Tomorrow afternoon in the Milwaukee Arena, the Boston Celtics begin battle to capture their 12th National Basketball Association championship. In this quest, one insurmountable object towers in their way: seven-foot three-inch Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Since the departure of ex-Celtic Bill Russell from basketball, no one player has dominated the game as has Jabbar. This past season, he led the league in field goal percentage, earned MVP honors and placed on both All-NBA and All-Defensive-NBA first teams.
After watching Jabbar average better than 36 points per game and leading the Bucks to a four-game devastation of the Chicago Bulls in the finals of the Western Conference playoffs, Bill Russell turned against his former teammates and predicted that the Bucks would win the championship.
"I think Jabbar is the best center that I have ever seen play the game," Russell said, later adding that he had never watched himself play.
After the Celts clinched the Eastern Conference title, defeating the Knicks in five games, coach Tom Heinsohn attributed the victory to their fast-breaking offense.
"We tried to run the Knicks, to push the ball up the court," Heinsohn said. "That was our strategy and it worked."
Undoubtedly, the Celtics would like to run against the Bucks, especially since Bucks's guard Lucius Allen remains sidelined with a broken ankle and Milwaukee has to go with aging Oscar Robertson and Jon McGlocklin in the backcourt. But if Jabbar continues to pour in over 35 points per game and controls the boards at both ends of the court as he did against the Bulls, the Celtics' fast break will crumble.
Against the Knicks, Cowens repeatedly committed fouls while struggling to snag rebounds to ignite the Celtics fast brook. In four out of the five games, Cowens accummulated five fouls and had to sit on the bench for an average of more than ten minutes. Against the Bucks, the Celts can't afford to have Cowens collecting splinters on the sidelines.
Fate blessed Boston against the Knicks as New York failed to capitalize on Cowens's absence because the leading rebounder, Dave DeBusschere, limped around the court with a severe abdominal muscle pull. The Bucks, on the other hand, boast several excellent healthy rebounders in Jabbar, Bobby Dandridge, Cornell Warner and Curtis Perry.
Yet, despite foul trouble, Cowens victimized Knicks's inexperienced center John Gianelli, collecting 11 rebounds and 19 points per game. Jabbar, however, stands four inches taller than Cowens and should eclipse the red-headed Boston center.
Boston fans, though, shouldn't totally write off the Celtics because any team that can boast of John Havlicek may just win it all. Against the Knicks, Havlicek clicked for better than 29 points per game and accounted for 18 rebounds and 29 assists.
The Bucks hope to counter Havlicek's stellar performance with retiring Oscar Robertson who would like to go out of the pros not with a whimper but a bang.
Against the Knicks, the Celts played tenacious defense, shackling their opponents to a mere 95 points per game. But Boston will have its hands full with the Bucks who amassed 110 points per game against the Bulls.
In this year's NBA finals, the home court advantage looms as a tremendous factor since the first two games will be played in Milwaukee. The Bucks are riding a torrid streak, having lost only one playoff game. If Oscar continues to play well and Jabbar chips in bucket after bucket, Milwaukee could easily sweep the first two games, creating an edge that the Celts may not be able to recover from.