this break in the action, we leave the bedside of my ailing great-grandmother and head over to my grandmother’s house just 10 minutes away. When we arrive, my grandpa, a basketball guru and devout Lakers fan, is watching the game and in an excited tone tells us of the rally taking place. Boston has gone on a tear and severed New Jersey’s lead by 10 points or so.

Re-watching the game later, I learn that Antoine Walker may just have provided the spark for this comeback as he castigated his team for showing so little heart and urged them to step it up. On this day Walker had cause to speak. He was the only Celtic showing any (productive) gusto to this point in the game. The spark tossed by Walker apparently ignited Pierce’s fuse and blew off the shackles because the Truth was set free.

Pierce’s array of moves in the comeback are astounding. Out near the 3-point line, Paul drove right by his man all the way to the hoop for a layup. He took on a triple team and banked in a two-handed runner. He wormed his way around a defender and shoveled in a basket. On the break, Pierce completed an up-and-under-and-1 layup. The most beautiful of all is a spin move to split a double team, which ends with Paul gently finger rolling the ball into the hoop. Most surprising for viewers of today, Pierce doesn’t attempt any stepback elbow jumpers. It’s all action going at the rim.

New Jersey is clearly on the ropes with Pierce turning into a wrecking ball, Kenny Anderson making 5 straight shots and Walker continuing his solid play. The Nets’ only hope is their own Aaron Williams who scored 11 of the Nets’ 16 fourth quarter points and Boston’s Tony Delk submitting an erratic and genuinely dumb brand of basketball. Delk made a good block on defense and then managed to try a tough double-clutch layup over two Nets on the other end. Of course he missed. Another stellar decision occurs on the very next play, another transition opportunity he ruins, this time with a pull up three that clanked hard.

As time is winding down, Pierce has slowed a bit but is still finding his way to the rim, getting hammered and then sinking the FTs. With 42 seconds left and down 90-89, Pierce drives on Kidd who blatantly flops and drags Pierce down to create the illusion of a charge. The refs don’t take the bait. Pierce makes both FTs and Boston has its first lead since 1-0. It’s at this point that the Fleet Center explodes in euphoria having already been on the verge for the whole quarter. Boston makes 3 more FTs to seal the game 94-90.

In the end Boston, scored 41 points to NJ’s 16 in the fourth. Pierce single-handedly outscored the Nets with 19 points. Perhaps the Celtics celebrated this victory too hard. They would lose the series 4-2 and begin a regression that by the mid part of the decade would find the franchise meandering in a malaise akin to the late 90s and would have people wondering whether Pierce was just a good player able to pad his stats into greatness. Winning the 2008 Finals MVP has put that all to rest, but don’t forget that Pierce was truly great before the arrival of Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen.