Sam Jones’ Last-Second, Off-Balance Shot Swings Momentum in the 1969 NBA Finals: Boston Celtics Championship History Moment No. 17
Only once in Sam Jones’ 12-year professional basketball career did he fail to reach the NBA Finals. The Boston Celtics guard collected 10 championship rings and made five All-Star teams. A member of the NBA’s 75th Anniversary Team, Jones was known as “The Shooter” and “Mr. Clutch.”
On April 29, 1969, he showed why both nicknames were a perfect fit while producing the first of our most significant moments in Celtics history.
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.
Sam Jones saved the Boston Celtics with one shot in his final NBA season
Jones had to be patient during his early years with the Celtics, playing behind veteran guard Bill Sharman. When Sharman retired after the 1960-61 season, it was Jones’ time to shine, and he took full advantage.
In his first year replacing Sharman, Jones averaged 18.4 points in a then-career-high 30.6 minutes. He had his share of highlight moments and big shots. One of his more memorable shots came against the Philadelphia Warriors in 1962 when he drilled a game-winning attempt over the outstretched arms of Wilt Chamberlain in the Eastern Division Finals.
His biggest shot, however, came seven years later in the 1969 NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers. With the Celtics trailing 2-1 in the series, Boston couldn’t afford to lose Game 4 at the Boston Garden. Things seemed bleak for the Celtics, who trailed in the waning seconds.
The Lakers held an 88-87 lead and had the ball with 15 seconds left. Boston’s Em Bryant gave the C’s life by stealing the inbounds pass. Jones took a shot that missed, but the Celtics grabbed the offensive rebound and called a timeout with seven seconds left.
Bill Russell, Boston’s player/coach, replaced himself with Satch Sanders because he wanted solid free-throw shooters on the court. After the timeout, Bryant inbounded the ball to John Havlicek, who threw it to Jones. From 18 feet out, an off-balanced Jones threw up a shot that hit the front of the rim, bounced off the glass, and fell in for the game-winner.
Jones’ shot stunned everyone, including himself, and gave new life to the Celtics
If Jones’ shot doesn’t fall through the net, it’s unlikely the Celtics go on to win the series. They outlasted the Lakers in seven but would’ve needed to win three straight, including two in Los Angeles. After the game, Jones said he put a lot of thought into the shot, although all that thinking didn’t do him much good.
“I thought to shoot it with high arc and plenty of backspin,” Jones said afterward, per Sports Illustrated, “so if it didn’t go in, Russell would have a chance for the rebound.”
Russell was on the bench.
Jones’ teammate, Larry Siegfried, didn’t seem to buy Jones purposely adding extra backspin.
“What the hell. You make a shot like that, you’re entitled to blow some smoke about arc and backspin and things like that.”Larry Siegfried, Sam Jones’ Boston Celtics teammate in 1969
Havlicek thought Jones’ shot was short of the rim. He hoped it would at least make contact to give Boston a chance at a favorable bounce.
“Just make the rim anyway,” Havlicek said he told himself. “Anything can happen if it gets to the rim.”
Jones’ shot sent the Boston Garden into a frenzy and the series into a 2-2 tie. The Lakers blew out the Celtics, 117-104, in Game 5. Boston took Game 6, 99-90, and then went to LA to win the finale 108-106 for the franchise’s 10th title in 11 years.
Jones had 24 points in that Game 7, closing out his stellar career on a high note.