On This Date in Sports May 2, 1968: Celtics Back On Top

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The Boston Celtics reign again in the NBA, beating the Los Angeles Lakers in six games with a 124-109 win in the finale at The Forum. In the clincher, the Celtics are led by John Havlick, who scored 40 points, with ten rebounds and seven assists as Bill Russell, becomes the first African American Coach to win an NBA Championship. For the Celtics, it is the tenth championship in a dozen years.

The Celtics dynasty began with the arrival of Bill Russell in 1956 as they beat the St. Louis Hawks in the 1957 NBA Finals to win their first NBA Championship. After they were beaten by the Hawks the following season, the Celtics began an unprecedented string of success, winning the NBA Championship in eight consecutive seasons. After eight straight titles, coach Red Auerbach stepped down from the bench and became General Manager, giving the coaching reigns to his star center, Bill Russell, making him the first African American coach in the history of the National Basketball Association. Russell had a successful season, but the Celtics' reign ended as they were beaten by the Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Division Finals.

In Russell’s second season, the Celtics again struggled with the 76ers, finishing second with a record of 54-28, eight games back. In the playoffs, the Celtics dispatched the Detroit Pistons in six games before their big showdown with the Philadelphia 76ers. Things looked bleak for Boston in the Eastern Division Finals, as they lost three straight after winning the opener in Philadelphia. However, with a 122-104 win in Game 5, a 114-106 win in Game 6, and a 100-96 win in Game 7, the Celtics, led by the play of Sam Jones, became the first team in NBA history to rally from a 3-1 deficit to win a series, as Russell once again defeated Wilt Chamberlain.

In the Western Division, the Los Angeles Lakers, coached by Butch van Breda Koff, had a special season as they opened a brand new arena in Inglewood named The Forum, which was the envy of the rest of the league. After finishing in second place with a record of 52-30, the Lakers beat the Chicago Bulls in five games before knocking off the San Francisco Warriors in a four-game sweep to reach the NBA Finals for the sixth time in ten years.

In their sixth meeting with the Boston Celtics, the Lakers hoped their new arena could bring a change of luck, as they had lost to their first five meetings in 1959, 1962, 1963, 1965, and 1966. In the opener at the Boston Garden, the Celtics played a perfect team game spreading the ball evenly to win 107-101 as Bailey Howell had a team-high 20 points, with Sam Jones, John Havlicek, and Bill Russell each scoring 19 points, as Russell dominated the glass with 25 rebounds. With Jerry West scoring 35 points, the Lakers bounced back to even the series with a 123-113 win in Game 2. The Celtics spoiled the Lakers' first NBA Finals game at The Forum with a 127-119 win in Game 3, as Havlicek led the way with 27 points, with Russell scoring 26 points and Larry Siegfried scoring 25. 

Game 5 in Boston would be the best game of the series, as the Celtics won a back-and-forth battle in overtime 120-117, John Havlicek’s 31 points spoiling a 34-point effort from Jerry West. The Lakers would again even the series with a 118-105 win as West led the way with 38 points. Back in Los Angeles for Game 6, the first NBA game played in May, the Celtics took control of the game early, scoring 35 points in both the first and second quarters on the way to a 124-109 win. Havlicek was the game’s high scorer with 40 points as Bailey Howell had 30 to lead Boston to victory for the 10th time in 12 seasons.