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The 50s saw the end of one great dynasty and the beginning of an even greater one. It saw the fathers of the NBL fade away only to be replaced with some of the NBA’s first true superstars. The decade also saw some hard times, and it also saw some very good times. It was a time of short shorts and no dunking, and great innovations into the game.
When the 49-50 season ended everyone had high hopes, those hopes were soon dashed when the Chicago Stags, the St Louis Bombers, the Anderson Packers, the Sheboygan Redskins, the Waterloo Hawks, and the Denver Nuggets all either disbanded or left the league. Despite the losses the league continued on with it’s remaining eleven teams, but it suffered another setback when at mid-season the Washington Capitols closed their doors leaving the league with just ten teams. On November 22, 1950 in a game between Minneapolis and Fort Wayne, with the Lakers leading 18-17 at the half, the Pistons held the ball the entire second half, until Larry Foust scored a lay-up with six seconds left to give the Pistons the 19-18 win; The Game still remains the lowest scoring game in NBA History. The NBA also added a new innovation; the annual All-star game was first played in Boston on March 2 of 1951.
In the East Semi finals the Knickerbockers surprised everyone and made easy work of the Celtics. The Knickerbockers beat the Celtics 83 to 69 in game one, and 92 to 78 in game two. Harry Gallatin’s defense cause Bostons Ed Macauley to shoot in the high 30s down from his 46% in the regular season.
In the other Eastern Semi, the Nationals provided another upset when they stunned the Warriors 91-89 in overtime of game one in Philadelphia. In game two the Nationals took charge early and won the game by 12, 90 to 78.
In the West the old rivals’ Rochester and Fort Wayne would once again play. The Royals would trash the Pistons in a 110 to 81 game one beating. The Pistons would take game two 83 to 78, but would lose in game three 97 to 78.
The Lakers took care of the Olympians 95 to 81 in the first game of their series, but in game two in Indianapolis George Mikan would get injured and the Olympians hammered the Lakers 108 to 88. When the series returned to Minneapolis, George Mikan would still play and lead the lakers to the 85-80 victory.
The conference finals were best of five, and the Knickerbockers beat the cross-state rival Nationals 103-92 in game one. The Nationals would trash the Knickerbockers 102 to 80 in game two. The Knicks would squeak out a 2 point win back in Madison Square Garden. The Nationals would take game four in Syracuse before the series returned to New York were the Knickerbockers won 83 to 81.
With Mikan injured the lakers struggled, they won game one by three 76 to 73, but couldn’t do anything to stop Risen who lit the Lakers up in every game. The Royals took game two 70-66, and game three 83-70. Mikan would give it all he had in game four, but the Royals were to much and dethroned the champions 80 to 75.
With the all New York state finals in the NBA finals, not many people thought the Knickerbockers stood a chance. After the first three games it looked like the critics were right, the Knickerbockers got beat handily 92 to 65 in game one, 99 to 84 in game two, and 78 to 71 in game three. The Knickerbockers however would take games four, five, and six by 6 points, 3 points, and 7 points. Late in game seven it looked as if the Royals were to much for the Knickerbockers, but the Knickerbockers went on a 20 to 2 run to take a 74 to 72 lead. The Royals defense would collapse on the Knicks for the final 40 seconds and win the game and the title 79 to 75.
In the off-season the NBA adopted some new rules; they widened the free throw lane. By opening up the lane the NBA experienced a sky rocketing in scoring from the guards, with six guards ranking in the top 20 in scoring. The league also saw a greater influx in talent as more and more college stars joined the NBA ranks, this also meant better competition.
The Nationals and Warriors would play again in the first round. The Nationals beat the Warriors 102 to 83 in game one in Syracuse, but the Warriors would get the game back when the series returned to Philadelphia and they beat the Nationals 100 to 95. Schayes, Cervi and the Nationals would be too much for the Warriors in game three winning the game and the series 84 to 73.
The Knickerbockers and the Celtics once again met in the playoffs, this time the Celtics took game one 105 to 94. When the Series went back to New York City the Knickerbockers got a 4 point game two win. In an epic game three showdown the teams remained tied after regulation, and tied again after the first overtime, it wasn’t until a missed Boston free throw that the Knickerbockers escaped with a one point win.
In the West the Lakers made short work of the Olympians beating them 78 to 70 in game one, and 94 to 87 in game too. Mikan once again returned to form in this series, while Barnhorst struggled immensely.
The old Rivals of the NBL, the Pistons and the Royals once again met, and once again the Royals took it to the Pistons. The Royals blew out the Pistons in game one, and then got a 6 point game two victory to advance and face the lakers.
The Knickerbockers stole game one in Syracuse 87 to 85, but Schayes would lead the Nationals to a 10 point win in game two. But just like the season before Harry Gallatin and the Knicks just couldn’t be stopped as they won game three 99 to 92, and game four 100 to 93.
The Royals took a 10 point game one decision, but Mikan and Mikkelsen took games two, three and four to take down the defending champs and once again put the Lakers back into the Finals.
The first two games of the 52 two finals where played in St Paul with the Lakers taking a 4 point game one victory, but the Knickerbockers counted and surprised the Lakers with an 8 point game two win. When the Series shifted to New York, the Lakers regained the upper hand in game three with a 5 point victory, only to lose the upper-hand in game four when the Knickerbockers tied the series with a one point win. With game five being played in St Paul the lakers moved one game closer to the championship with a 102 to 89 victory, but the Knickerbockers just wouldn’t go away, Gallatin rallied a Knickerbockers game six victory to send the series back to Minneapolis for a game seven. In game seven it was all the Lakers, as they won easily over the Knickerbockers who had started to be called by their nickname; the Knicks.
The 52-53 season mimicked the previous season in both game play and attendance. Scoring did drop in the season as did overall shooting percentages. The total number of games this season did increase with teams playing between 69 and 71 games
For the first time the Knicks would have home court advantage in a playoff series but they would not need it as they routed Baltimore 80 to 62 in game one, and 90 to 81 in game two to win the series in a two game sweep.
The Celtics would face the Nationals in the playoffs, the Nationals had the advantage but the Celtics squeezed out a 6 point win in game one. Game two of the series became known as the greatest game ever played before 1976. The Celtics would rely heavily on guard Bob Cousy who ignited the Nationals for a then NBA record of 50 points, including 30 free throws which today still stands as the NBA record. The game would go into quadruple overtime before the Celtics got the 111 to 105 victory.
The Pistons and Royals would once again meet, but the mediocre Pistons took game one 84 to 77. The Nationals would exact revenge on the Pistons in Fort Wayne taking game two 83 to 71. But the rivalry would get interesting again as the Pistons took a game three victory by 2 points.
The Lakers cruised by the Olympians in game one 85 to 69, but the Olympians would put up a fight in what turned out to be their last game losing 81 to 79.
The Knicks would take game one from the Celtics 95 to 91, but Boston would answer with a 86 to 70 blowout in game two to tie the series at one game a piece. The Knicks took game three 101 to 82 and followed that up by winning the series in four games with an 82-75 victory.
The Lakers won the first two games of their series with nearly identical scores, winning game one 83-73, and game two 82-75. The Pistons took game three in Fort Wayne by the score of 98 to 95, and then won game four 85 to 82. With the Series now tied going into the elimination game the lakers looked to Mikan to lead them, and lead them he did in a 74 to 58 thrashing.
The Knicks took game one of the NBA finals 96 to 88, but the lakers followed their game one loss by beating the Knicks by two points in game two, and by 15 in game three. Games three, four and five were all played in New York City as the NBA looked to adopt a new finals schedule, this scheduling would only last for one year but would be brought back in later decades. The lakers took game four in a tight one 71-69, and then won the title 91-84. The Knicks became the first team to lose three consecutive NBA finals, but the Lakers would also accomplish this feat in the 1960s.
The downsizing of the NBA continued early in the 53-54 season as the Indianapolis Olympians disbanded after five seasons in the NBA. The NBA also took a lot of criticism for having too slow a pace in the game, teams like the Lakers and Nationals use to walk the ball up the court so their big men could set up. Other teams with good guards would dribble out the clock, so the NBA came up with a device to counter this; the 24-second Shot clock, though it was not fully used in every game it increased the pace and speed of the game, as well as the scoring. The NBA also adopted new foul rules which put a team in the penalty after its fifth foul of a quarter.
The Hawks downward spiral continued, as they went 26 and 46. The team had become so bad that fans would actually boo them during home games.
The Playoff seating was set up differently in 53-54, instead of organized series the top three teams from each division would play a round robin tournament to advance to the conference finals. In the East the first match up would be between the Celtics and the Knicks. The Celtics beat the Knicks 93 to 71, then Boston would face Syracuse in the next game. Syracuse would beat the Celtics by one in overtime. Syracuse than would play New York and beat the Knicks 75 to 68. The Knicks would then play the Celtics and lose 79 to 78. The Knicks would again play Syracuse and lose once more eliminating them from the playoffs. The Nationals and Celtics would play one more meaningless game before they would meet again in the conference finals, the Nations won the lost game by a score of 98 to 85.
In the West the first game was between Rochester and their old rival Fort Wayne. The Royals beat the Pistons by seven; 82 to 75. The Royals would than face the Lakers only to lose by 21. The lakers would next play the Pistons and beat them 90 to 85. Due to traveling concerns the Lakers had to once again play Fort Wayne, the lakers beat the Pistons again with a score of 78 to 73. The Royals would play the Pistons again to see who would go on to the second round with the Lakers, the Royals won 89 to 71. The last game was merely a formality since the Royals won, and due to more traveling concerns the game was cancelled and the Lakers and Royals would wait to play each other in the conference finals.
In the Eastern Finals the Nationals continued their dominance of the Celtics, winning game one 109 to 94, and winning game 83 to 76 for the two game sweep. In the West the Lakers did much of the same to the Royals, but the Royals would take game two to force a decisive game three which the Lakers won.
In the Finals the Lakers took game one easily 79 to 68, but the Nationals answered back taking game two 62 to 60. The Lakers handily won game three in Syracuse by the score of 81 to 67, but Schayes and the Nationals just wouldn’t go away and took game four 80 to 69. The Lakers won game five 84 to 73, but Schayes lead another Nationals comeback in game six to tie the series at three games each. In game seven Mikan proved to be to much and the Lakers because the first team in the NBA or the NBL or BAA to win three consecutive championships. This marked the Lakers fourth NBA championship that with their lone titles from the BAA and NBL made it six championships all together. For George Mikan it was his seventh, the six with the Lakers and one his rookie season with the American Gears of the NBL.
The 54-55 seasons saw a change in the NBA, dominate big man George Mikan retired, the NBA fully adopted the shot clock as part of the game. The league saw an ever more up tempo game then it had ever seen, the Celtics became the first team to average triple digit scoring for an entire season with 101 points a game. The league also saw a lot of internal changes as new coaches replaced old ones in places like Syracuse, and Fort Wayne. And the league would also see its last down grading when the Bullets disbanded.
Despite leading the league in points per game the Celtics only finished at 500 going 36 and 36. Cousy was third in the NBA in scoring, Sharman was ninth, and Macauley had fallen to tenth. Cousy would once again lead the NBA in scoring with 8 a game.
The Knicks would face the Celtics in the first round of the east while the Nationals had a bye. The Celtics took game one 122 to 101 in what at the time was the most points ever in an NBA playoff game. The Knicks would take game two in New York in a 102 to 95 decision. The Celtics would win the series in game three by a score of 116 to 109.
In the West the Pistons had the bye and the Lakers and Royals would play each other. The Lakers won game one in St Paul 82 to 78. The Royals would escape in game two with a 94 to 92 win in Rochester. The lakers would wrap the series up in St Paul winning game three 119 to 110.
In the East semi’s the Nationals took game one 110 to 100, they followed that up by a 116 to 100 game two victory. When the series shifted to Boston, the Celtics took game three 100 to 97 in overtime. But the Nationals would not be stopped in game four winning 100 to 94.
The Pistons would not play a playoff game in Fort Wayne in 1955, instead their first game against the Lakers was in Elkhart, Indiana. The Pistons took game 96 to 79. Game two was played in Indianapolis where the Pistons won a one point overtime decision 98 to 97. The Lakers would take a game three contests in overtime 99 to 91, but the Pistons would end the Lakers streak of title with a 105 to 91 win over the Lakers in Minneapolis.
The Finals was now between two former NBL teams, the Nationals, who had never won a title, and the Pistons who had not won a title since 1945. The Nationals home court helped them in game one as they took it 86 to 82. The home court played a factor for the Nationals again in a tightly contested game two which say the Nationals come away victorious 87 to 84. When the series shifted back to Indianapolis for the next three game home court would once again be important. The Pistons won game three 96 to 89, than they won game four 109 to 102, and took the series lead with a 74 to 72 game five victory. With the Series now going back to Syracuse, the Pistons looked to win their first title in a decade, but the home court once again became a factor and the Nationals took game six 109 to 104 to tie the series. Game seven would go the same way the rest of the series had; a tightly contested game decided by the final few plays. With the game tied at 91 and with 12 seconds left Syracuse guard George King made on of two free throws, then stole the inbound pass to give the Nationals their first NBA Championship.
During the off season the Hawks made a move from Milwaukee to St Louis. This wasn’t the only big news to involve the Hawks and the NBA; prior to the season the NBA announced that a new award would be given to the best overall player. The award was named the Most Valuable Player award or MVP as it’s known by. The first player to win the MVP was St Louis forward Bob Pettit. The Leagues adjustment to the shot clock and the up tempoed pace of games continued, with all teams averaging around 99 points a game. Despite the good times the NBA still did have its problems, the league had gone from 17 teams a few years ago to just 8, and some of them where still have financial troubles.
After the tie breakers the Nationals would face the Celtics. The Celtics took game one 110 to 93, but the Nationals would win the next two. They won game two by a score of 101 to 98, and game three 102 to 97.
The Hawks won their first playoff game since 1950 when they beat the lakers 116 to 115 in Minneapolis. In game two, Clyde Lovellette and the Lakers would embarrass the Hawks with one of the worst beatings in NBA playoff history, 133 to 75. Many thought that the trashing would have changed the momentum of the series, but Bob Pettit rallied the Hawks who beat the lakers by the same 116 to 115 score they had in game one, to advance to the conference finals.
In the East finals the Warriors took game one from the Nationals 109 to 87. But the Nationals got revenge and took game two 122 to 118. Philadelphia won game three easily 119 to 96, but the Nationals would battle back in game four to tie the series with a 108-104 victory. The warriors would get their first trip to the NBA finals with a 109 to 104 game five victory.
The Hawks continued winning class playoff games as they took game one from the Pistons 86 to 85, in game two the Hawks finally got a somewhat easy win, winning by 10 points 84 to 74. The Nationals would respond to the elimination game by wailing on the Hawks 107 to 84 in game three. The Pistons tied the series in game four by beating the Hawks 93 to 84. The pivotal game five was all Pistons as they built an early lead and survived a late run by the Hawks to win the series 102 to 97.
In the Finals the Warriors won a close game one by the score of 98 to 94, Fort Wayne took game two by one;84 to 83. The Nationals would win the next three games by scores of 100 to 96, 107 to 105, and 99 to 88 to claim their first NBA championship. Owner Eddie Gottlieb had now won a title in the ABL, BAA and NBA.
For the Boston Celtics this is the season that their fortunes changed. In the off-season the St Louis Hawks wanted to add local players to their team, most notably Cliff Hagan and Ed Macauley, both of which belonged to the Boston Celtics. The Hawks didn’t want to trade star and fan favorite Bob Pettit for either of them, but the Hawks did have one other thing to offer, their first round pick; a lanky 6'9" forward from the University of San Francisco named Bill Russell. The Celtics took the deal.
In the Eastern first round the Nationals had little trouble with the defending champion Warriors, beat Philadelphia 103 to 96 in game one, and 91 to 80 in game two.
In the Western First round the Lakers followed the Nationals example and took care of the Pistons in a high scoring game one 131 to 127, and then finished off Fort Wayne 110 to 108 to advance.
The Nationals were no match for the Celtics in the Eastern Semi’s. Bill Russell completely shut Dolph Shayes down, while Cousy and Sharman scored at will. The Celtics won game one 108 to 90, then they took game two 120 to 105, and ended the series in a three game sweep 83 to 80.
The Hawks got an easy game one win behind Petit 118 to 109. In games two and three the Lakers put up a better fight, the Hawks got a hard-fought 106 to 104 win in game two, and the two teams had a grueling double overtime thriller in which the Hawks won 143 to 135 to decide the Western Champion. This game would take the places as the highest scoring game in NBA history.
In what promised to be a fantastic and legendary NBA finals the Hawks and the Celtics would need seven games to decide a winner. In the mouths before the season the two teams had made a huge trade; sending Macauley and Hagen from Boston to St Louis for Russell. Now the two teams faced each other for the NBA crown. The Hawks took game one in double overtime 125 to 123. The Celtics would get an easy game two 119 to 99 win to tie the series at 1 game. The Hawks would get a another two point win in game three beating the Celtics 100 to 98. Boston would take game four 123 to 118 to once again knotted the series up. Boston took game five by the score of 124 to 109, before the Hawks returned the favor and tied the series with a 96 to 94 game six win. Red Auerbach’s Celtics would need double overtime, but behind 19 points and 32 rebounds from Russell, and 37 points and 23 Rebounds from Heinsohn the Celtics would capture their first NBA title with a 125 to 123 win over the Hawks.
The once seemingly anchored Fort Wayne Pistons moved from Fort Wayne to Detroit during the off-season and then acquired Dick McGuire and Harry Gallatin from the Knicks the Pistons were not the only NBA team to move, the Royals left upstate New York and moved to Cincinnati, Ohio. This move meant that only the Syracuse Nationals were based in a city with less than a million people.
The Loss of both McGuire and Gallatin did little to change the Knicks situation. They lost one more game then a year previous going 35 and 37. Ken Sears would lead the team in scoring with 19 a game.
In the Playoffs the Warriors and Nationals began to have a rivalry as the teams met for the third consecutive year. The Warriors would win the series two games to won, in a tightly contested series.
Even though both teams had moved, it didn’t change their long-standing rivalry. The Pistons easily swept their old rivals winning game one by 7 points and game two by 20 points.
In the Eastern finals the Celtics won the first three games against the Warriors easily, but the Warriors prevented being swept with a 14 point win in game four, only to lose by 5 in game five.
The Hawks won two close ones against the Pistons to take a two nothing games lead over the Pistons. The Pistons would win three by 20 before the Hawks manhandled the Pistons 145 to 101 in game four, then 120 to 96 in game five.
The Hawks took game one in Boston 104 to 102, but the Celtics would need 136 points the next night to beat the Hawks. St Louis would return home and win game three 111-108, this was much worse then just losing a game because Bill Russell would injure his ankle and be out for a few games. The Celtics minus Russell tied the series with a 109 to 98 win in game four. But with Russell injured the Hawks took advantage and won game five by 2, and then in game six Bob Pettit tied Bob Cousy’s playoff record of 50 points to lead the Hawks to the 110-109 victory over the Celtics to capture the franchises only NBA title.
Having the worst record in the NBA does come with some perks, as the lakers would find out in 1958 when the used the #1 pick in the 1958 draft to selected University of Seattle Star Elgin Baylor. Baylor would revolutionize the game like very few before him had done.
The Nationals acquired Larry Costello from the Warriors the year prior, but Costello had a break out year leading the Nationals in assist at 5 a game. The Nationals also added George Yardley who scoring average fell 10 points from 28 to 18 after the move. Despite the influx of talent the Nationals only managed to go 35 and 37 for third in the East.
In the East the Nationals handily beat the Knicks 129 to 123 in game one, and 131 to 115 in game two to take a two game sweep.
The Lakers returned to the playoffs after a one year absence, and won game one against the Pistons 92 to 89. The Pistons would win game two 117 to 103, but Baylor was on his way to be the Lakers next superstar and single handedly beat the Pistons in game three 129 to 102.
The power loaded eastern teams of Boston and Syracuse would be at each other all series long. The first game belonged to Boston who beat the Nationals 131 to 109. Schayes and the Nationals stole game two away winning 120 to 118. Boston regained the upper hand in a 22 point win. The Nationals would once again tie things up winning game four 119 to 107. Boston would take game five 129 to 108, but the Nationals would force a seventh game with a 133 to 121 win in game six. In the seventh game Russell finally shut down Schayes and the Celtics prevailed 130 to 125.
The Defending champion Hawks would face the new look Lakers, and in the first game the Hawks looked like champions as they crushed the lakers 124 to 90. But game two saw a shift in the series momentum as Baylor lead the lakers to the 106-98 win. The hawks would win game three big by the score of 127 to 97, but the Lakers would win game four 98 to 97 in overtime, and game five 108 to 98. In the sixth game the Lakers won 106 to 104 to advance to the finals for the first time in 5 years.
In what would be the only asterix in Elgin Baylor’s career, the fact that he couldn’t win a title. The Celtics beat the Lakers in four straight games for the first ever sweep in NBA finals history. This would also mark the first time the Lakers and Celtics would meet in the NBA finals.
For the past few seasons a rookie would come in a change the way the game was played, and none would do it in as big of way as Wilt Chamberlain. The 7'-1" center from Kansas would make an immediate impact on the NBA, becoming the first rookie to lead the NBA in scoring. The NBA increased the number of games each team would play to 75.
The Warriors and Nationals would once again face each other. In game one Chamberlain and the Warriors proved to be to much for the Nationals as they won easily 115 to 92. Dolph Schayes showed he wasn’t completely washed up in game two as he lead the Nationals to a 125 to 119 win. But Chamberlain and Arizin would combine for nearly 100 points alone to lead the Warriors to the 132 to 112 victory and series win.
In game one between the lakers and Pistons, Baylor hit a jumper with second remaining to give the Lakers the 114 to 113 win in Detroit. But game two in Minneapolis would be all lakers as they won 114 to 99.
The Celtics and Warriors would split the first two games in Boston with the Celtics winning game one by six and the Warriors taking game two by five. The Celtics would win game three by 30, and game four by eight to bring the series near an end. But with their backs against the wall Chamberlain and Arizin fought tooth and nail to get the Warriors back in, as they won game five 128 to 107. But Russell and the Celtics proved to be even to much for the young Chamberlain as they escaped with a 2 point win a game six to advance to the finals for the fourth straight year.
The Hawks would beat the Lakers by 13 in game one, but the lakers would take game two by 7. St Louis would once again go one up as the Hawks won 93 to 89 in game three. The Lakers made a frantic late comeback to win game four by 2 points, then used overtime to beat the Hawks by 7 in game five. The Hawks would win games six and seven by double digits to advance to the finals for the third time to face the Celtics.
The Hawks and the Celtics were facing each other in the finals for the 3rd time in as 4 years, the Celtics and the Hawks and each won one of the series against each other. The Celtics easily took game one 140-122, but the Hawks won game two 113 to 103, Despite Bill Russell setting an NBA finals record of 50 rebounds in the game. The Celtics won game three 102 to 86. The Hawks would take a 10 point game four decision to tie the series at 2 games each. Boston blew out St Louis in game five 127 to 102, and if it wasn’t for two bad played in the final minutes of game six the Celtics could have won the series in six, but the Hawks would take that game 105 to 102. The Celtics would win their second straight title behind Bill Russell’s 22 point, and 35 rebound effort in game 7.
As the decade came to a close the NBA had gone full circle, all the early stars except Dolph Schayes had retired. Nine teams had disbanded during a short 11 year run, but the new guys had helped bring the NBA to the forefront of American sports; the league still trailed Baseball in most its markets; but actually did have better attendance then football in cities such as Boston, Minneapolis, and Detroit. The Forefathers of the NBA had left an exciting new league for guys such as Russell, Chamberlain, Baylor and new comers such as Jerry West to enjoy, not to mention millions of fans world wide. The NBA in the 50s would have one more lasting mark on the world of basketball, following the 59-60 season the Lakers left the cold snowy land of the Lakes for the warm sandy beaches of South California; the Los Angeles Lakers were born.