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The last Celtics vs Warriors NBA Finals saw Wilt and Russell face off for the first time

Joshua Rogers May 26, 2022
celtics warriors nba finals 1964

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The Boston Celtics and Golden State Warriors are looking increasingly likely to meet in this year’s NBA Finals. While it may not be everyone’s first choice, these teams haven’t met in the Finals since the days of Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell.

The Conference Finals are almost over with just a few games to play until this year’s NBA Finals are confirmed. Out West, the Golden State Warriors are 3-1 up against the Dallas Mavericks and looking to end the series tonight (26 May).

In the East, the Conference Finals have been a lot closer. Miami and Boston have been going back and forth but on Wednesday (25 May) the Celtics took Game 5 to put them within touching distance of the Finals.

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Warriors vs Celtics NBA Finals matchup is dividing fans

Barring a small miracle and the comeback of all comebacks, the Warriors will be into their sixth NBA Finals since 2015. While the Boston series is more evenly matched, the Celtics are now odds-on favourites to make their first Finals since 2010.

With both teams boasting such an array of talent, from Steph Curry and Klay Thompson to Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, you’d have thought it would be most peoples’ ideal Finals.

While many can’t hide their excitement at the potential matchup, others are a little less enthusiastic, perhaps because they’re fans of rival teams and don’t want to see either team win.

Either way, public opinion is split down the middle:

Have the Warriors and Celtics met in the NBA Finals before?

As the matchup edges closer to happening, many fans have wondered whether the Warriors and Celtics have ever played one another in the NBA Finals.

Indeed they have, but you have to go back a long time to when things, especially for one team, were very different.

That’s because the San Francisco Warriors and Boston Celtics played each other in the 1964 NBA Finals. The Warriors only changed their name to Golden State in 1971, and did so to suggest the team represented the entire state of California.

Nevertheless, the 1964 NBA Finals between the San Francisco Warriors and Boston Celtics saw two of the game’s greats face off. Not only would two future Hall of Fame coaches meet in Red Auerbach and Alex Hannum, it would also be the first time Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain met in the NBA Finals.

How the 1964 Finals between Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell played out

In the Eastern Conference Finals the Celtics beat the Cincinnati Royals 4-1, while in the West the Warriors beat the St Louis Hawks 4-3.

The Celtics would ultimately win the 1964 NBA Finals 4–1 to claim their sixth straight NBA Championship. While Chamberlain had future Hall of Famers Guy Rodgers and Nate Thurmond, the Celtics dynasty made up of Russell, John Havlicek, KC Jones and Sam Jones, among others, proved too much.

Despite losing the series, Wilt Chamberlain averaged 29.2 points (on 51% shooting from the field), 27.6 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game. Across the five games in the series he ranked first for the Warriors in points, rebounds and FG%, and second in assists. He also had 38 rebounds in a Game 4 loss.

For the Celtics, Bill Russell averaged 11.2 points (on 38% shooting from the field), 25.2 rebounds and five assists per game.

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This season’s teams have their own chance at history

The season after, Wilt joined the Philadelphia 76ers and the two wouldn’t meet again until the 1969 NBA Finals. That time, Chamberlain was with the Lakers alongside Elgin Baylor and Jerry West. Nevertheless, Bill Russell and the Celtics managed to win the series 4-3 in what was Russell’s last championship and 11th overall.

The days of Wilt and Bill Russell may sadly be over but this generation’s superstars, Steph Curry and Jayson Tatum, have a chance at writing their own history this season should their teams get there.

Do you think the Warriors and Celtics will reach the NBA Finals this year? If so, who wins? Let us know in the comments below!

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Joshua is a senior sports writer with over four years' experience in online writing. He graduated with a BA in Ancient History from The University of Manchester before receiving an MA in Sports Journalism from The University of Central Lancashire. He became a trending writer for a leading social publisher and later spent time covering the 2018 World Cup for The Mirror Online. He then moved to a social marketing agency where he acted as website editor. His specialties on The Focus include F1, tennis, NBA, NFL and combat sports.