The Lost Finals MVP: 1953
Our First Controversy!
Welp, we finally got a Lost Finals MVP that I don’t assuredly know what to do with.
George Mikan ran away with it in 1950.
Arnie Risen did the same in 1951.
Mikan did it again in 1952.
Ain’t no runaway winner for the Finals MVP in 1953.
The championship round itself was easily won by the Minneapolis Lakers four-games-to-one over New York. For the poor Knicks, this was their third straight Finals loss. They wouldn’t reach the NBA Finals again until 1970.
With that 4-1 edge, the MVP winner is clearly coming from the Lakers, but which Laker?
George Mikan once again led the team in scoring with 20.8 PPG, but he shot a miserable .309 FG%. That is abjectly terrible even for the era. The Knicks couldn’t win these series, but they could flummox Mikan. Remember that he shot a pedestrian .353 in the 1952 Finals against the Knicks. His normal FG% these two seasons was .392.
(NBA average was .367 in 1952 and .370 in 1953).
Jim Pollard meanwhile averaged 14.4 PPG on .455 FG% in the 1953 Finals. Although clearly not as voluminous as Big George, Mikan’s awful shooting in ‘53 nonetheless opened the door for Pollard to legitimately challenge him for Finals MVP.
The trouble with deciding this matter with relative ease is that nearly all the other stats are missing!
Only points (and the related stats of free throws and field goals) are completely available. There is next to nothing on rebounds, assists, or even minutes played. The only “extra” info we have is that Mikan grabbed 19 rebounds in Game 4 and that Pollard had three assists in Game 5.
So we gotta dig deep in the newspapers, which were not always that helpful.
I read an after action report for Game 1 that did not help settle things in the least.Mikan scored 25 points on 6-22 FGs and 13-15 FTs before fouling out. Pollard had 18 points on 7-19 FGs and 4-7 FTs. I guess Pollard had the better game overall, but not decisively so.
Game 2 provided some better details.Mikan had 18 points on 5-20 FGs and 8-13 FTs. He fouled out again, but with just 37 seconds left in the game. MPLS barely won this one, 73-71, after once again squandering a double-digit lead.
Mikan’s performance clearly wasn’t great, but Pollard was even worse mustering just eight points on 1-10 FGs and 6-8 FTs. I guess we lean to Mikan here.
After winning Game 1 and barely losing Game 2 (which featured an 18-point comeback), the Knicks were feeling themselves with the next three games in the series all scheduled in Manhattan. Look at these quotes!
The Knicks indeed would not be back in Minneapolis until next year cuz the Lakers took all three games in New York to win the series.
HILARIOUS ASIDE OVER
Game 3 finally gave a clear-cut edge to…
He scored 19 points on 7-10 FGs and 5-5 FTs. Mikan meanwhile continued to suck from the field with 20 points on 5-21 FGs. He was money from the line making 10 of his 11 FTs. The Lakers snatched this game 90-75 thanks to a fourth quarter burst. The papers again didn’t help me much aside from reporting that “George Mikan was great and Jim Pollard was sensational.”
Very helpful, fellas.
Game 4 was Mikan’s best of the series: 27 points and 19 rebounds. He even hit over 40% of his FGs (10-23)! He also fouled out for the third time in the series. Pollard had 10 points on 4-9 FGs and 2-2 FTs. A fine game for Pollard, a great one for Mikan. Minneapolis needed both.
Lakers barely won, 71-69.
For Game 5, the Minneapolis Star finally gave some decent details concerning our star players. This section in particular was helpful:
Jim Pollard played that whole series with his left big toe hurt and infected? That’s a big deal for right-handed shooters like Pollard, who lead off their left foot for scoring attacks.
And the Kangaroo Kid still put up 17 points on 6-7 FGs and 5-6 FTs in the closer despite the nasty foot. Meanwhile Mikan only had 14 points on 4-11 FGs. Pollard clearly gets the edge in this game that Minneapolis won 91-84.
Game 1 — Slight edge to Pollard
Game 2 — Slight edge to Mikan
Game 3 — Edge to Pollard
Game 4 — Edge to Mikan
Game 5 — Edge to Pollard
Sorry, George. We gotta give Pollard this Lost Finals MVP by a slim edge.
The man was playing on hurt big toe and still did what he did.
For our contemporary sensibilities, it may seem weird to have a Finals MVP only average 14.4 PPG for the series, but the average scores were 82.6 for MPLS and 79.0 for NYK. And the Knicks’ leading scorer was Carl Braun (14.8 PPG).
Congrats, Jimmy! I got a feeling you ain’t winning this award again, so relish it from beyond the grave.
PS—here’s some video of Game 5. You can see a couple moments where the fleet Pollard flies in for some buckets.
Bill Carlson, “Knicks Surprise Lakers 96-88 in Opener of NBA Title Playoff, Minneapolis Tribune, April 5, 1953
Glen Gaff, “Lakers Nudge Knicks 73-71, Square Playoff,” Minneapolis Tribune, April 6, 1953
“Lakers Stun Knicks 90-75, Take Series Lead,” Minneapolis Tribune, April 8, 1953