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While Utah fumbled itself right out of contention, ARIZONA STATE and NEW MEXICO finished in a tie for the Western AC title. The Sun Devils go to the NCAA; New Mexico accepted an invitation to the NIT.
In one season, the hottest NBA rivalry has become Boston vs. Cincinnati. The Royals will finish second to the Celtics in their division but, for the first time, the Celtics were running scared down the stretch.
Cincinnati fumbled early in the season when Jerry Lucas was still finding his pro legs and Jack Twyman, Adrian Smith and Tom Hawkins were out with injuries. But for the last four months the Royals have been the best team in the NBA, and much of the credit must go to Coach Jack McMahon.
The Royals, McMahon reasoned, could not beat Boston as long as Bill Russell clogged the middle all night, blocking shots. Also, Lucas was learning a strange position after a college career as a center. So McMahon devised an offense just for Boston. Wayne Embry, the regular pivot man, took position in the corner, with the specific job of luring Russell from under the basket. Lucas stationed himself on the other side—in the offensive pivot area he knew so well—and the Royals either worked the ball to him or opened the middle for Oscar Robertson's drives. Normally, Russell would accept the challenge of a driving Robertson and pick up the brilliant Cincinnati guard when he got by a Boston defender. But Oscar, with his peripheral vision, has no peer at hitting the open man. And the Royals have the good quick jump shooters—Twyman, Smith, Embry and, in the last month, Lucas himself. Russell found that when he did get to Robertson, Oscar would pass off. When he did not get to him, the Big O went all the way. Immediately, the Royals started beating the Celtics, Robertson's point totals soared and the Royals won six of eight from Boston. Meanwhile, too, Lucas became a scoring threat in addition to rebounding superbly.
Thus the Celtics knew what to expect, and so did the Royals when they met in Boston last week. Through the first 15 minutes, probably the best basketball played in the NBA this season, the game was close. Then Robertson got into foul trouble and had to be benched. The Royals tied the score at 84-84, then went ahead 90-85 in the early moments of the final period. But Oscar picked up a fifth foul, and the tide swung again. Boston went on to win 112-108.
Lucas did not learn of Heinsohn's remarks until the next night in Cincinnati, as the Royals prepared for a final meeting with the Celtics. "Oh, is that what he said?" Lucas noted. Two hours later Lucas had scored 22 points, grabbed 22 rebounds and, on one occasion, had caught one of Heinsohn's shots and jammed it back on him. The Royals beat the Celtics 111-101, and won the season's series, seven games to five.
Meanwhile, in the Western Division, San Francisco and St. Louis were still battling for first place. But neither will find it easy to beat the Los Angeles Lakers, whose Elgin Baylor and Jerry West seem to be healthy again, in the playoffs.