The rivalry between the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers is set for a new chapter as two teams with title ambitions go head to head for the first time this season.
The reigning champion Los Angeles Lakers head into Saturday’s match-up against their historic rivals the Boston Celtics smarting after two consecutive defeats on the road, with losses to the 76ers and Pistons derailing what was a perfect 10-0 record in away fixtures.
Despite the upsets, the Lakers remain comfortably placed in third in the Western Conference, behind only the Clippers and surging Utah Jazz.
LeBron James is averaging 26 points, 8 rebounds and 8 assists going into the contest and is showing absolutely no signs of slowing down in this his 18th season in the league. James has yet another strong squad of veteran talent around him and in Anthony Davis, averaging 22, 9 and 4 himself, he has one of the best big men in the league to count on.
By his own standards, nothing less than another title will do.
Meanwhile, the Celtics sit fifth in the East following patchy form through the opening weeks of the season. Other than a run of five straight wins against conference rivals at the start of January, the Celtics have been up and down, with an underwhelming record of 10-7 overall.
They will be desperate for a win at The Garden on Saturday before they face a gruelling five-game stretch against teams out West, but in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, they possess one of the best duos in the league. They are more than capable of going toe-to-toe with James and Davis on the night.
As the latest chapter in the Lakers-Celtics story beckons, we look back at some of the most memorable moments the teams have shared…
June 1984 – Celtics outmuscle ‘Showtime’ Lakers in NBA Finals
Larry Bird led the perceived ‘blue-collar’ Celtics to a seven-game Finals triumph over Magic Johnson’s flashier ‘Showtime’ Lakers in a series that lifted the NBA back into the global sporting consciousness. The Lakers ultimately wilted under intense pressure from the Celtics, stemming from Bird’s MVP-level play, trash-talking, and physicality.
Game four proved pivotal. Boston’s Kevin McHale floored Kurt Rambis with a clothesline as the Lakers forward attacked the basket, sparking a brawl. Magic was labelled ‘Tragic Johnson’ by Celtics fans after committing a crucial turnover and missing two overtime free throws. Bird confronted Kareem Abdul-Jabbar after being cracked with an elbow.
Game seven was played in Boston, and the Celtics made home advantage count as 24 points from Cedric Maxwell paced them to a title-sealing 111-102 win, the eighth time the Celtics had defeated the Lakers in a Finals series. Bird, who averaged 27 points and 14 points in the series, was named Finals MVP.
June 1985 – Finals, Game Six – Kareem comes up huge
Center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, 38, rolled back the years to produce a series-clinching 29-point performance as the Lakers became the first visiting team to clinch an NBA title on the Boston Garden parquet. He received support from James Worthy (whose 28 points earned him the nickname ‘Big Game James’) and Magic, who dished out 14 assists.
Abdul-Jabbar averaged 25.7 points in the series, scooping Finals MVP honours 14 years after winning that award for the first time. More importantly, the Lakers ended their Finals hoodoo against the Celtics, overcoming their long-time nemeses in a Finals series for the first time in nine attempts.
June 1987 – Finals, Game Four – Magic’s ‘junior, junior sky hook’
The 1980s chapter of the Lakers-Celtics rivalry was settled by a 4-2 Los Angeles victory in the 1987 Finals series.
The pivotal moment came in game four at the Boston Garden. The Celtics led by 16 points at half-time, but the Lakers slowly fought back. Trailing 106-105 in the closing seconds, Johnson tossed an old-fashioned running hook shot that nestled through the net, giving the Lakers the lead. After Bird missed an attempt at the buzzer, the Lakers had a 107-106 victory and a 3-1 series lead.
Afterwards, Johnson called the shot “my junior, junior sky-hook,” after Abdul-Jabbar’s trademark shot. “You expect to lose to the Lakers on a sky-hook,” noted Bird. “You don’t expect it to be from Magic.”
June 2010 – Artest delivers title-winning blow
Another epic seven-game Celtics-Lakers Finals series was decided in the Lakers’ favour by Ron Artest’s dagger three-pointer with 1:01 remaining.
Artest’s clutch shot put the Lakers six points up and, thanks to Kobe Bryant’s free throws and some big-time rebounding by Pau Gasol, they held on for a 83-79 win that sealed the title.
Bryant endured a poor game seven but still contributed 10 fourth-quarter points. He top-scored for the Lakers in six of the seven games, enough to earn him the Finals MVP award.
May 1969 – Russell’s Celtics spoil Lakers party
The Lakers and their formidable trio of Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West and Elgin Baylor were favourites to dispatch Bill Russell’s aging Celtics team in the 1969 Finals.
Lakers owner Jack Kent Cooke certainly anticipated a game seven win, filling the Forum rafters with balloons emblazoned with “World Champion Lakers” intended to shower the court to celebrate a Lakers win.
It didn’t happen. Chamberlain was forced to the bench with an injured knee and remained there despite telling Lakers coach Butch van Breda Kolff that he was ready to return to the game. Lady luck smiled on the Celtics as Don Nelson’s desperation free-throw line jumper hit the back rim, bounced high in the air and fell through the hoop to give Boston a 105-102 lead.
The Lakers then committed costly turnovers as Boston held on for a 108-106 win.
It was the first time in NBA Finals history that a game seven was won by the road team. The Lakers party was over before it began.
June 2008 – ‘Anything is possible’ as Celtics seal title
The Big Three of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen turned back the challenge of the Kobe Bryant-led Lakers as Boston rolled to a 4-2 Finals series triumph that earned the Celtics their 17th NBA title.
Game four defined the series as the Celtics erased a 21-point first-half deficit to win 97-91 and take a decisive 3-1 lead. It was the largest comeback in an NBA Finals game since 1971.
The Celtics closed out the series with a 131-92 game six blowout after which Garnett celebrated his first (and only) NBA title by memorably bellowing “anything is possible” into a microphone during his post-game interview.
March 2001 – Lakers handle ‘The Truth’
Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant led the Lakers to a ‘three-peat’ of NBA titles in 2000, 2001 and 2002. The Celtics never quite made it through the Eastern Conference to face them although a regular-season game in March did produce a memorable moment in the rivalry.
The 23-year-old Paul Pierce erupted for 42 points for the Celtics as they fell to a 112-107 loss to the Lakers at Staples Center
In the Lakers locker room after the game, O’Neal beckoned Boston Herald reporter Steve Bulpett over and uttered the following immortal words:
“Take this down. My name is Shaquille O’Neal, and Paul Pierce is the [expletive deleted] truth. Quote me on that, and don’t take nothing out. I knew he could play, but I didn’t know he could play like this. Paul Pierce is the truth.”
With that, Pierce had a bona fide nickname that he carried throughout his long career.
December 2015 – A rivalry full of respect
Despite the intense battles on the court, healthy respect has always existed between the Lakers and Celtics. Magic Johnson attended Larry Bird’s retirement ceremony in Boston wearing a Celtics jersey and famously told the crowd: “Larry, you only told me one lie. You said there will be another Larry Bird. Larry, there will never, ever be another Larry Bird.”
The Celtics honoured Kobe Bryant in December 2015, as the ‘Black Mamba’ faced off against Boston for the final time.
The Celtics management presented Bryant was a framed piece of Boston’s famous parquet court. Bryant responded with 15 points and 11 rebounds (his first double-double of that season) as the Lakers pulled off a surprise 112-104 win.
In the game’s final moments, Bryant received chants of “Ko-Be, Ko-Be” from the Celtics faithful.