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The 1965-66 NBA season was special for many reasons for the Boston Celtics. It was the end of an era and the beginning of a new one. Red Auerbach coached his last game on April 28. Bill Russell took over coaching duties, becoming the first Black head coach of an American sports team.

Auerbach went out a winner. Russell was a big reason why. Boston’s legendary center had 25 points and pulled down 32 rebounds in a 95-93 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers in a frantic Game 7 of the 1966 NBA Finals. It was the eighth straight championship for Russell and Auerbach.

In honor of the Boston Celtics’ 17 championships, we’re highlighting 17 signature moments, both good and bad, that took the Celtics from a woeful 22-38 BAA debut in 1946-47 to the current iteration of the longtime powerhouse franchise that’s now coming off an NBA Finals appearance. The 17-part series on the Celtics’ championship history will run through the summer and take us to the beginning of the 2022-23 NBA season, one Boston hopes ends will with Banner No. 18.

Red Auerbach pulled a rabbit out of his hat with a Bill Russell message

Bill Russell played a major role in the Boston Celtics’ eighth straight title in 1966. Russell’s big Game 7 against the rival LA Lakers was also the last game coached by the legendary Red Auerbach. | Getty Images

In 1966, the Celtics and Lakers met in the championship round for the second year in a row and the fourth time in five years. Boston won every year. In fact, the NBA’s only champion since 1959 was the Celtics. They looked to make it eight straight titles, but the Lakers made things tough from the get-go.

LA star Jerry West scored 41 points, while Elgin Baylor had 36 points and 20 rebounds as the Lakers stole home-court advantage in a wild Game 1 shootout. The Lakers outlasted the Celtics 133-129 in overtime.

Before the season began, Auerbach announced this would be his final year of coaching. That seemed to provide a spark for the Celtics throughout the season. Auerbach needed another spark after the Game 1 loss, and he provided one.

The Celtics blew an 18-point lead in Game 1. According to The Boston Globe, Auerbach’s response was announcing to his team that Russell would be taking over as player/coach of the Celtics for the 1966-67 season.

The Celtics responded with three straight wins to take a 3-1 series lead.

Russell made sure the Lakers didn’t come back and steal the series


Bill Russell’s Legacy Was More Than 11 Championships With the Boston Celtics

After the Celtics won Games 3 and 4 in LA, it appeared the series was over as it shifted back to Boston for Game 5. A win at home would give the Celtics their eighth straight title. The Lakers refused to go away.

They raced to a 14-point lead after the first quarter to set an early tone. Baylor finished with 14 points and 16 rebounds, while West added 36 points as LA stunned the Celtics at the Boston Garden, 121-117, to send the series back to the West Coast.

LA then got its most balanced scoring effort of the series in Game 6. Four Lakers finished with 20 or more points in a 123-115 win. West led the way with 32 points, followed by Gail Goodrich’s 28. Baylor added 25, while Rudy LaRusso finished with 20.

In a winner-take-all Game 7 back in Boston, the Celtics took control by jumping out to a 53-38 halftime lead. Led by West, who finished with 36 points, the Lakers stormed back. Russell, however, refused to let them come all the way back.

As was his style, Boston’s big man put on a defensive clinic. He also added a thunderous dunk that gave the Celtics a 95-85 lead with less than a minute to play. That basket was the difference as the Lakers’ late flurry of eight points fell short.