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THE LAST DROP IN THE BUCKET
Frank Deford
May 12, 1969
John Havlicek and Jerry West were the stars as the Celtics and the Lakers, showing the wear and tear of a long season, took their desperate battle for the world basketball championship to the seventh game
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May 12, 1969

The Last Drop In The Bucket

John Havlicek and Jerry West were the stars as the Celtics and the Lakers, showing the wear and tear of a long season, took their desperate battle for the world basketball championship to the seventh game

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And so, in the end, the Boston Celtics outlasted. De Gaulle. Perennial students of geriatrics, the Bostonians won the last game of their playoff series—it was the 10th time that they have let it go seven and then won—by beating the Los Angeles Lakers 108-106. They never lost the lead in the final game after it was tied with 10:13 left in the third quarter. An indefatigable John Havlicek (see cover) led the Celtics to their 11th world championship in 13 years. He did this despite the greatest playoff performance in history by the Lakers' Jerry West.

It was, in fact, surprising that the series lasted to the seventh game—the 100th of the season for both teams—in the first place. Had either club been just a bit more consistent or lucky, it could have swept the first four close games. Certainly, except for one wondrous shot by Sam Jones, Los Angeles would have won in five.

It went the full route, though, simply because neither team was good enough or deep enough to put the other away. Almost any of the losers in recent championship playoff finals could have won over these contenders, ravaged by time and expansion as they were.

In the beginning of the series, when Havlicek made 37, 43 and 34 points, the special irony of his performances was that they contradicted a Celtic tradition. "We've had to go to John," one of his teammates admitted with chagrin, "because he's the only one doing it. But the funny thing—and the scary thing—is that it's always been the other team with the one-man show and the Celtics with a whole team to go to."

Things did turn more to form later as Larry Siegfried, his legs looking as though lawn mowers had been run through them, and Don Nelson came off the bench to fulfill old Celtic roles. Havlicek suffered a black eye in the third game, a muscle pull (that he repeatedly pooh-poohed) warming up for the fifth, and faced better defense from Keith Erickson and Tom Hawkins after he had driven rookie Bill Hewitt to the bench.

Still, his was a superb one-man show, worthy of the praises that are suddenly coming his way as one of the finest all-round athletes in the country today. It would have been sufficient for early victory had not the show come up against West's own act. In the games before he was hurt, West made 53, 41, 24, 40 and 39 points and gained equivalent high marks in every other phase of play.

As with Havlicek, there was a special irony, too, in West's brilliant performances. For the Lakers this was supposed to be a devastating display by the big triumvirate of West, Elgin Baylor and Wilt Chamberlain that would lay waste to everything in its path. But Baylor, captain of the Lakers, has been chasing the Celtics in these playoffs since 1959, and the wearying pursuit through a decade told at last. "I don't have to take his fakes as I always did before," Bailey Howell said, "and he is not as quick on the drive or following a shot."

There was, though, one thrilling memory, the last three minutes of the second game, when the eagles were perched on Baylor's shoulders again. West gave him the play, and Baylor scored the team's last 12 points to carry them from 106-108 to 118-112 and victory. But there followed nights of 4-for-18, 2-for-14, 4-for-13, and Baylor often was all but forgotten in a corner.

West was never forgotten. In the first game, won by Los Angeles 120-118, Emmette Bryant was on him, and that was sheer disaster as West just shot over him at will. Thereafter, Jones and Siegfried split the assignment, with Havlicek moving into the backcourt for occasional head-to-head duels that West always won. The Celtics have always prided themselves on tight man-to-man defense, but as the series went on the extra guard or a forward would slough off on West more and more. West would then hit the open man, usually Johnny Egan or Erickson, and they, not Baylor, would get the shot.

The third Laker superstar, Chamberlain, was, like his b�te noire, Russell, quite in evidence. But, except in the fifth game, when Chamberlain got 31 rebounds and cleared the offensive boards to eliminate any Boston fast break, the two big men earned their half million dollars in salary by effectively neutralizing one another and letting the other fellows go four-on-four. In one game Russell and Chamberlain scored a total of one point in a half.

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