Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Celtics vs. Lakers: The Ultimate Rivalry

This is a rivalry that needs no introduction. Celtics vs. Lakers, round 12. In baseball, we have the Yankees and Redsox, in football we have the Bears and Packers and in Hockey, we have the rivalries of the original six franchises, but none of the preceding bring quite the excitement that the Celtics and Lakers bring to the world of basketball.

During the 1960's, it was Bill Russell and Bob Cousy pitted against Jerry West and Elgin Baylor. When one looks back at those battles, he or she may pose the question, "what rivalry?" based on the fact that the Celtics owned the 60's, winning eight consecutive championships, trumping the Lakers in six of those eight. This is where the hatred began, watching Russell and Cousy celebrate with tears of joy, but more so when watching the arrogant Auerbach light up his famous cigar and give that shrewd smirk as he left he floor. The '60's were owned by the Boston Celtics, but since then, these two storied franchises have split the four NBA Finals match ups.

The hate may have began with Cousy and Russel vs. West and Baylor, but accelerant was thrown onto the fire in the 1980's. It started with Magic and Bird, and ended with Mchale and Rambis. It became very evident during this decade that these two teams, cities and fan bases deeply despised one another. The Magic, Bird rivalry started in college, when Magic's Michigan State team defeated Bird's little known Indiana State team in the 1979 NCAA Championship game. Boston drafted Bird in '78 and the Lakers drafted Magic in 1979, conveniently rekindling the bad blood between the two players, and eventually between the two franchises.

The year was 1984, and it was the first time the Lakers and Celtics had met in the Finals since 1969. Magic Johnson had already cemented his legacy in the NBA, winning two titles in his first three years. Bird took home his first NBA Championship in 1981, but his competitive nature fueled his desire to dethrone Magic and the Lakers in the 1984 Finals, Bird and the Celtics did just that. Boston defeated the Lakers in a hard fought seven game series that featured 10 future hall-of-famers (8 players and 2 coaches). Larry Bird raised both the Championship trophy and the Finals MVP award that year, and the Lakers, Celtics rivalry was officially renewed.

The collective basketball world didn't have to wait long to write another chapter in this storied rivalry, as the Lakers and Celtics met in the Finals the very next year. The 1985 NBA Finals took on a different look, however, the series format changed from 2-2-1-1-1 to 2-3-2 after Celtic legend Red Auerbach convinced Commissioner David Stern that less cross-country traveling would provide for a more exciting and competitive series.

Of course, the series headlined round 3 of the Magic vs. Bird rivalry, but the man with the famous Sky-Hook would take the series on his shoulders. The Lakers won the series in six games, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar dominated In those victories, averaging 30 points, 11 rebounds, 7 assists and 2 blocks per game. Abdul-Jabbar took home the Finals MVP award, and this marked the first time the Lakers had defeated the Celtics in the NBA Finals in franchise history (this was the ninth match up between the two franchises in the NBA Finals).

The Lakers failed to meet the Celtics in the 1986 finals, as they were ousted by the Houston Rockets In the Western Conference Finals; but the two teams were at it again in 1987. The Lakers won the series in six games, with the defining moment coming in game four when Magic Johnson hit a game winning running baby sky-hook over three Celtic defenders in Boston Garden. That shot proved to be a dagger in the hearts of everyone who called themselves a Celtic, as the Lakers went on to easily win game six.

Magic's baby hook seemed to have sent the Celtic franchise into a tailspin for the next 21 years, as the Celtics failed to return to the NBA Finals until 2008. While Boston was reeling, the Lakers were flourishing, reaching the Finals nine times from 1987-2009, winning the title in five out of the nine appearances.

In 2008, the stars aligned and the Lakers and Celtics were once again pitted against each other on the biggest stage that basketball had to offer. In the summer of 2007, Boston acquired two future Hall-Of-Famers, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, in two very suspect trades. Garnett and Allen teamed with current Celtic star to form a very formidable trio dubbed as the " Big 3". The Celtics went onto a 66-16 record in the regular season and secured home court advantage throughout the playoffs. Boston's road through the Eastern Conference Playoffs was a difficult one, but the Celtics advanced to the NBA Finals for the first time since 1987.

The Lakers were not expected to do much when it came to the 2007-2008 NBA Season. They were coming off of a five game beating at the hands of the Suns in the 2007 playoffs, and didn't make any big changes in their roster during the off season. That would change, however, when the Lakers orchestrated one of the most suspect trades in the history of the NBA when they acquired Pau Gasol from Memphis for a pack of gum and some pocket change (Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton, Aaron McKie, the rights to Marc Gasol, and 2008 and 2010 first round picks). The acquisition of Gasol put the Lakers over the top. They finished with a 57-25 record, Including a 22-5 mark with Gasol in the starting lineup. The Lakers breezed through the first three rounds of the playoffs to set up a much awaited match up with the Boston Celtics.

The Celtics man handled the Lakers in the finals that year, winning the decisive sixth game with a 131-92 thrashing of the Lakers. The 39 point margin of victory was the largest ever in a clinching game in the NBA Finals.

So, here we are again, on the eve of yet another Lakers, Celtics NBA Finals match up. Only two years removed from the last battle, another chapter is about to be written. So many questions remain unanswered, but in a matter of hours, days and weeks the world will get the answers to the questions they so desperately need. Will Ron Artest make the difference? Can Rondo perform at the same level? Is kobe too old to impose his will? Do the "Big 3" have one more run in them? Will Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom show up? Expect the unexpected in the 12th meeting of the greatest rivalry in all of sports.

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