For the first time in 21 years, the Boston Celtics will meet the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals. It’s the match up everyone outside of Detroit and San Antonio wanted to see, and the way the Pistons played the 4th quarter in Game 6 and the Spurs' effort, maybe everyone wanted another Celtics/Lakers Final. This is the 11th time these two franchises will meet for the League’s Championship, with Boston holding an 8-2 advantage. Of course, since their last meeting, over two decades ago, a lot has changed. The Lakers won in ’87, and added 4 more titles and 7 (8 counting this year) more appearances in the Final. Meanwhile the Celtics failed to win the championship, and have not made it back until this season. Unlike the last time this happened, there are fewer jobs and everyone has cellphones.
In the years following the 1987 (jobs) Finals, both teams experienced unimaginable events that affected their franchises. The tragic death of Reggie Lewis and the diagnosis that Magic Johnson was HIV positive rattled not just the Celtics and Lakers, but the entire NBA. But it was the Lakers who were able to not be labeled, simply a great team of the 80’s, known solely by their storied history. The Lakers beat the Celtics in ’87, then captured back-to-back championships for the first time in Los Angeles’ history in ’88 beating the Isiah Pistons in 7 games, right before Detroit won two in a row. They made another Finals run in ’91 with Magic, but without Coach Pat Riley. As we all know they lost to Jordan’s Bulls as that era began, and Magic and the Showtime Lakers were never made it out of the West again.
The 90’s ran out and Phil Jackson teamed up with a 27 year old Shaquille O’Neal and a 21 year old Kobe Bryant. L.A. ripped off 3 straight titles led by Shaq and Kobe. The Lakers were back! They beat the Indiana Pacers, Philadelphia 76ers, and New Jersey Nets a combined 12-3 in three consecutive NBA Finals. A run at a 4th banner was derailed by Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and yes, Stephen Jackson, the next year. In 2004, Karl Malone and Gary Payton joined forces in an attempt to win their first ring, reminiscent of Charles Barkley teaming up with Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler in Houston. The All-Star Lakers did make the Finals, but lost to Chauncey Billups, Rip, the Wallaces, and Detroit. Phil Jackson left the next year and the team failed to make the post season. Upon his arrival the Lakers returned to the playoffs only to bow out in the 1st round his first two seasons back, but now here they are, the favorites to win the NBA title.
What about the Celtics? What happened to them following the 1987 Finals? Boston remained very competitive between '88-'93, always finishing with a winning record and making the playoffs. Larry Bird retired after an injury plagued ’92 season that ended in a Game 7 loss in the Eastern Conference Semifinals to Mark Price, Brad Daugherty, and the Cleveland Cavaliers. It was then Reggie Lewis’ team. He made the 1992 All-Star team, and averaged 20.8 points per game in each of his final two seasons. The year after Lewis’s death, the Celtics were 32-50, and missed out on the playoffs. From 94-01, Boston was a combined 241-383, making the playoffs just once, and losing in the 1st round. The weakness of the Eastern Conference and the skill of Paul Pierce and Antoine Walker did equal one conference finals run where they lost in 6 games to Jason Kidd and the Nets. This year’s Finals run came off of a well documented 24 win season where they were openly trying to get Greg Oden or Kevin Durant. Had they got the number 1 or number 2 pick, who knows how many more years the Finals draught would have lasted.
Let’s take a closer look at the Celtics and Lakers in the past 21 seasons. (This takes into account everything after the Lakers win in the 1987 Finals over Boston).
Celtics – 0
Lakers – 4
===Finals Appearances (counting 2008):=== Celtics – 1
Lakers – 8
Years in the Playoffs:
Celtics – 12/21
Lakers – 19/21
Celtics – 11
Lakers – 3
Celtics – Donnie Wahlberg
Lakers – Jack Nicholson
Well as you can see these two proud franchises have taken different routes from 1987 to make this rematch happen here in 2008. I truly believe these are the best two teams in all of basketball and deserve to be here. After Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett joined the Celtics there were rumblings that, in the East, this team has a shot at the Finals. Then during the season, once Kobe decided he wanted to stay in LA, the Lakers had their young big man Andrew Bynum go done forcing them to hit the market. The beginning of February the Lakers made the most 1 sided trade in sports history (least in the conversation), and suddenly there was a legit chance of a Celtics-Lakers Final four months later. It gets started on Thursday in Boston and I am ready to go.
Early lean: Celtics in 7.