The Lost Finals MVP: 1961

Russell gets another award plus some Cliff Hagan love


Bill Russell wins the 1961 Lost Finals MVP.

Russell again was the indispensable man for Boston averaging 46.6 minutes a game. Next up was Bob Cousy at 37.2 minutes and then… Frank Ramsey down at 29.6 minutes. Cooz could get a little rest, Russell got none.

Russ’s offensive play was not as dominant as the year before where he shot 47% from the field, but he was still decent on that end. He wound up shooting 42.9% which was exactly in line with the Celtics’ .429 FG% overall for the series.

His PPG of 17.6 was third on the team behind Cousy (19.8) and Tom Heinsohn (22.0), while his APG (4.4) were second behind Cousy (10.6).

And need we mention rebounding?

The man averaged 28.8 rebounds in the series as Boston pummeled St. Louis 4-games-to-1. Finally a Hawks-Celtics Finals that didn’t have a lot drama.

In the deciding Game 5, the halftime score was 62-61 in favor of Boston. Then came a torrential third quarter where the Celtics outscored St. Louis, 37-23, including 17 points in the final four minutes of the quarter.

An absolute bloodbath courtesy of Cousy who provided 13 of those 17 points.

Boston finally broke things loose in that third frame, but it was Russell who kept the team alive in the first half and really all game long. Take the word of the whipped St. Louis frontline of All-Stars Bob Pettit, Cliff Hagan, and Clyde Lovellette.

Of course, we don’t have the blocks to get the full measure of Russell’s domination, but the words of the defeated Hawks tell the story. And we do have some numbers from the game.

Like Russell producing a monstrous 30 points and 38 rebounds to snuff out St. Louis, 121-112.

And if you think he was great in this series, just wait until the 1962 Finals!

Before we close the book on the St. Louis Hawks, who will never again appear in the NBA Finals, I’d like to have a short word on Cliff Hagan, who was traded for Bill Russell back in 1956.

The 6’4” forward never reached the heights of Russell, but let’s not shortchange the heights he did reach.

In the 1961 Finals, he was the Hawks’ best player: 29.4 PPG, 11.8 RPG, 4.4 APG, .509 FG%, .902 FT%.

That’s a god damn sizzle right there.

In the 1960 Finals: 23.6 PPG, 10.1 RPG, 2.7 APG, .425 FG%, .854 FT%
In the 1958 Finals: 25.2 PPG, 9.7 RPG, 3.5 APG, .442 FG%, .868 FT%
In the 1957 Finals: 16.1 PPG, 11.6 RPG, 2.7 APG, .427 FG%, .712 FT%

And if I were doing PLAYOFF MVP awards, not just Finals MVP awards, Hagan would have gotten the nod in 1958 over Bob Pettit. Pettit’s 50-pointer to clinch the series rightly gave him the Finals MVP, but Hagan as you can see above was no slouch in the ‘58 Finals.

Furthermore, Hagan was why they got to the Finals in the first place.

In the Western Division Finals against the Detroit Pistons, Pettit was atrocious: 18 PPG on 34% FG and 67% FT.

Hagan was fricking amazing: 30.8 PPG, 56% FG and 77% FT.

Eventually, I’ll get around to a Playoff MVP look to see who did the most over an entire title run, not just the final series.

Hagan will get more love there.

But this will do for now.