Q: Who the hell is Cleveland Buckner? A: He’s the “JD Tippit” of the Chamberlain 100 Point Game

Following up on yesterday’s post, a couple more thoughts on the legitimacy (or lack thereof) of Wilt Chamberlain’s 100 point scoring night.

At least the Knicks made Wilt earn his 100

I ran ten simulated games on Whatifsports between the 1962 Knicks and the 1962 Warriors and the average effective scoring for the Knicks was (-7.9) points and for the Warriors it was (+3.5).  The highest effective scoring totals I could achieve for each team was (+6.5) for the Knicks and (+27.0) for the Warriors. On Wilt’s Big Night, the Warriors were (+28) and the Knicks were (+9).  So its theoretically possible that each team simply had an unusually hot night on that particular night. However, it would have been unlikely without some defensive laxity.  In the 10 game simulation run, I produced only one positive scoring night for the Knicks and five for the Warriors.  I produced no games where both teams had positive scoring nights.

Something else weighing somewhat in Chamberlain’s favor is the breakdown of his scoring.  First of all, the Knicks were making Chamberlain earn his hundred from the foul line.  On a normal night in the 1962 season, Chamberlain would have shot 26 free throws on 63 field goal attempts.  On this night the Knicks made him shoot 32, of which he made 28.  Moreover, Chamberlain must have fouled out the Knicks best defensive center, Darrell Imhoff, so he presumably was going against their second stringer, Cleveland Buckner, for most of the game.  And while Chamberlain’s teammates were clearly force feeding him in the second half (I have no problem with that), the Knicks were just as clearly playing some semblance of defense on Chamberlain, as Chamberlain went 22 for 37 from the field in the second half.  Yeah, that’s not great defense, but its not dunk after dunk.

Curiously Huge Scoring Night for a Knick named Cleveland Buckner

Here’s where I have a problem.  It appears the Warriors were giving up points on the offensive end to get more opportunities for Wilt on the offensive end.  In my mind, that’s “queering the pitch” as the British would say.

Here’s my evidence that everything wasn’t on the up-and-up. The three backups for the Knicks (Buckner, Dave Budd, and Donnie Butcher) combined to make 25 of 40 shots from the field (62.5%).  That’s 48% better than the 1961-62 NBA average.  If the 29-51 Knicks had that kind of scoring talent on their bench, they shouldn’t have been 29-51!!  Indeed, on a normal night in 1962, with the same shot mix from the same players, the three should have hit only 40.0%.  That’s a large increase in average, suggesting lack of contested shots by the Warriors (or possibly by Chamberlain himself) in the second half of the game, possibly for the purpose of getting the ball back faster to get shot attempts for Wilt (I’m assuming the second half is when most of the reserve minutes happened).  It’s sort of like deliberately letting the computer score in Tecmo Bowl in order to see how many rushing yards you could get for Randall Cunningham.

The box score contains even more evidence of potentially soft defense by Philadelphia.  Far fewer than average free throw attempts by the Knick reserves. Why is that evidence of soft defense?  On one occasion one of my basketball coaches came in to the locker room at halftime and he simply stared at the score book.  When he finally raised his head, he looked directly at me and screamed, “Ty!! Do you know how many fouls you have?!”  I was completely dumbfounded at the question and I replied timidly, “I don’t know… I think zero”.  I really didn’t understand what he was getting at.  He pounced on that answer, “Yeah, that’s right… you aint playin no defense!!”

If my ex-coach’s somewhat suspect logic is accepted as presumptive evidence of soft defensive effort (I still to this day won’t accept it as conclusive proof of lack of effort, but I will accept it as presumptive proof.  In other words, once established, then the burden would have shifted to me to rebut — in which case I would have cited my counterpart’s lack of inside shooting as explanation for my lack of fouling), then the Warriors “weren’t playin no defense” on two of the aforementioned 3 reserve Knicks: C Cleveland Buckner, and F Dave Budd (both inside players — pointing again to Chamberlain as the culprit).

Buckner, a reserve forward-center who didn’t even last one more full season in the NBA, and who shot just 43.7% from the field for his career, somehow went 16-for-26 against Wilt Chamberlain, and, since he was a big man with a low field goal percentage, one can assume that most of his shots on Wilt’s 100 point night were close-in shots.  If that is the case, and if you wanted to argue against the point that the Warriors were “laying down” on defense in the second half, then how would you explain the fact that in 26 field goal attempts, Buckner shot only 1 free throw!! If he were going to the line at his normal rate, he would have shot 10 free throws.

And then there’s the case of reserve Dave Budd.  Budd was a also a 43% field goal shooter who took about 0.4 free throws for every field goal attempt. Yet on Wilt’s night he shot 75% from the field (6-8) and took only one free throw attempt for his 8 field goal attempts.  So, combined, you have 34 field goal attempts, 2 free throw attempts, and 22 made field goals from a piss poor team’s two reserve front court players, where on a normal night you would have expected 34 field goal attempts to produce 14 makes and 14 trips to the free throw line.  So, either these guys both got peculiarly hot at the same time on the same night, or we someone or “ones” was letting them get to the basket in order to get Wilt more shot attempts.

So, all in all, here’s is what I’m going to conclude about Wilt’s 100 point night:

1. The Warriors force fed Wilt the ball in the second half to get him to 100 (which is fine);

2. The Knicks made him earn the 100 by putting him on the line; but,

3. The Warriors, and possibly Wilt himself, laid down on defense to get more scoring opps for Wilt in the second half, which in my mind taints the result.

Footnote:  While I could not find Cleveland Buckner’s college statistics, its interesting to find that he is 74 and he has a Facebook page.  Which is more proof that Donnie Deutsch was right to predict that some hipper social media site will soon displace Facebook.

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3 Responses to “Q: Who the hell is Cleveland Buckner? A: He’s the “JD Tippit” of the Chamberlain 100 Point Game”

  1. Devin Says:

    Ty,

    I’ve enjoyed the posts on Chamberlain’s feats (the baseball…not so much :) ). TrueHoop had an interesting interview with Al Attles, who was Wilt’s teammate during the season he had the 100 point game.

    http://espn.go.com/nba/dailydime/_/page/dime-120302-03/weekend-dime-half-century-later-wilt-100-stands-tallest

    Here’s an interesting aspect that I hadn’t thought of before:

    “Chamberlain’s 28-for-32 showing at the free throw line and the role that the famously forgiving rims at Hershey Arena played in making history:

    ‘Evidently you’ve talked to somebody about that arena. Because we used to say that those rims were like sewers. As long as you got it up on the rim, there was a great chance that it was going in. But you can make any judgment you want. Both teams had to play with those rims, and both teams had to play in that arena. Unless you denigrate it for everybody, you don’t denigrate it for him. He just had an incredible night. [Going] 28-for-32 was obviously what got him over the hump, but I feel badly when people try to poke holes in it. Both teams had to play in that gym.'”

    As someone who’s played with a variety of basketball rims, I know that there are some that are very forgiving, and some that are very stingy. Indeed, the rims in an old (pre-1962) backup arena could have been very different from regular NBA arenas at the time.

  2. Honesty Says:

    Would you considering proving an analysis of Kobe Bryant’s 81 point outburst against the Toronto Raptors?

  3. jbrett Says:

    Your analysis jibes with the anecdotal evidence I’ve heard, such as that Richie Guerin felt it was such a farce that intentionally fouled out in the third quarter. The box score only has him with five fouls, though, and he led NY in scoring with 39, so that might be someone’s rose-colored hindsight; still, it suggests that some of the participants were less than sanguine with the proceedings.

    There are also stories that near the end, the Warriors were taking fouls on the Knicks just to get the ball back; if true, I’d say that queers the pitch as well.

    Honesty’s reference to Kobe’s 81 is interesting. I have read commentary arguing that in its context–a come from behind win, with a higher percentage of the team total, in a far more polished league–that performance was much more impressive.

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