The Los Angeles Lakers illustrious history has been filled with many franchise pillars, from the days of Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, and Wilt Chamberlain to Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal.
These legends had to face many tests along the way to immortality, including constant battles against the hated Boston Celtics. Throughout the origins of the NBA, no storyline stood out more than the longstanding rivalry between the Lakers and Celtics.
With countless head-to-head meetings in the NBA Finals, these two titans set the foundation for one of the greatest rivalries in all of professional sports. The first of these clashes came during the 1959 season, the only that featured the Minneapolis Lakers before their move to Los Angeles.
It was during the 1960s where both teams were highlighted by their stellar guard play, with West facing off against the likes of Bob Cousy and John Havlicek. On this day in Lakers history, West was able to ascend past his limits and lead a record-breaking comeback.
April 17, 1966, set the stage for Game 1 of the NBA Finals, with a crowd of 13,909 at the Boston Garden. After a first-round bye, the Lakers reached the NBA Finals by topping the St. Louis Hawks in Game 7 of the Division Finals.
On the other hand, the Celtics were able to sneak past the Cincinnati Royals, 3-2, while later toppling the Philadelphia 76ers, 4-1. With the emotions high entering Game 1, the Lakers came out flat in front of the hostile crowd.
Boston jumped out to a 34-20 lead after the first quarter, setting quite the deficit for a team on the road. However, that wouldn’t deter the Lakers, as they played with house money towards a historic comeback.
Head coach Fred Schaus was able to regroup his roster, as the Lakers came out the second quarter firing. The Celtics, who limited the Lakers to 20 points in the first quarter, had no answer for West, Baylor, and Gail Goodrich in the second.
Los Angeles outscored the Celtics by 13 points, cutting Boston’s lead to just a single point at halftime. From there, the game turned into a back-and-forth contest. Boston responded in the third quarter, outscoring the Lakers 37-34 to take a four-point lead into the fourth.
Bill Russell anchored the Celtics, as he would go on to play every single minute of the contest. When it was said and done, Russell finished with 28 points on 12-for-18 shooting, 26 rebounds and five assists. Teammates Sam Jones and Havlicek also joined Russell in the 20-point club.
For a game set in the 1960s, there was no shortage of scoring between both teams, as they would each eclipse the 100-point mark early in the fourth quarter. However, it would take more than four quarters to determine the winner, with the momentum swaying between the two coveted organizations.
Tied at 121, the game went into overtime. Although Boston had home court in their favor, the Lakers were determined to emerge victorious. They did just that, putting the stamp on an unprecedented comeback with their 133-129 victory.
West had 41 points, eight rebounds, and two assists, shooting 15-for-27 from the field and 11-for-13 from the free throw line. After falling behind 14 points in the first, West, Baylor, and the Lakers showed tremendous resiliency.
In fact, it remains the largest first-quarter deficit ever erased in NBA Finals history. Although the Lakers would ultimately fall in Game 7 of the Finals, it didn’t take away from all that West was able to accomplish, averaging 33.9 points for the series and achieving a momentous milestone.