After a few years of stability in the league, yet another team was lost as the Indianapolis Olympians folded. The franchise existed in a purgatory during its four years, never experiencing a deep playoff run or generating much excitement after the loss of Alex Groza.
Due to there now only being nine teams, only three squads from each division could qualify for the playoffs. This postseason had a unique “round robin” format – each qualifier would play the other two in its division twice. The team that finishes the four games with the best record would face that with the second best record, as displayed below.
This resulted in a very short traditional postseason, with only twelve total games and three series.
The NBA signed its first television contract this season, with the DuMont Television Network. Owners wanted the “worst” games of the week to be displayed in hopes that attention would not be taken away from in-attendance matches.
The very first broadcasted game was between the Boston Celtics and Baltimore Bullets on December 12th, 1953.
For the first time, the annual All-Star Game went to overtime. Despite the extended period, neither team reached one-hundred points – such low-scoring affairs would never happen again.
Cousy improved even more from his breakout year, once again leading in assists and finishing second in scoring. His efficiency also went up a good bit – while he was always a volume scorer, the improvement in that area helped Boston become an even better offense.
While the Warriors were still a relatively bad team, they improved by seventeen games in Johnston’s second year as the leader. He once again finished first in both minutes and points per game, as well as having some noticeable improvements defensively.
Mikan’s lingering injuries began to eat at him, as he posted career lows in minutes, points, assists, and field goal percentage.
However, he still ultimately anchored the best team in the league, and there continued to be few answers to the aging superstar.
Schayes continued a great, steadily improving career. At this point, it was safe to say he was never quite the best player, but could consistently be relied upon.
The Nationals became the top defensive team largely in part to him, and he had his best shooting splits since his rookie year.
The Long Island University native immediately became one of the best offensive centers in the NBA.
He was perhaps the biggest success story at the time for African-Americans, becoming the second black All-Star and favorite for Rookie of the Year.
While it would be hard to argue Gallatin’s place as a superstar, his effort on a yearly basis was underrated.
Considering his career highs in scoring and rebounding – the latter of which he led in the league in – came in the ’54 season, it would be hard to deny him of a mention.
Around the League
Notes An asterisk (*) indicates that the team qualified for the playoffs.
New York Knicks*
Fort Wayne Pistons*
The New York Knicks and Minneapolis Lakers once again led their divisions, marking the first time in league history that the same teams were first seeds in consecutive years.
This can be attributed to a drop in player movement – as teams locked their stars into commitment, the expectations for each franchise changed little year-to-year.
The Minneapolis Lakers also became the first team to have the best win record league-wide in back-to-back seasons.
The Minneapolis Lakers were not ranked as the top NBA defense, something that had not occurred since 1950. The Syracuse Nationals ultimately took that title from them.
For the first time, a team shot over 40% as a collective – that was the Boston Celtics, who were unsurprisingly the best offense in town.
The Baltimore Bullets became the youngest team ever at the time with an average age of twenty-four years – this explained their bad record, although Rookie of the Year Ray Felix was at least a silver lining.
The player stats listed are based on their last tenure, whether it be with their former team or the previous season. Name(s) under the “Top Draft Picks” section with a plus (+) opted to play in another league instead of the NBA this season. Name(s) under the “Top Draft Picks” section with an asterisk (*) were selected with a territorial draft pick. p – points r – rebounds a – assists
In the four round robin matches, the Nationals played the Celtics and Knicks, both twice.
Against the Celtics, both games were won – the first was a close call that went to overtime, although Syracuse barely pulled away. The second was far less exciting, being a blowout behind Dolph Schayes’ twenty-five points and sixteen rebounds.
Both games against the Knicks were good wins for the Nationals – the latter included a 36/21 double-double from Schayes.
East /Boston Celtics finish 2-2
In the four round robin matches, the Celtics played the Knicks and Nationals, both twice.
Boston won both games against New York, avenging their gentleman’s sweep from the year prior. Bill Sharman attacked the defense much more effectively – and even behind one mediocre game from Macauley and another where he hardly played, the Celtics survived.
On the contrary, they could not buy a win against the Nationals. Cousy tried his hardest, dropping thirty-two points in the first matchup – however, they fell short by one point. The second was never quite in their favor, as the absence of Macauley hit them a lot harder that time around.
East /New York Knicks finish 0-4
In the four round robin matches, the Knicks played the Celtics and Nationals, both twice.
The Knicks won neither game against Boston – the first match was an embarrassing effort on their part, with only two players scoring in double digits. The second was looking to be theirs, but they gave up their lead after halftime.
They stood no chance against Syracuse, with embarrassing performances all around in the first game – Carl Braun shot one-for-eight, and Dick McGuire bowing out early made their offense far less fluid. Braun exploded in the second and final matchup with over thirty points, but it did not matter as the defending Division Champions gave up another lead in a loss.
West /Minneapolis Lakersfinish 3-0
In the three round robin matches, the Lakers played the Royals once and Pistons twice.
Against the Royals, seven Lakers scored in double digits, grabbing an easy win after destroying Rochester in the second quarter.
Both games against the Pistons were close, but Minneapolis succeeded because of Mikan leading the entire game in scoring on both occasions. He also scored only eleven of those combined forty-nine points from foul shots, which was a testament to his focus and efficiency.
West /Rochester Royalsfinish 2-1
In the three round robin matches, the Royals played the Pistons twice and Lakers once.
They won both times against Fort Wayne in convincing fashion, largely thanks to the heroics of Bobby Wanzer. Jack Coleman also had a huge impact on the first round robin match, dropping nearly twenty in both points and rebounds.
They struggled quite a bit against the Lakers – it wasn’t necessarily a bad game on their part, but Minneapolis was just so dominant offensively.
West /Fort Wayne Pistonsfinish 0-4
In the four round robin matches, the Pistons played the Royals and Lakers, both twice.
Fort Wayne’s offense was atrocious against Rochester, with star Larry Foust being particularly bad. They never led at any point in those two games.
The contests against Minneapolis were closer, but Foust was still awful and Andy Phillip didn’t look like much of an All-Star either. Other players were able to step it up to at least remain competitive, but there was no chance the Pistons got theirs against that team.
Neither effort was close to a victory for the Celtics. The biggest reason for this was because superstar Bob Cousy had the worst series of his career, averaging well below his seasonal averages on 12% shooting. Seventeen of his twenty-seven points were scored on free throws.
Dolph Schayes secured Game 1 for Syracuse, and the entire team played relatively well in the second. They had hoped to avoid an upset after dominating the Celtics in the round robin, and they ensured history repeat itself – they were hellbent on reaching the Finals again after four years.
West /Minneapolis Lakers beat Rochester Royals, 2-1
After not seeming as dominant individually in the playoffs his past couple years, George Mikan looked like his late-40’s self – scoring nonstop and delivering on both ends at all times. Considering Rochester’s sole win was by one point, it was unlikely they would take this series for themselves. Bob Davies just wasn’t the same anymore, which was the biggest detriment to what was formerly a historically great offense. Arnie Risen tried to save the day with twenty-four points in Game 3, but it was to no avail against the Lakers dynasty.
Right off the bat, this series became historic – not only was it a rematch of the 1950 Finals, but Dolph Schayes immediately broke his arm and missed almost all of Game 1. Things looked grim for Syracuse immediately, but the superstar opted to return and play with his off-hand.
Wins were traded the entire way, with standout performances including thirty points from Mikan in Game 3 and twenty-five from Paul Seymour in Game 4. By the fifth match, Dolph Schayes had gotten into rhythm despite injury, posting normal scoring averages again and forcing a Game 7 despite Mikan having yet another thirty-point barrage. In Game 7, it was actually Lakers forward Jim Pollard that saved the day. He led both teams in scoring on good efficiency and helped Minneapolis get to a quick lead that the Nationals could not come back from. Even with Schayes attempting to will his squad to a victory while wounded, Syracuse fell short.
They just witnessed the first three-peat in NBA history.
The Minneapolis Lakers win the 1954 NBA championship!
Notes All-Team selections were not yet selected based on position yet. Name(s) under the “All-Stars” section with an asterisk (*) were listed as the MVP of the All-Star Game that year. Those with “(IR)” next to their name were chosen to replace an injured star.