Lakers. Celtics. Los Angeles. Boston. “We want Boston!” “Beat LA!” Magic and Kareem. Bird and McHale. Nostalgia, nostalgia, nostalgia.
Back in 2008, the Lakers and Celtics met in the NBA Finals in what was a throwback for all the basketball fans of the 80’s. The NBA was thrilled to have the match-up; a year after we had a boring Cavs-Spurs Finals that gave them a sweep and some low ratings, the league was graced with a renewal of the greatest rivalry in all of basketball.
Or so we thought. The fact of the matter is that while it was a nice story, there wasn’t much animosity between the teams. With a majority of younger crowds who weren’t around during the glory days, the fan-bases didn’t really have that much of a rivalry with each other, either. Both teams were just happy to be back in the Finals where they belong, and who they played was just a nice spin on things.
Fast-forward to 2010, and all that has completely changed. The last two teams to win an NBA title absolutely despise each other. The fans hate each other even more than the players. There is a true sense of hatred in this match-up, which has now become the most heated rivalry the NBA has seen since the Heat and Knicks in the late 90’s.
Before we dive into this day and age, it’s only fitting to take a look back at the history of this rivalry a little bit.
Between 1959 and 1966, while the Celtics were busy winning eight consecutive NBA titles, L.A. and Boston met five times in the NBA Finals. The Celtics of Cousy and Russell beat the Lakers of West and Baylor like an older brother beats his younger brother. 1962 and ’66 were especially agonizing for the Lakers, losing in seven games each time. Boston’s domination continued in 1968 and 1969, capping off a stretch where the teams met seven times in ten years.
In 1984, the rivalry was bitterly renewed. Two young guns by the name of Magic and Bird had already built their names, and now were leading their teams into what has become the NBA’s most famous rivalry. The match-up was taken to new heights when Kevin McHale clotheslined Laker forward Kurt Rambis, setting the tone that the Celtics were here to be a physical team who would not let the Lakers beat them. Boston eventually won the series in seven games.
The next year and again in 1987, the Lakers and Celtics met in the Finals, with the Lakers finally getting the proverbial monkey off their back and beating the Celtics both times to stake claim as the winner of the rivalry in the 80’s. To this day, Magic Johnson still claims his greatest accomplishment was that he went 2-1 against the Celtics in the Finals.
Fast forward to now and we once again have the greatest rivalry in sports. Everyone knows and remembers exactly what happened in 2008 when these two teams met. The Lakers were picked by many to win the series, only to blow a 24-point lead in Game 4 at home and then to be blown out by 39 points in the series clincher for the Celtics, the second largest margin of defeat in NBA Finals history.
The Celtics come into this series with a swagger and confidence that can be felt from the moment a Boston game tips off. After dominating the Cavs and Magic in the last two rounds, the Celtics feel like they can beat anyone.
Especially the Lakers. Boston remembers 2008, they remember physically dominating the Lakers, pushing them around inside and frustrating Kobe outside all series long en route to their title. In other words, they remember that they punked the Lakers. Boston feels like they just have to punch the Lakers in the mouth and they will retreat.
The Lakers come into this series wanting to do two things: getting their revenge and getting their rings. As much as Kobe Bryant may deny it, the Lakers are here to avenge 2008, to erase memories of the biggest blown lead in Finals history. They have been waiting for this chance to finally present itself, and here it is.
The Lakers also remember. They remember Paul Pierce chanting “Beat LA!” in the Staples Center hallways after that Game 4 collapse. They remember having their team bus pelted with rocks and shaken by Celtics fans after the title-clinching game. Most of all, they remember 131-92. They remember the embarrassment and pain caused by that night, driving the Lakers to a title last season and their third Finals appearance in a row this year.
In the past two years, these teams have built a dislike for each other to the point that their two meetings each season have become events. The Lakers have been the more successful team since then, winning a title last year while the Celtics were knocked out in the second round. In their four meetings since, the Lakers have gone 3-1, most notably winning both games in Boston. The Celtics lone win came in a one-point victory that Kobe missed, so you would think the Lakers feel like they’ve caught up to Boston since 2008.
Think again. The Lakers know that they will not erase the failure of that 2008 Finals until they avenge the loss. While the Lakers can claim that they weren’t fully healthy, with a knee injury causing center Andrew Bynum to miss the playoffs that year as the reason they didn’t win it all in 2008, the Celtics can counter that a knee injury causing Kevin Garnett to miss the playoffs last year is the reason they didn’t get back and win again in 2009.
This is the rubber-match to determine which team can claim the title of the best in the NBA the past three years.
If the Celtics win, they will re-affirm that they were indeed the best team in 2008, Bynum or not, and strengthen the argument that the Lakers wouldn’t have won last season had Garnett been in the lineup. Let’s not forget the Celtics have never lost a playoff series in which the Big Three all played. And the Big Three of Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, and Paul Pierce know that a second title will put them in a class with the rest of the Celtic greats that have multiple rings.
If the Lakers win, they will prove that the 2008 Finals was not a product of the Celtics being better, but the Lakers lacking players. They can finally shake all the criticisms of being soft, of the Celtics absolutely dominating them. Let’s also not forget, the Lakers have never lost a playoff series in which they’ve had the Kobe-Pau-Bynum trio in the starting lineup. And Kobe Bryant knows that this ring will tie him with Magic Johnson at five, and allow him to do something only Magic has lead any Laker team to ever do in beating the Celtics in the Finals.
This is 17 titles going against 15 titles. This is the history of Boston against the glitz and glam of Los Angeles. This is Cousy, Russell, Bird, and McHale. This is West, Baylor, Magic, and Kareem. This is the Big Three’s chance at a possible dynasty. This is the Kobe’s chance at further cementing his legacy and starting the second dynasty of his career. This will determine the NBA Champion. This is the greatest rivalry in all of sports.
This is the Lakers and the Celtics, and this will be one hell of a ride.
Belal Abdelfattah is BSO’s newest writer and comes from a long background in sports writing at the Sports Authority Blog and The Block Radio. You can follow Belal on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/belal_a