Golden Basketball Magazine
NBA Finals - Game 7
1954: Syracuse Nationals @ Minneapolis Lakers
The NBA consisted of only nine teams in 1953-54.
  • The Indianapolis Olympians folded before the season began, leaving the Western Division with only four teams.
  • The league got its first national TV contract. The DuMont Television Network paid $39,000 to televise 13 games.

The 1953-54 NBA season ended with these results.

Eastern Division
Team W L % GB
New York Knicks 44 28 .611 --
Syracuse Nationals 42 30 .583 2
Boston Celtics 42 30 .583 2
Philadelphia Warriors 29 43 .403 15
Baltimore Bullets 16 56 .222 28
Western Division
Team W L % GB
Minneapolis Lakers 46 26 .639 --
Rochester Royals 44 28 .611 2
Fort Wayne Pistons 40 32 .556 6
Milwaukee Hawks 21 51 .556 25
  • The Lakers finished atop the West for the sixth straight season. However, the New York Knicks ended the Nationals' five-year streak of winning the East regular season.
  • Then the Nats did to the Knicks what New York had done to them the year before - win the Eastern playoffs to reach the finals.

For the only time in its history, the NBA decided to stage a round-robin style tournament.

  • With only four teams in the West, the league didn't want all four to automatically make the playoffs.
  • So the top three teams in each division played a six-game home-and-home round robin in order to eliminate one of them. The remaining two in each division then played a best-of-three series to determine the finalists.
  • The finals, as usual, were a World Series-type best of seven.

Playoff Results

  • First Round
    Minneapolis Lakers
    Rochester Royals
    Fort Wayne Pistons

    Syracuse Nationals
    Boston Celtics
    New York Knicks


  • Conference Finals
    Lakers over Royals 2-0
    Nationals over Celtics 2-0
The Lakers continued to be built around their 6'10" center.
  • With George Mikan approaching 30, Minneapolis drafted 6-9 235 lb Clyde Lovellette of Kansas in the first round to be his understudy.
  • Teams regularly roughed up the league's top player. The result was a long list of injuries during his college and pro career: two broken legs, broken bones in both feet, as well as fractures of his wrist, nose, thumb, and three fingers. George's 1953-54 scoring average dipped to the lowest of his six-year career: 18.8.
  • Coach John Kundla's team had one new starter: third-year pro Myer "Whitey" Skoog in the backcourt.

Syracuse player-coach Al Cervi retired from the court after the 1952-53 season to concentrate on coaching.

  • Al's teams featured a "thuggish" defense and a fast-moving offense.
  • The Nationals ranked second in the league in ppg (83.5) and tied for fourth with the Lakers in points allowed (78.6 ppg).
  • Three Nats finished the season averaging double figures: F Dolph Schayes (17.1), G Paul Seymour (13.1), and G George King (11.3).
  • But Syracuse entered the finals banged up after their semifinals victory over Boston.
    --The Celtics knocked Schayes to the floor and broke his wrist.
    --Seymour became incensed when Easy Ed Macauley mocked Schayes as he lay on the floor. "I punched Macauley and broke my damn thumb," moaned Paul.
    --Four other Nats suffered injuries at the hands of Red Auerbach's thugs.
    --The press called the Nationals "the bandage brigade."
1954 Syracuse Nationals
# Player Pos. Hgt. Wgt. College Exp.
3 George King G 6-0 175 Charleston 3
4 Dolph Schayes C 6-8 220 NYU 5
5 Paul Seymour G 6-1 180 Toledo 6
7 Bill Gabor G 5-11 170 Syracuse 5
8 Wally Osterkorn F 6-5 215 Illinois 3
11 Earl Lloyd F 6-5 200 West Virginia St. 3
12 Al Masino G 5-10 175 Canisius 2
15 Billy Kenville G 6-2 185 St. Bonaventure 1
16 Bob Lavoy F 6-7 185 Western Kentucky 4
17 Jim Neal C 6-11 235 Wofford 1
Head Coach: Al Cervi
1954 Minneapolis Lakers
# Player Pos. Hgt. Wgt. College Exp.
12 Jim Holstein F 6-3 180 Cincinnati 2
15 Dick Schnittker F 6-5 200 Ohio State 2
16 Bob Harrison G 6-1 190 Michigan 5
17 Jim Pollard F 6-4 185 Stanford 5
18 Pep Saul G 6-2 185 Seton Hall 4
19 Vern Mikkelsen F 6-7 230 Hamline 4
20 Whitey Skoog G 5-11 180 Minnesota 2
22 Slater Martin G 5-10 170 Texas 4
34 Clyde Lovellette C 6-9 235 Kansas 1
99 George Mikan C 6-10 245 DePaul 5
Head Coach: John Kundla
1954 Minneapolis Lakers
# Date Place Winner Loser Winning Team
High Scorer
Losing Team
High Scorer
1 Mar.31 Minneapolis Lakers 79 Nationals 68 Lovellette 16 Lavoy 15
2 Apr. 3 Minneapolis Nationals 62 Lakers 60 Osterkorn 20 Mikan 15
3 Apr. 4 Syracuse Lakers 81 Nationals 67 Mikan 30 Lavoy18
4 Apr. 8 Syracuse Nationals 80 Lakers 69 Seymour 25 Skoog 16
5 Apr.10 Syracuse Lakers 84 Nationals 73 Mikkelsen 21 Schayes 17
6 Apr.11 Minneapolis Nationals 65 Lakers 63 Seymour 16 Mikan 30
As in the 1952 seven-game series, the Lakers, despite home court advantage, could not win two games in a row.
  • Game One: The Nats' fast offense got Mikan and Skoog in early foul trouble, but rookie Lovellette came to the rescue, leading the Lakers with 16 points. Syracuse's top scorers, Schayes and Lloyd, were held to just three points between them.
  • Game Two: Since the Lakers had never lost a playoff game in the Minneapolis Auditorium, everyone assumed the teams would go to Syracuse with the Nationals trailing 2-0 in games. With Schayes and Lloyd totaling only four, bulky 6'5" F Wally Osterkorn took up the slack, scoring 20 and banging Mikan and his front court mates around inside. Ratcheting up their defense, the Nats held Minneapolis to just 27 points in the first half. Then a 16-1 run in Q3 allowed the visitors to take a ten-point leading into the final period. But the Lakers fought back to tie the game with 18 seconds left on Mikan's basket. But Seymour swished a set shot from 43' out to stun the crowd of 6,277 and give Syracuse their first victory on the Lakers' home court since January 29, 1953.
  • Game Three: Angered by the home loss, the Lakers trounced the Nats on their home court behind Big George's 30 points and 15 rebounds.
  • Game Four: Cervi's resilient team evened the slate with an 11-point triumph.
  • Game Five: With a chance to take the lead in the series on their home court, the Nats were again overwhelmed by the resurgent Lakers.
  • Game Six: The Nats' chances seemed bleak. They had surprised the basketball world by winning Game Two. But now they had to win two in a row. In a game that was almost a carbon copy of Game 2, the Nats got 15 points from Schayes, who had adjusted to wearing a cast on his broken wrist. Despite another 30-point night from Mikan, the visitors found themselves in possession of the ball with the score tied and only seconds left to play. Cervi called timeout to set up the final shot. The only person on the court who was ordered not to take the shot was backup C Jim Neal. But with the Lakers not guarding him closely, the 6'11" rookie fired up a 27-footer from the right side of the key. Amazingly, the ball went in the hoop with four seconds remaining to even the series for the third time.

George Mikan

Clyde Lovellette

Whitey Skoog

Al Cervi

Dolph Schayes

Paul Seymour

George King

Jim Pollard

Slater Martin

1954 Finals Action

Wally Osterkorn (8) goes for loose ball in front of Slater Martin (22)

The teams faced off for the third time in three days

  • Could the "nervy" Nationals prevail against the "fading genius" of the Lakers? as one writer put it.
  • The Lakers were coming off two straight losses on their home court after never losing a playoff game there in previous franchise history.
  • A crowd of 7,274, the largest of the four finals games in the Twin Cities, gathered for the last game of the season.
    Earlier in the day, the NBA released its All-Star team selected by sportswriters and sportscasters. Mikan and Schayes made the first team while Jim Pollard of Minneapolis and Nat Paul Seymour earned second-team honors. Pollard would celebrate with an outstanding performance in Game 7.
The Lakers took the lead in Q1, but the gritty Nationals kept the game in doubt until the final minutes.
  • F Jim Pollard started strong on his way to a 21-point evening to lead all scorers. His ability to hit from the outside loosened the Cervi's floating defense about the Lakers' double pivot. Minneapolis took an 8-7 lead and were never headed thereafter. They led at the end of the first 12 minutes 17-14 and scored the first points of the second period. The Nats never got closer than five points thereafter.
  • With Mikan off to a bad start (he would sink only 2 of 10 shots), Lovellette replaced Big George in Q2 and helped the Lakers extend their lead to 38-32 at halftime.
  • After scoring only six points in Q3 the previous night, Minneapolis bagged 27 this night to lead 65-54 heading into the last period. Pollard led the assault with 9, and the Lakers led 61-45 with three minutes to play in the period.
  • With Schayes leading the way - he led Syracuse with 18 - the never-say-die Nationals whittled the lead down to 75-64 with eleven minutes remaining. But then Slater Martin, Pollard, and Mikan took turns stealing the ball from the over-eager Nats. Syracuse outscored the home team 26-22 in the last 12 minutes to make the final score a more respectable 87-80. Pollard played 47 minutes and was given a standing ovation when removed from the fray in the final minute.
  • Kundla proclaimed the victory the most cherished of all the titles we have ever won because it was our toughest struggle. Syracuse was twice as tough as we expected them to be. It was definitely our biggest win of the last seven years. They took advantage of whatever weakness became apparent.
    John sent Al Cervi a telegram that was waiting for him in Syracuse. Congratulations for most outstanding coaching job of the year. Lakers were lucky to win. By far the greatest all-around job of coaching. Here's to many more successful years. You have a great bunch of boys.
  • Cervi had nothing but praise for his squad. We did the best we could. They moved in front, played smartly, and stole too many balls. Pollard came up with the money game that beat us, but I'm certainly proud of my boys.
  • The Lakers split a pot of $7,500 while the Nationals earned an extra $5,000.
  FG FT Fouls Points
Dolph Schayes 6-14 6-8 5 18
Paul Seymour 4-10 8-8 6 16
Bob Lavoy 4-8 2-2 5 10
Earl Lloyd 4-9 2-3 4 10
Wally Osterkorn 3-6 4-8 5 10
Billy Kenville 3-6 0-2 4 6
Al Masino 1-3 2-2 3 4
George King 2-5 0-1 4 4
Jim Neal 1-1 0-3 2 2
Total 28-62 24-37 38 80
  FG FT Fouls Points
Jim Pollard 8-15 5-7 2 21
Clyde Lovellette 6-8 2-6 4 14
Slater Martin 4-7 4-7 3 12
George Mikan 2-10 7-10 3 11
Whitey Skoog 3-6 2-4 5 8
Vern Mikkelsen 3-11 1-1 5 7
Dick Schnittker 2-3 1-1 5 5
Pep Saul 1-1 3-4 2 5
Jim Holstein 1-3 2-4 2 4
Total 30-64 27-44 31 87

Lakers with the championship trophy.
Participants in the 1952 NBA Finals who are in the Basketball Hall of Fame:
Lakers: George Mikan (1959), Vern Mikkelsen (1995), Jim Pollard (1978), Coach John Kundla (1995)
Nationals: Coach Al Cervi (inducted as player 1985), Earl Lloyd (2003), Dolph Schayes (1973)
George Mikan announced his retirement after the 1954 finals. He returned for the 1955-56 season but played in only 37 games and average just 10.5 ppg.
The Lakers would not win another championship for 18 years - the longest drought in franchise history. The club moved to Los Angeles for the 1960-61 season.