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Bill Russell, ’68 Finals: 3 triple doubles, triple double avg. – the mounting evidence

image credit: NY Daily News - Bill Russell - Red Auerbach - Russell blocked shot statistics - new data

(Bill Russell — his stats “unblocked’ — continues. For previous installments in our series on Russell’s overlooked achievements, see the links below. Part one of the series, here.)

Bill Russell in the 1968 Finals

By teh_noob

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.

Bill  Russell had three triple doubles and averaged a triple double in 1968 NBA finals - the mounting evidence - Bill  Russell blocked shots

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.

Postscript

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.

That’s a rate, though, that Hakeem Olajuwon and Manute Bol exceeded in two playoff series —

and that Serge Ibaka and Hassan Whiteside matched in recent regular season play.

So, not so farfetched for the GOAT defender to accomplish over a six-game sample.

Sources

The Wilt Chamberlain Archive
Basketball-reference.com
Celtics247.com

(Part two of a series. Part three here.)

Join the Wilt-Russell Love Train

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.

You can add to the archives by commenting below; contacting us on Twitter (PM or tweet is fine); on Reddit; or by email (click and scroll down). And we’ll take your phone calls or Skype messages, but please contact us by one of the above first.

Any qualified replies (information we don’t already have) will earn you a choice of Celtics-, Lakers-, 76ers-, or Warriors- related gift, or a $10 gift card.

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teh_noob
u/teh_noob -- https://www.reddit.com/user/teh_noob -- is a regular contributor to r/NBA, r/BostonCeltics, r/sports, and other pages on Reddit. Among his signature pieces are a series on "Mythbusting" Danny Ainge's performance in the NBA draft; research on Bill Russell's place in history and statistical achivements, and the defensive improvement of Kyrie Irving.
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