By Lorenzo Tanos
After a quick rebuilding process and transition from the Bill Russell era to that of John Havlicek, the Boston Celtics were championship material again in 1972-73, and the season thereafter, they would actually win a title, their first in five years.
The Celtics had some tough nuts to crack in the form of the almost-intact (yet now center-poor with Willis Reed and Jerry Lucas close to retirement) "New York Knicks", and the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson-led Milwaukee Bucks.
The Los Angeles Lakers were also looking quite strong despite Wilt Chamberlain's retirement and Jerry West's slowdown – they had Gail Goodrich (25.3 ppg) taking charge, while the Chicago Bulls (Bob Love, et al.) and the Capital (formerly Baltimore) Bullets also had the looks of potential champions in what was quite a tightly-contested season.
NBA Champions – Boston Celtics (d. Milwaukee Bucks, 4-3)
MVP – Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Milwaukee Bucks, 27.0 ppg, 14.5 rpg, 4.8 apg)
Rookie of the Year – Ernie DiGregorio (Buffalo Braves, 15.2 ppg, 8.2 apg)
LEAGUE LEADERS – Bob McAdoo (Buffalo Braves, 30.6 ppg), Elvin Hayes (Capital Bullets, 18.1 rpg), Ernie DiGregorio (Buffalo Braves, 8.2 apg), Larry Steele (Portland Trail Blazers, 2.7 spg), Elmore Smith (Los Angeles Lakers, 4.9 bpg), McAdoo (Buffalo Braves, 54.7% FG), DiGregorio (Buffalo Braves, 90.2% FT), Kevin Porter (Capital Bullets, 319 fouls)
DEFENSIVE STATISTICS MAKE THEIR DEBUT – Granted, there's more to defense than how good of a ball-hawk or shot blocker you are. Still, defensive stats made their first appearance in the NBA in 1973-74, ironically the first season following Wilt Chamberlain's retirement – many believe he and Bill Russell would have set all sorts of shot-blocking records had the stat been in place before 1973.
Leading those categories in their first year of official usage were Blazers guard Larry Steele and Lakers center Elmore Smith respectively. Unfortunately, John Block (then with the Kings) was not much of a shot-stuffer, so that basically put the scotch on the chances of the new categories being led by players whose names suited the stats.
OLD GUARDS SING THEIR SWAN SONG – The NBA's predominant guards of the '60s – Oscar Robertson (12.7 ppg, 6.4 apg) and Jerry West (20.3 ppg, 6.6 apg, 2.6 spg) – sang their swan songs in the 1973-74 season, posting some of their lowest numbers ever, yet contributing to their respective teams' success. The Milwaukee Bucks finished with a league-best 59-23 record, while the Los Angeles Lakers kicked off the post-Wilt Chamberlain era with a 47-35 record to finish second to the Bucks in the Western Conference.
BUFFALO SOLDIERS – The Buffalo Braves, later to be known for their futility as the Los Angeles Clippers, actually had so much upside in 1973-74 it was ridiculous. Bob McAdoo (30.6 ppg, 15.1 rpg, 3.3 bpg) emerged as one of the NBA's finest centers in his second year in the league, while Rookie of the Year Ernie DiGregorio led the league in assists. The Braves also had ex-Laker Jim McMillian (18.6 ppg, 7.4 rpg) at small forward and future NBA iron man Randy Smith (15.5 ppg) as one of the NBA's unlikely stars – a jumping jack out of Buffalo State drafted late as a hometown pick. All told, the high-scoring Braves made their first Playoffs in 1973-74.
A LOOK AT THE TITLE WINNERS – The "Boston Celtics" backslid a bit in 1973-74, winning 12 less games despite still getting big contributions from John Havlicek (22.6 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 5.9 apg), Dave Cowens (19.0 ppg, 15.7 rpg, 4.4 apg) and Jo Jo White (18.1 ppg, 5.5 apg). The Dons (Nelson and Chaney) and the Pauls (Silas and Westphal) were key role players for the Celtics, and journeyman Steve Kuberski rounded out the eight-man rotation.
All in all, Tommy Heinsohn's charges were pretty much the same team they were in 1972-73, and despite finishing 56-26 as to the previous season's 68-14, what mattered most was how they played in the postseason – good enough to finish the Buffalo Braves in six, the New York Knicks in five and the Milwaukee Bucks (see below) in seven.
A LOOK AT THE LEAGUE LEADERS – The Milwaukee Bucks were still searching for another title, and while they wouldn't win it in 1974 like they did in 1971, the team still had Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (27.0 ppg, 14.5 rpg, 4.8 apg, 3.5 bpg) as the NBA's best center, Bob Dandridge (18.9 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 1.6 spg) still a viable two-way threat and Lucius Allen (17.6 ppg, 5.2 apg, 1.9 spg) now the top guard due to Oscar Robertson's slowdown.
Jon McGlocklin (9.2 ppg) and Curtis Perry (9.0 ppg, 8.7 rpg) were both strong role players. Still, the Bucks didn't have much bench power outside of McGlocklin, and that's arguably what did them in as Milwaukee fell to the Boston Celtics in a seven-game Finals series.
A LOOK AT THE CELLAR DWELLERS – TheSixers were still bad at 25-57, but at least they weren't horrible. Carryovers from the 9-73 Philadelphia 76ers team of 1972-73 included Fred Carter (21.4 ppg, 5.7 apg), Tom Van Arsdale (19.6 ppg) and Freddie Boyd (9.5 ppg), while Steve Mix (14.9 ppg, 10.5 rpg, 2.6 spg) emerged from obscurity and the minor leagues to become a star at power forward. Larry Jones (10.0 ppg) was also brought in from the ABA to close out his career. Interestingly, first-overall pick and former U.S. Olympian Doug Collins (8.0 ppg) missed most of his rookie season due to injury and was hardly a factor.