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Celtics Take Commanding 3-0 Lead over Royals in NBA Eastern Final

Apr. 5, 1964 - The Boston Celtics, relying on a tenacious first-half defense with Bill Russell at the helm, stunned the Royals, 102-92, tonight in Cincinnati and moved to a seemingly insurmountable three-game lead in their best-of-seven series for the NBA’s Eastern Division championship. The Celtics will attempt the clincher Tuesday night at Cincinnati Gardens, where 11,102 spectators showered boos on the Royals tonight when they dragged off to their dressing room on the short end of a 55-37 halftime score.

During the final half, the Celtics maintained a sizable margin until the closing seconds, when the Royals cut an 18-point deficit to eight while the Celtics were killing off the clock.

Cincinnati, the latest city to declare that it will be the basketball capital of the world, was in the game for less than 10 minutes. Then, with Russell snatching up rebounds with a controlled fury, the Celtics took off.

Originally, the Royals’ strategy appeared to be to have Wayne Embry shoot from outside on Russell and have Jerry Lucas work with Tommy Heinsohn in the pivot. This worked for a while at the start, as Lucas turned tiger — grabbing the first five defensive rebounds — and Heinsohn had an erratic spell.

So, coach Red Auerbach inserted Willie Naulls for Heinsohn, moved Russell in on Lucas, sent Naulls out after Embry — who didn’t score a point until the third quarter — and the rout was on. Russell, who led the Celts with 22 points, ignited the Boston fast break with his board-sweeping tactics and also contributed a driving dunk from what looked like the second balcony.

Auerbach summed up his sentiments in the Boston dressing room: “This had to be the greatest defensive effort I’ve ever seen a team turn in. And it sparked our offense, which looked itself for the first time in three games. But don’t think we’re going to walk through this next one.

“The Royals are still a great team. Lucas turned it around tonight and gave a fine performance, and Oscar Robertson got, what, 34? No sir, we beat a good team — a great team, a club that came out like tigers at us.”

Boston’s Satch Sanders, pointing to the score sheet, remarked: “I guess we really played sound defensive basketball. Look, they took more shots than we did and got more rebounds, and we still beat them by 10.”

“When you force pressure on defense,” said K.C. Jones, “your offense will take care of itself. That’s why the guys did, and we played our best game in a month — both ways.”

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