• Sal Maiorana

The NBA had never seen a game like Lakers-Celtics in 1959

BOSTON (Feb. 27, 1959) – Several hours before the Boston Celtics were to host the Minneapolis Lakers on this night 61 years ago, Celtics general manager Red Auerbach conducted a basketball clinic for more than 4,000 kids and coaches at Boston Garden, and his main point of emphasis was how to play winning defense.

Based on what happened later in the evening, perhaps Lakes stars Elgin Baylor and Vern Mikkelsen should have been paying closer attention.

Baylor and Mikkelsen joined Celtics stars Frank Ramsey and Sam Jones in helping demonstrate what Auerbach was preaching, but anyone who happened to attend the game later that night must have questioned what in the hell these guys were talking about.

The Celtics eviscerated the Lakers 173-139 in what was the highest-scoring game in the NBA’s 10-year history. Boston set six NBA team records including most points in a game, in a half (90), and in a quarter (52), while the 312 combined points shattered the old record of 282.

And Bob Cousy, Boston’s magician of a point guard, set a new NBA individual record with 28 assists, while also scoring 31 points, meaning he was directly involved in 87 points, as Boston beat Minneapolis for the 17th straight time.

“We stayed with them for a while, but then our defense fell apart and they couldn’t miss,” said Lakers coach Johnny Kundla. “I’ve always said if any club hits a new scoring mark when hot it would be Boston, but I didn’t relish it against us. There was little we could do over the second half. The ball even came bouncing back to them when they missed. I just hope we can shake this out of us.”

The game caught the attention of NBA president Maurice Podoloff who said he would be looking into what took place by questioning officials from both teams to see if they “were goofing” on defense and not playing up to the standards of the NBA. Podoloff called the score, “Unbelievable.”

That investigation went nowhere because the truth was, the Celtics simply had a night like no other team ever had, and what was really amazing is they did it without star center Bill Russell who missed the game with an injury.

Of course, the Celtics had Cousy that night, even though they almost didn’t have him a decade earlier when Auerbach didn’t think he was worth picking in the first round of the 1950 NBA draft despite his superb college career at nearby Holy Cross.

“I don’t give a damn about sentiment or names,” Auerbach said. “That goes for Cousy and everybody else. The only thing that counts with me is ability. And Cousy still hasn’t proven to me he’s got ability. I’m not interested in drafting someone just because he happens to be a local yokel.”

Coming off a last-place finish in 1949-50 the Celtics had the first overall pick and sure enough, Auerbach passed on Cousy to take Bowling Green’s Chuck Share, And after the Baltimore Bullets picked Wisconsin’s Don Rehfeldt, the Tri-Cities Blackhawks grabbed Cousy.

And then things really went haywire, and in the end Auerbach’s mistake was rectified in the most bizarre way.

Tri-Cities sold Cousy to the Chicago Stags, but the Stags folded before he ever played a game. The league had a dispersal draft of the Chicago players and the only three left by the time it came to Boston, New York and Philadelphia were Cousy, Max Zaslofsky and Andy Philip.

The teams couldn’t agree on who would get which player so their names were put into a hat, Boston picked last, and the slip of paper with Cousy’s name was the only one left.

All Cousy did was play 13 years with the Celtics and they never missed the playoffs once, winning six NBA championships. The dazzling 6-foot-1 point guard earned the nickname Houdini of the Hardwood as he made the All-Star team all 13 years and earned induction into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.

“I’ve never seen anyone pass like Cousy,” said forward Tom Heinsohn, who scored 43 points in the victory over the Lakers and went on to his own Hall of Fame career, inducted both as a player and as a coach. “Nobody ran an offense like Cousy. You had half a step on your man, you got the ball. You cut to the basket, you got the ball. He was the guy that put the ‘fast break’ into ‘fast-break basketball.’ Cousy was really the one that made the offense work. We had only six plays - and the fast break.’’