Celtics, Lakers appear to be headed for another Finals showdown
Lakers-Celtics storied rivalry would be just what NBA needs to juice up finals
Boston (17 titles) and L.A. (15) have won more than half of NBA championships
Boston has owned L.A. over years, most recently beating Lakers in 2008 finals
It's not official. Not yet. But is there any doubt that we're in for a dream NBA Finals matchup of the Boston Celtics vs. the Los Angeles Lakers?
OK, the Suns beat the Lakers in Game 3 Sunday night and have a puncher's chance to take out the Lakers and advance to the Finals. But does anyone outside of Arizona think Phoenix will beat the Lakers three more times? And does anyone think the Magic can beat the Celtics four straight times?
No. It's going to be Boston and Los Angeles.
David Stern wants Celtics-Lakers. The NBA playoffs this spring have been peppered with sweeps and snores. There simply have not been enough contested series or close games. We can only hope the sport is once again rescued by the two most storied franchises in professional basketball.
The Celtics (17) and Lakers (15) have won more than half of all NBA championships. When the Finals are over this year, Boston and the Lakers will have combined to have won 52 percent (33 of 64) of all titles. They have played one another 11 times in the finals with Boston winning nine, most recently beating Phil Jackson's runners in six games two years ago.
The rivalry has spanned generations. The Celtics were still figuring things out when the Lakers won five championships while playing in Minneapolis in the 1940s and early '50s.
The Lakers were still playing in the land of 10,000 lakes when the Red Auerbach-Bill Russell Celtics first met them in the Finals. It was a four-game sweep for Boston with only 8,195 fans attending Game 1 at the old Boston Garden. It would be the first of seven meetings involving Russell and the Lakers and the Celtics would win every time.
The Lakers were in Los Angeles when they met the Celtics for the second time, in 1962. This was the series in which the Celtics planted the seed that they would always prevail against L.A. The Lakers pushed Boston to a seventh game and L.A. had a chance to win it, but Frank Selvy's buzzer-beating shot somehow rolled off the win and the Celtics, of course, won in overtime.
From 1959-66 the Celtics won eight consecutive championships and four times they beat the Lakers in the Finals. You might say the Celtics got deep into the heads of Jerry West and Elgin Baylor.
L.A.'s frustration peaked at the end of the 1960s. The Celtics looked old and vulnerable (sound familiar?) in 1968, but still managed to beat L.A. in six. Then came 1969 and the Lakers were sure that would be the year in which they'd finally beat Boston.
The 1969 Lakers had West, Baylor and Wilt Chamberlain. They went 8-1 in their first two playoff series. In Vegas, they were 9-to-5 favorites to beat Boston in the Finals. The Celtics were a 48-34 team (same as this year) with six players over 30 (same as this year). Los Angeles won the first two games of the series. At that time, no team in NBA history had lost a Finals series after winning the first two games.
Boston battled back and before Game 7, Lakers owner Jack Kent Cooke lined the Forum ceiling with balloons and hired the USC marching band to play "Happy Days Are Here Again" when the Lakers won.
But the Lakers lost. Again. Chamberlain took himself out of the game in the fourth quarter and never returned. Russell won his 11th championship in 13 seasons, his seventh against the Lakers.
They did not meet again until Larry Bird and Magic Johnson revived the NBA in the 1980s. In 1984, the Celtics and Lakers played for the first time since the 1969 Russell-Chamberlain finale and produced one of the greatest series in NBA history. Unfortunately for folks in L.A., the tortured Lakers lost again -- in excruciating fashion. James Worthy and Magic blundered badly in Game 2, Kevin McHale clotheslined Kurt Rambis in Game 4, and the Celts frustrated the Lakers in seven games.
One year later there was redemption for Magic, Worthy and coach Pat Riley. After losing eight consecutive Finals to the hated Celtics, the Lakers won the championship in the old Boston Garden in six games. It remains the career highlight for Riley, Magic and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
The Celtics-Lakers Finals of the were like the Ali-Frazier fights. Boston and L.A. met three times in four years with the Lakers winning the rubber match in six games in 1987.
That was it for the Celtics. They didn't get back to the Finals until 2008 and fittingly, they returned to the championship round to play the Lakers. Once again, the Lakers were favored. And just like in the old days, the Celtics prevailed. Paul Pierce outplayed Kobe Bryant and Boston won it in six games. The Lakers were a puddle at the finish. Boston ran to a 43-point lead, winning the finale, 131-92. It was embarrassing for Kobe and Pau Gasol.
Now the Lakers are back and they'll have home court advantage. L.A. is feeling good about its chances.
But the Celtics always seem to find a way to win this matchup.
Dan Shaughnessy is a columnist for The Boston Globe. Read more of his columns here.