1972: Wilt ends Bucks Dynasty dream

If you watch the replay of Game 4 of the 1971 NBA Finals on NBAtv, the first thing that strikes you is that Chris Schenkel was a pretty bland basketball announcer.  The second thing is all the hubris and retrospectively ridiculous chatter about a possible “Bucks Dynasty” that clearly never materialized.  At the time though, I must admit it must have looked highly plausible.

After all, the Bucks in the early 70s had the rising big man, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, a somewhat watered down NBA (though still far superior to the ABA), and no real competition — it seemed — on the horizon.  It seemed the Milwaukee Arena rafters would soon resemble the Boston Gardens. 

So much for that. 

Kareem followed up the Bucks World Championship campaign in fine fashion, posting a monster MVP 1972 season, but then he struggled mightily in the postseason, and that cost the Bucks another championship.  But, he had two large reasons for his struggles – Nate Thurmond of the San Fran Warriors, and Wilt Chamberlain of the Los Angeles Lakers.  Those two combined to give him fits, and to keep him WAY under his regular season numbers. 

The hell of it is, though, had Kareem performed anywhere near his regular season numbers, the Bucks would have probably won a second straight championship, because Milwaukee outperformed the Lakers overall, and demolished them at nearly every other position except center.  Here are the bizarre scores (courtesy of Bucksuniverse) from the monumental Western Conference matchup between the 66 pythagorean win Bucks and the 67 pythagorean win Lakers:

1972 Western Conference Finals
1
Apr 9, 1972
@
Los Angeles Lakers
W
93
-
72
 
Bucks lead
1
-
0
 
5
-
1
2
Apr 12, 1972
@
Los Angeles Lakers
L
134
-
135
 
series tied
1
-
1
 
5
-
2
3
Apr 14, 1972
vs.
Los Angeles Lakers
L
105
-
108
 
Lakers lead
1
-
2
 
5
-
3
4
Apr 16, 1972
vs.
Los Angeles Lakers
W
114
-
88
 
series tied
2
-
2
 
6
-
3
5
Apr 18, 1972
@
Los Angeles Lakers
L
90
-
115
 
Lakers lead
2
-
3
 
6
-
4
6
Apr 22, 1972
vs.
Los Angeles Lakers
L
100
-
104
 
Lakers win
2
-
4
 
6
-
5

Have you ever seen such a strange set of scores?  The Bucks won two games by a combined 47 points, but lost three by a combined 8 points!  How does that happen?  How do you blow a team out twice, both home and away, and lose the damn series?  Think about that. 

Wilt dominates Kareem with efficient play

The fact is, at 35 years old, Wilt had a much larger “win impact” on the series than Kareem.  That’s why the Bucks lost… that and bad luck. 

By 1972, Wilt’s game had evolved into an occasionally awesome vision of efficient win production and defensive menace.  He no longer took random shots, reserving his scoring attempts for close opportunities.  And he rebounded like a madman 

No direct statistics exist from the series, but the statistics that do exist can be easily manipulated to produce a pretty reliable facsimile (you can get the series stats by subtracting the previous opponents totals from the Bucks oppo totals, and then you can rely on players tendency to use possessions and produce secondary stats at a constant proportional rate). 

Doing so, last night I reconstructed the likely series statistics of both centers.  I apologize for the poor setup.

Wilt: 279 mins (WS: 134.5)
31-58FGs..24-52FTs..129reb..20As..7Stl..26Blks..18To..17pf…86pts
Kareem: 274 mins (WS:  85.5)
75-177FGs..18-27FTs..114reb..29As..7Stl..32Blk..33TOs..21pf..168pts
Too many empty trips for Kareem

Kareem outscored Wilt, but look at how many empty possessions he recorded (his 43% shooting for the playoffs was way off his 58% regular season number).  Wilt, on the other hand, was an opportunistic scorer, a defensive disruptor, and a tremendous possession creator.  Thus his team was somehow able to win the Western Conference Championship despite being outshot by the Bucks (if you remove Wilt, the rest of the Lakers shot 205-525, or 39% from the field) and outscored (336 to 322).

Chamberlain the difference 

By 1972 Wilt Chamberlain had transformed himself from the athletic stick that you see in YouTube video from the middle 1960s to this athletic Man Mountain you can see if you watch video from the 70s

Frankly, I think he was much more effective in his second incarnation (when propertly motivated — always an issue with Wilt).  In the 60s video, Wilt doesn’t really seem to be a tremendously skilled offensive player (watch some of his strange fade aways against Russell).  Sure, he scored.  But it seems like he wasted too many trips unneccesarily. 

Once he put on the headband and some bulk — and by 1972 he was buff as shit — he was exactly the kind of player who simply gave Kareem fits.  (Sidenote:  notice the difference in ability and conditioning between a Wilt in his mid 30s and Shaq.  Wilt clearly took pride in physical conditioning and preparation.)

Kareem was so damn deliberate with his skyhook, he practically telegraphed the thing every time.  He would take two to three dribbles, and then slowly set it up.  Thats because virtually no one could block it, and most didnt try.

But if you watch, Chamberlain could!  Its an awesome sight to see, actually.  Chamberlain was able to often knock it down at its apex!  That forced Kareem to rush his setup, and clearly threw him off.

And like the Cavs with LeBron, when a team relies so heavily on one guy, if you can blunt that one guy, you have a hell of a chance to win.  Wilt didn’t always blunt Kareem, but in the 1972 Western Conference Finals, it appears he did.  And that ended any talk of a “Bucks Dynasty” for good.

I’ll have a Win Chart from the 1972 season later in the week.

EndNote:  Famous last words from Bucks coach Larry Costello, courtesy of Sports Illustrated’s mid-Series Cover Story from April, 1972:

Thus, after splitting the first four games, the Lakers headed back to the Coast and its theoretic edge, the home-court advantage. But perhaps Milwaukee held a bigger one. In the composite of those games, the Bucks had outshot, out-rebounded and outscored Los Angeles. Twice they had defeated the Lakers embarrassingly. “They really haven’t proved they can beat us yet,” said Costello. “They’ve won by one point and three; we’ve won by 21 and 26.” If the Lakers can keep the games close, they should win. But the Milwaukee Bucks may not stand still long enough for that to happen

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