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Monday, January 03, 2022

Sam Jones' Clutch Scoring Provided Crucial Complement to Bill Russell's Defense and Rebounding

Sam Jones, who passed away last Thursday at the age of 88, won 10 NBA titles as a player, second all-time behind his teammate Bill Russell, who has 11 rings. Four Celtics are tied for third with eight championships each (Tommy Heinsohn, K.C. Jones, Satch Sanders, and John Havlicek). Robert Horry is first among non-Celtics with seven championships, tying Celtics Jim Loscutoff and Frank Ramsey. The next non-Celtics are Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Michael Jordan, and Scottie Pippen with six titles each, tied with Celtic Bob Cousy.

Sam Jones was Boston's regular season scoring average leader five times (1963, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1968), and he led Boston in playoff scoring average three times (1964, 1965, 1966). When he retired, he ranked 12th on the NBA's regular season career points list, and he ranked third on the NBA's playoff career points list behind only Jerry West and Elgin Baylor. Jones' numbers are impressive, but they do not tell the whole story of his impact on perhaps the greatest sports dynasty ever. It is a sad reality that as time passes there is a tendency to overlook or even forget players who we did not see in action--and it is a responsibility for each generation of basketball lovers to become educated about the game's history. Jones retired before I was born, but as part of my basketball self-education I read about his career, I watched the available footage, and I was also fortunate to have the opportunity to interview several people who played with and/or against him. Bill Russell was the unquestioned main cog for the Celtics because of his leadership, defense, and rebounding, but Sam Jones played a vital role as a consistent scorer who had an uncanny ability to deliver in crucial moments.

I wrote a profile about Sam Jones for the December 2004 issue of Basketball Digest. In that article, titled Sam Jones: The Smoothest Celtic, I described Jones' exploits in clutch situations:

Jones' Celtics went 9-0 in game sevens, four of them in the NBA Finals. Jones averaged 27.1 ppg in those games, with a high game of 47 (against Robertson's Cincinnati Royals) and a low of 18. He scored many of those points with his trademark bank shot, which has almost become a lost art in today's game (Tim Duncan uses it very effectively and Scottie Pippen employed it frequently during his prime scoring years). He had 37 points against Philadelphia in game seven of the 1965 Eastern Conference Finals--but this was overshadowed by the game’s famous ending: "Havlicek stole the ball!"

Sam Jones won 10 championships in his 12 season Hall of Fame career (1958-69); only Russell, with 11 titles in 13 years, won more NBA championships as a player. The 6-4, 205-pound Jones averaged 17.7 ppg in the regular season and 18.9 ppg in 154 postseason games; take out his first three seasons as Bill Sharman's backup and those numbers increase to 20.2 ppg and 21.8 ppg respectively. When he retired only West and Elgin Baylor had more career playoff points; thirty five years later, Jones' total still ranks in the top 20, despite the fact that recent players can pad their numbers due to the addition of many games to the playoff format.

Jones was selected to the NBA's 25th Anniversary Team, the NBA's 50 Greatest Players List, and the NBA's 75th Anniversary Team in recognition of his high level of play and enduring historical impact.

Several Celtics legends have passed away in recent years, including John Havlicek, Tommy Heinsohn, and K.C. Jones. Shortly after Sam Jones died, Bob Cousy provided these poignant remarks to Dan Shaughnessy of The Boston Globe while noting that he, Bill Russell, and Satch Sanders are the last surviving stalwarts of Boston's early 1960s championship teams:

Every day you are reminded of your mortality. The Big Guy? Is there a Big Guy or not? These are the kinds of thoughts that, when you are in the action, or busy, you very seldom have except when you go to church. Other than that, you don't dwell on it, but at my age, that's all you [expletive] do.

I like to sit and meditate and think. Normally, I blank out all the negative stuff and focus on the positive stuff, but there are times when you get into these kinds of funks, and today will be one. It's the New Year and Sam has passed and now we're down to three.

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posted by David Friedman @ 12:09 PM



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