It’s 1961 time for this NBA Tuesday miniseries, as we examine the Finals MVP and Defensive Player of the Year awards that didn’t exist at the time. We hope you have fun on this second journey through NBA history as we see it, and remember to check out the first miniseries entry on this year for context, as well.
This decade was all about the Boston Celtics dynasty, so bear with us as this can get somewhat rote …
1961 NBA FINALS MVP: Bob Cousy, PG, Boston Celtics
With a five-game victory over the St. Louis Hawks in the NBA Finals, the Celtics won the championship again (ho hum). Six Boston players averaged double digits in scoring over the series, but only one of those also notched double-digit assists (point guard Bob Cousy). And only one of them managed double digits in rebounding (center Bill Russell). So, which legendary player gets our nod here for Finals MVP?
Here’s the deal: Russell played so many unnecessary minutes in a series where the Celtics won their four games by an average of 16.5 points. Cousy and all the other stars sat plenty in the blowout wins, while Russell stayed on the floor for 46.6 minutes per game! One could argue that Russell was the one irreplaceable player on the roster, and that would be correct. But he didn’t need to play that much.
Consider that power forward Tom Heinsohn led the team in scoring (22.0 ppg) while playing just 26.2 minutes per game, and you see what mean. Cousy also shot 81.4 percent from the line on 43 attempts, while Russell was a major liability (44.9 percent on 49 attempts). We’re going with Cousy this time, since Russell did a lot of stat padding.
1961 NBA DPOY: Bill Russell, C, Boston Celtics
With Russell posting 11.33 defensive Win Shares to lead the league by a country mile—the next guy had 6.48 dWS—it’s an easy award to hand to him. He played 44.3 minutes per night over 78 games, grabbing 23.9 rebounds a game and averaging just 2 fouls per game as well. This was the lowest foul rate of his entire career, by the way. He was at his best this season, really, defensively.
Check in every Tuesday for our NBA awards historical analysis on The Daily McPlay!