When Dave Bing and the Detroit Pistons, could not stop Bill Russell from making history

In tribute: Bill Russell2022 08 01 Bill Russell Obit
In tribute: Bill Russell2022 08 01 Bill Russell Obit /
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Bill Russell
NORTHBROOK, UNITED STATES: Former NBA great Bill Russell (L) hands Michael Jordan (R) of the Chicago Bulls his fifth Maurice Podoloff Most Valuable Player Trophy for the 1997-98 season. (JEFF HAYNES/AFP via Getty Images) /

Detroit Pistons vs. Boston Celtics, 1968 East semifinals

In Game 1 at the Garden, the Celtics tied the record for most points scored in a quarter in a playoff game, with 46 in the second period. However, the fired up Pistons actually held a two-point lead entering the fourth quarter.

But Boston then used its playoff experience to take control, and won 123-116.

In Game 2 at Cobo Arena (the teams would alternate sites for every game, which must have been a bunch of fun for the players constantly being on airplanes back in those days), Detroit tied the series at 1-1. The Pistons had seven players score in double figures, led by Bing with 24 and DeBusschere added 23. Center Joe Strawder had 14 points and 14 rebounds, while holding Russell to just 11 points.

The stunner came in Game 3, back at Boston Garden.

Detroit had a 33-15 run in the third period and pulled out a 109-98 victory. Russell did not have a good shooting game, scoring just six points (although he did have 23 rebounds and seven assists).

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Detroit now held a 2-1 lead in the series, with the next game at Cobo Arena. Ironically, the NBA had just changed that season the format of the division semi’s from best-of-five to best of-seven. If it had stayed the same, the Pistons would have been one game away from eliminating the Celtics.

Russell at this point was 33-years-old and many of his teammates were in their 30s as well. Detroit was young, feisty and hungry. It would have been easy to just call it a day, but that was not the way Russell was programmed and, as the leader on and off the court, he made sure his team was ready.