After suffering a heartbreaking loss to the Celtics in Game 7 of the 1957 NBA Finals, St. Louis survived rough times in the 1957-58 NBA season, coming back to the NBA Finals to face the Celtics once more. The teams split the first 2 games and were tied 49-49 in the third game when the series' decisive play occurred. Bill Russell soared high to block a shot by Bob Pettit, landed heavily on his right ankle and collapsed in a heap on the floor with a severe sprain. He was through for almost the rest of the playoffs and, as a result, so were the Celtics. Boston won just one more game, the fourth, as the Hawks gained revenge with a six-game series victory that gave them their first and (to date) only NBA championship. It was also the first of two world championships won by a St. Louis pro sports team in any sport other than the MLB Cardinals.
50 for Pettit and Revenge for 1957
The sixth game was sweet vindication for Bob Pettit, and that's an understatement. Before a cheering, stomping crowd of 10,218 at St. Louis, Pettit put on a show perhaps unmatched by any individual in NBA playoff history. Russell was back in action, limping badly on a cast and obviously hampered, but it's questionable whether even if Russell had been at the top of his game he could have contained the inspired Pettit on this occasion.
Pettit scored 19 points as the Hawks took a 57-52 lead into the halftime intermission. Six straight points by Pettit pushed the Hawks' margin to 10 in the third quarter before the Celtics sparked by Bob Cousy's brilliant playmaking, cut the margin back to six, 83-77. A Boston spurt in the opening moments of the final period gave the Celts an 86-84 lead, and the gloom was so thick in the arena one could practically cut it with a knife.
That's when Pettit took charge. Despite double and triple-teaming by the Celtics, the Hawk star sank basket after basket, free throw after free throw, singlehandedly keeping St. Louis in a game they otherwise would have lost, and preventing a dreaded return trip to Boston for a seventh game.
With a little more than 20 seconds to play, Pettit drove on Russell, stopped and arched a shot over the clawing grasp of the Celtic captain for the basket that gave the Hawks a 108-105 lead. But Tom Heinsohn made two foul shots with 16 second left to cut it to 108-107. With the Boston defense converging on Pettit, Slater Martin tried a set shot that missed, but Pettit somehow fought his way through the mob of Celtics around him to tap the ball in and make a final Celtic field goal meaningless. Pettit had scored 50 points, including 18 of the Hawks' final 21 points and gained sweet revenge from the Hawks' 1957 NBA Finals loss.