The Bob Cousy Series: Part 4Auerbach was not a lover of razzle-dazzle. He was never one for making the game complicated. Even Cousy, in his book, "The Killer Instinct," said that Auerbach's coaching philosophy was, " Keep it simple and execute properly.' I don't think we used more than six plays in my 13 years as a Celtic."
So it would be interesting to see if the keep-it-simple coach and the play-it-flashy rookie could work together.
Cousy averaged 15.6 points a game in his first season and finished second in the league in assists behind hat partner Andy Phillips. He was named rookie of the year, and the Celtics jumped from last place to second.
The Ed Leedes and Sonny Hertzbergs of Cousy's first season were gradually phased out, and in their places came the people who would be the foundation for the Celtics' dynasty - Sharman and K.C. Jones, Frank Ramsey, Jim Loscutoff, Heinsohn, Satch Sanders, John Havlicek and William Felton Russell.
Before Russell arrived, the Celtics won admiration and applause and nothing else. However, they were exciting, with a good fast break, and Cousy was the motor that made that break go.
The Celtics were wiped out in two straight in the playoffs in Cousy's rookie season and were shot down by the Knicks in the first round the next year. But the crowds were growing, and the shaky Celtics franchise, while still not exactly a gold mine, struggled along.
Early in his career, Cousy received some front-office backlash. In 1952, driving into a game from Worcester, he was late because of a flat tire. The Celtics lost the game, and Brown was furious.
"It was the most important game of the season. There is no excuse for being late. Cousy is getting paid a fortune ($14,000) to play for us. The next year Cousy will live in Boston."
The next year, and for all the remaining years, Cousy continued to live in Worcester, but Brown and Auerbach still had moments of doubt.
"Cousy can make the club or he can kill it," said Auerbach. "Lately he's been trying too much of that behind-the-back stuff. The other clubs are wise to us and are jamming the middle. I've got to temper Cousy. He's back where he was three years ago. He makes a spectacular play, but we lose the ball."
In 1953, Brown criticized Cousy for not shooting enough. At a weekly luncheon, Auerbach rapped him for not passing enough. Cousy was caught in the middle. He was confused and felt unappreciated and thought about asking to be traded.
A few days later, Brown admitted he'd made a mistake in knocking his star.
"We're definitely not going to trade him," Brown told newsmen, "and I am through popping off."
A decade later, at Cousy's emotional Garden retirement party, Brown said: "The Celtics wouldn't be here without him. He made basketball in this town . . . If he had played in New York, he would have been as big as Babe Ruth. I think he is anyway."
There would be many big moments and exciting games before that final tribute. One of the biggest was on March 21, 1953. The Celtics had never advanced beyond the first round of the playoffs, but this night they had a chance.
They'd beaten Syracuse in the first of a best-of-three series and were taking on Dolph Schayes and Paul Seymour and the rest of the Nationals in the Garden.
Cousy, playing on a bad leg, scored only seven points in the first half, and it wasn't because he was passing well, since he had just one assist. He added 18 points in the second half, but when he missed a teammate who was open under the basket with less than a minute left, it appeared the Nats would win by a point and square the series, with the deciding game back in Syracuse's snakepit.
However, Cousy tied the score at 77 with a free throw in the last seconds, setting the stage for the most incredible game and performance - along with Wilt Chamberlain's 100 points in Hershey, Pa. - in the history of the NBA.
The game went four overtimes before the Celtics pulled it out, 111-105. In the first overtime, Cousy scored six of Boston's nine points, including another game-tying foul shot in the dying seconds.
He scored all four points in overtime No. 2 and made eight more in the third, including a 25-footer with three seconds left to tie the game once again, 99-99.
By this time, five Syracuse players had fouled out. So had four Celtics. In addition, Schayes and the Celtics' Bob Brannum had been ejected for fighting in the second period.
Then Syracuse's Seymour sprained an ankle. If he left the game, the Nats would be down to four men and would be forced to use a player who had already fouled out, thus creating a technical foul every time a personal was called. So Seymour stayed in the game, planted under the basket and all but useless on defense.
But Syracuse surged ahead, and when player-coach Al Cervi made two free throws, the Nats led, 104-99.
However, Cousy made five straight points to tie the game and scored nine of the 12 the Celtics would make in those last five minutes. He finished with 50 points, including 30 of 32 from the free-throw line.
The game lasted 3 hours and 11 minutes and was the final straw that led to the adoption of the 24-second clock. In close games, Cousy could control the ball for minutes at a time with his keep-away dribbling tactics. The maneuver could be interrupted only by fouling him, so the final moments of Celtics games often turned into a foul-shooting contest.
From 1950-56, Cousy was always first or second in assists and in the top five in scoring, but a team other than the Celts - Syracuse, Philadelphia, Minneapolis - was always the champion.
Then along came Russell and Heinsohn. Cousy had somebody to get him the ball so he could work the fast break. The dynasty was born.
Cousy played on his first NBA championship team in 1956-57, seven seasons out of Holy Cross. The Celtics won the Eastern Division with a 44-28 record and knocked off Syracuse to reach the finals. The finals, against Bob Pettit and the St. Louis Hawks, were among the most memorable in NBA history.
It went the full seven games and got off to a bad start for the Celtics when the Hawks beat them in an overtime opener in Boston, 125-123. The Celtics retrieved that one by beating the Hawks in Game 4 at St. Louis.
Six days later, in the showdown at the Garden, the Celtics became NBA champions for the first time, beating the Hawks, 125-123, in double overtime. Cousy was not the star of the game. In fact, he scored only six points. Heinsohn made 17 baskets in 33 attempts, and Russell swatted away some shots that would have won the game for the Hawks.
Still, after seven years as an also-ran, nobody felt better about sipping the victory champagne, and nobody deserved it more, than Cousy.
Titles came almost as regularly as sunrises after that. Of his last six seasons, it was only in 1957-58, when Russell was sidelined with a bad ankle in the finals, that the Celtics were denied the NBA championship.
In 1959, Cousy signed the biggest contract in the NBA, more even than the giant Chamberlain, whom he once characterized as "the biggest complainer to hit the NBA. I'm 6 feet 1, and it's difficult to feel sorry for a man 7 feet tall."
In 1960, Lapchick, then head coach of the Knicks, called Cousy the best player in the history of basketball.
Cousy always disagreed with those who felt that sometimes his passes were too sudden and too tricky for his teammates.
"It seems to me," he told writer Ed Linn, "that other players have the responsibility of being ready to receive a pass any time they break into the open. After a man has played with me for a few weeks, there is no excuse for his being fooled."