The Lost Finals MVP: 1956
Paul Arizin's triumph, George Yardley's chagrin
The 1956 NBA Finals between the Philadelphia Warriors and Fort Wayne Pistons was a great showdown between two of the premier scoring forwards of the 1950s: Paul Arizin and George Yardley. Not only were both men super scorers, they were also important instigators of stylistic change for pro basketball since they were both jump shooting fools.
Arizin with the jab-step jumper (aka the Carmelo).
Yardley with the catch-and-shoot jumper.
Despite being forwards, they were also tremendous threats off the dribble.
Here’s Arizin at work throwing his shoulder into the defense and finishing through airborne contact. That explains why the defender above was so shook by the jab step. Arizin could sweep to the basket off that step if you weren’t ready.
Here’s Yardley with a change of direction move in the open court presaging crossovers and Euro-steps.
Neither man disappointed in the 1956 Finals as Arizin’s Warriors squared off with Yardley’s Pistons. On the face of it, the contest between these two for Finals MVP should go in Yardley’s favor.
One small problem for Yardley, though. The Warriors won the series 4-1. It was a dogfight nonetheless.
In Game 1, the Warriors used a 33-15 third quarter outburst to surge ahead of Fort Wayne to ultimately win the game, 98-94. Arizin finished with 28 points and eight rebounds; Yardley with 27 points and 15 rebounds.
Game 2 found Yardley supreme with 30 points and 19 rebounds, while Arizin had 27 points and nine boards. The Pistons won, 84-83, thanks to a steal by rookie Corky Devlin that denied Philadelphia a final shot to potentially go ahead.
Arizin was consistent in scoring once again in Game 3 with 27 points, but had just four rebounds. He also fouled out with five minutes remaining in the contest. Fortunately for him, Yardley had his worst performance of the series going just 4-21 from the field for 16 points. Also, Neil Johnston was tremendous with 20 points and 17 rebounds for Philly as the Warriors used another big third quarter (25-14) to capture a close 100-96 win.
Game 4 was more heartache for Yardley. He was held somewhat in check with 21 points, but shot really well (6-13 FGs and 9-9 FTs). The pain came in the final moments, though, when Joe Graboski of the Warriors snatched the ball away from the Yard Bird under the basket. Yardley had that chance to tie the game, but instead the steal by Graboski sealed Philadelphia’s 107-105 win.
Oh and Arizin had 30 points as the Warriors got their first win in Fort Wayne since February 1952.
Game 5 was the ultimate frustration for Yardley. He had his best game of the series, a monstrous 30 points and 20 rebounds on 11-20 shooting; but his teammates wet the bed offensively combining to shoot 19-72 (.263) from the field.
Meanwhile Arizin had the opposite situation. He had his worst game of the series: 26 points and 13 rebounds but on 10-33 shooting. However, his teammates held their own, especially Graboski (29 points, 16 rebounds, 14-27 FGs) and rookie Ernie Beck (12 points, 6-9 FGs).
The Warriors won, 99-88, to capture the NBA title.
Yardley no doubt carried a bigger load than Arizin, but Arizin still played excellently and his team won the series in five games. Even if the series could have easily gone the other way 4-1 in favor of the Pistons, it didn’t. What actually happened matters more than what could have happened.
I will say that if this situation had played out similarly, but the Pistons lost in seven games, I might have been swayed to go with Yardley.
But as it stands, I think Paul Arizin gets this Lost Finals MVP to go with his Lost regular season MVP from 1952.