Bill Russell in the 1968 Finals
1968 was a changing-of-the-guard year for the Celtics. After Wilt had finally ended their run of 8 straight championships the previous season, Boston got their revenge on Philadelphia and returned to the Finals largely off the back of their captain, John Havlicek (26/9/9 in the EDF), rather than player-coach Bill Russell. Once there, Hondo continued his stellar play, hitting the game-winner in the crucial OT game 5 and following that up with 40/10/7 in the clincher. Had the NBA introduced the Finals MVP award but one year sooner, he very likely would’ve been the inaugural winner.
What you’ve just read is a nice narrative; and certainly, the conventional wisdom. It is, however, by no means the full story.
While Russell did eventually hand the reins to Havlicek, it wouldn’t happen until the following season. 1968 was still very much Bill’s year, and I’ll tell you why. Thanks to the painstaking work of the Wilt Chamberlain Archive and others, and posted on several sites , we have Russell’s full stat-line from that series against Los Angeles, including unofficial block totals.
That’s right: Russell reeled off three consecutive triple-doubles to close out the 1968 Finals.
Indeed, he may have averaged a triple-double in these Finals, an unprecedented feat that wouldn’t happen again until LeBron’s valiant losing effort against the Warriors in 2017.
After Hondo made the go-ahead jumper in the pivotal overtime period, it was Russell who blocked Elgin Baylor’s game-tying attempt, preserving the victory.
Russell’s achievements “un-blocked”
None of this should be particularly surprising to those familiar with Russell’s consistent clutch performances on the game’s greatest stage. Closer inspection of that same source reveals a further four Finals triple-doubles with blocks. (Russell is already credited two involving assists on the official tally.) The correction gives Russell a total of nine –- another record recently matched by LeBron James.
Mentally factoring otherworldly shotblocking into his already eye-popping numbers, it becomes very difficult to argue that Bill would’ve walked away with any fewer than nine FMVPs, pipped only by Bob Pettit and Jerry West, in eerily similar circumstances, to bookend his career.
Sentimental arguments for Sam Jones, Bob Cousy or Tommy Heinsohn just don’t stack up, much though fatigued voters may have been tempted. The NBA sure knew what they were doing when they named the award.
— Celtics 24/7 (@celts247) February 17, 2018
Are the statistics credible?
You have to remember the pace of the period.
The Lakers attempted 595 shots for the series, meaning Bill would’ve had to erase approximately 10% of them.
So, not so farfetched for the GOAT defender to accomplish over a six-game sample.
(Part two of a series. Part three here.)
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Special thanks to those who’ve written in with footage, data points, and reports… like the tweeter who sent the link below from the 1963 Finals Game Six.
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