Bill Russell’s revenge
All the Pistons holding a 2-1 advantage did was get Boston mad and motivated. They ran away from Detroit in Game 4 in the fourth quarter to win, 110-96, to tie the series at 2-2.
In Game 5, Bing went off at the Garden, scoring 44 points, and setting a playoff record with 16 made field goals in a half. However, Boston still found a way to win, 111-103.
Russell had 15 points, 23 rebounds and nine assists in the important victory. And always remember, Russell’s biggest impact was on defense.
The Celtics closed out the series in Detroit, 110-96, with former Piston Bailey Howell scoring 30 points (Russell had 11 points, 21 rebounds, seven assists). Just like in Game 1 and 4, the Celtics dominated the fourth quarter.
Interestingly, considering both franchises would pack their respective arenas during their epic playoff battles of the 80s, this series did not spark crazy interest in either city. The Celtics were a poor third to the Red Sox and Bruins to Boston sports fans. They never drew more than 8,500 to any of its games with Detroit, and the Pistons drew just 9,483 to watch Game 6.
The Celtics won the series, 4-2, and they then upset the 76ers, 4-3, after trailing in that series, 3-1. Boston went on to knock off the Elgin Baylor/Jerry West-led Lakers, 4-2, to regain the NBA title.
It was the first pro championship won by a team with a Black coach.
Russell would lead the Celtics as a coach and player to another NBA championship in 1969 and then retire, having won the title in 11 of the 13 years he played in the league.
The Pistons seemed headed in the right direction. They were young and had two stars in Bing (who averaged 28.2 points against Boston) and DeBusschere. Walker had come up big in the playoffs, he was obviously a player to watch for the future.
But, well, if the Pistons could screw up a good situation back then, they did. After a slow start the next season, Butcher was fired and, later on, DeBusschere was traded to the Knicks for center Walt Bellamy, who quickly had a couple of the worst years in his career.
Detroit went 30-52 in 1968-69 after having given the Celtics such a battle the year before. The Pistons would not return to the playoffs for six years. It would be 17 years before Detroit would face Boston again in the playoffs.
With Russell’s success as a two-time championship coach, it opened opportunities for other Black coaches. Al Attles would win an NBA title with the Warriors in 1975 and then Lenny WIlkens with the SuperSonics in 1979.
Russell passed away at the age of 88 and leaves a large legacy of success on and off the court. While who the greatest player in NBA history is long debated, but there is no question who the greatest winner of all-time is.