When glancing over the history of the NBA, two franchises stand out above the rest. The Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics remain the anchors of success, accounting for 33 of the 71 total championships in league history.
Many battles set the stage for some of the greatest NBA Finals moments, whether recently during the Lakers’ Game 7 victory at Staples Center in 2010, or going back to the days of Jerry West and Elgin Baylor.
On this day in Lakers history, Baylor set an NBA Finals record with 61 points in what was regarded as a crucial swing game. The Lakers found themselves on the road at the Boston Garden for Game 5, with the series tied at two games apiece.
The teams had gone back-and-forth, with the Lakers jumping out to a 2-1 lead before faltering at home in Game 4. However, L.A. had a confident demeanor entering the contest, ready to battle from the get-go.
They held a 31-30 lead after the first quarter, in front of the jam-packed crowd of 13,909 Boston fans. The Celtics bounced back for 38 points in the second quarter, taking a two-point lead into halftime.
Baylor was the gold standard for the Lakers, dominating in all scoring respects. The future Hall-of-Famer was an athlete ahead of his time, using his high-wire act and pure athleticism to maneuver around defenders.
Baylor is one of the first players that incorporated what is now known as the ‘Euro-step’ into his arsenal, with body control that made him highly deceptive. Alongside Baylor was West, as the pair took on the scoring load for Los Angeles.
West finished Game 5 with 24 points, albeit shooting 8-for-24 from the field. Where West and Baylor led, the Celtics responded with an all-around effort. The Celtics had six double-digit scorers, including 30 from Tom Heinsohn and 26 from both Bill Russell and Sam Jones.
The Celtics were able to gain the upper hand on the Lakers in the third quarter as well, taking a six-point lead. With the fans cheering on their beloved team, many would expect them to pull away. However, Baylor and the Lakers would not go down quietly, putting together one of the better postseason comebacks in franchise history.
After allowing an average of 33 points over the first three quarters, the Lakers held the Celtics to just 22 points during the final quarter. Head coach Fred Schaus saw his team’s defensive awareness increase dramatically, while Baylor and West led the offensive charge.
When it was all said-and-done, the Lakers emerged victorious, defeating the Celtics 126-121 for the crucial Game 5 victory. Baylor accumulated his NBA record 61 points on 22-for-46 shooting, including a 17-for-19 mark from the free throw line. He added 22 rebounds for good measure.
Widely regarded as one of the most underrated players in NBA history, the 10-time All-NBA selection was a handful inside in the paint. Although the Lakers would go on to lose the series in seven, the performance Baylor put together is still regarded as one of the greatest NBA Finals performances.