The Boston Celtics versus the Los Angeles Lakers: Their Rivalry and their Legacy
Winner Takes All
The Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers battled on Thursday, June 17 in the seventh game of the 2010 NBA Finals with the Lakers prevailing to win their second consecutive NBA championship. It was the fifth game seven between these two teams in the history of their championship rivalry, and the second time in three years the Lakers and Celtics dueled for NBA supremacy. The games have been filled with spectacular play by both teams and the Celtics, Lakers and the NBA can all be proud.
The history of the NBA Finals is rife with Lakers/Celtics matchups. These two teams have met in the NBA Finals twelve times in the last fifty years. Boston has won nine titles against the Lakers, with Los Angeles beating their Eastern Conference foes only three times. The rosters of these teams throughout their rivalry read like a Who’s Who of basketball. The Lakers have been represented in the Finals by Elgin Baylor, Jerry West and Wilt Chamberlain in the 60’s; Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Earvin “Magic” Johnson and James Worthy in the 80’s; and, most recently, Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. Boston countered with Bill Russell, John Havlicek and Sam Jones in the 60’s; Larry Bird, Robert Parrish and Kevin McHale in the 80’s; and, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett in the 21st century. There have been so many other great players along the way, as well. Dave Cowens and Jo Jo White won titles for Boston in the 70’s against Milwaukee and Phoenix, and the Lakers won three in a row ten years ago with a guy named Shaquille O’Neal.
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Lakers and Celtics: Two Dynasties
What's at stake for the Lakers?
The Lakers emerged from the 2010 NBA playoffs victorious and claimed their 16th NBA title, trailing only Boston in championships. They have appeared in the Finals a record 31 times, but lost all eight of their Finals appearances to Boston in the 60’s. Their most recent win against their biggest rival solidified their place in history as Boston’s equal, even if their head-to-head matchups over the years suggest otherwise.
The 2010 championship holds meaning for the Lakers’ players and coaches, as well. Phil Jackson sealed his 11th NBA title with a victory over Boston. In 2009 he supplanted Boston coach Red Auerbach for most NBA championships. 11 titles make his record very difficult (if not impossible) to match. It has been rumored that Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss will mandate a pay cut for Jackson following the end of the season; the fifth championship banner under Jackson’s watch gives him a little more clout in defending his salary.
A fifth championship for Kobe Bryant inches him toward a legitimate comparison with Michael Jordan. Bryant is arguably the most dominant player in the last decade, and if he could possibly earn as many championships as MJ, it would be very difficult to keep Bryant out of a “who is better” discussion. If Kobe retires with fewer rings than Michael, history will view Jordan as the superior player, regardless of whatever Bryant may accomplish in the years to come.
A second title also cements Pau Gasol’s reputation as the best big man in basketball today. It is not an era of great centers, but Gasol stands out for his complete game. This skilled big man is adept at shooting and passing, and is an underrated rebounder and defender. His game reminds one of Bill Walton’s when the Big Redhead was healthy and dominating the middle for the Portland Trailblazers. Pau Gasol can’t match Walton’s skills, but he is currently the best in the game and his second championship matches those earned by other great big men such as Walton himself, Wilt Chamberlain, Hakeem Olajuwon and David Robinson.
A rivalry spanning over fifty years
What's at stake for the Celtics?
Boston couldn't take the 2010 NBA Championship and capture their 18th title overall, but this Boston team featuring Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen will still be remembered with great teams of the past, including the Celtics team of the 70’s with Dave Cowens, Paul Silas, Jo Jo White and John Havlicek. The Celtics are an aging team, and probably do not have another championship run in them. They can be proud of contributing to the Celtic dynasty, even if they couldn't establish a dynasty of their own.
Paul Pierce has never been mentioned in the same breath with Bryant, LeBron James, Dwayne Wade or even Carmelo Anthony—generally considered to be the greatest wing players in the game today, but his play in the 2010 season and playoffs should put him in the conversation. History still won’t give Pierce his due, but this underrated star deserves to be mentioned among the greatest currently playing at his position.
A second championship would have firmly established Kevin Garnett as a winner as well, but it wasn't to be. His record of playoff futility with the Minnesota Timberwolves helped label him a great player who couldn’t win the big one, and only time will tell how this talented and versatile basketball player is remembered.
Finally, the 2010 playoffs established Rajon Rondo as one of the most complete point guards in the game. His speed and quickness, coupled with his rebounding and defensive abilities make him a threat to dominate any game he is in. In 2008, his abilities were still in question—fans and sports writers wondered if Boston could win with Rondo. Only two years later, it is apparent they can’t win without him.
What does the 2010 Finals mean for the fans?
For fans of the NBA, the 2010 Finals was a delight. Throughout seven games, only one wasn’t competitive and five were great games. It wasn't always pretty, but it was two teams playing hard on both ends of the floor. This was a far cry from watching the hopelessly outmatched Orlando Magic choke in the 2009 Finals, or New Jersey, Indiana and Cleveland getting carved up by the Lakers or San Antonio. This was basketball at its best, and any fan of the game has to appreciate the legacy of these two great teams and their fabulous players. Bryant, Pierce, and Garnett will be remembered among the best players ever. It is possible Gasol, Allen and Rondo may be similarly regarded, as well. Fifty years from now, young fans watching the 2010 playoffs will tell their children and grandchildren how great these players were. Those who would have been too young to watch will not believe Kobe Bryant or Kevin Garnett were as good they are, just as those who never saw Chamberlain and Russell don't believe. Fans who saw the 2010 Finals will know the truth, however.
This latest installment in Celtics/Lakers lore was more than just another game or series. This was about sustaining a dynasty. The impact of game seven will extend well beyond this year's playoffs. With the Lakers come-from behind victory in game seven, the questions are answered for the moment. These two teams played a winner-take-all game for their place in history. The Celtics were defeated but when a series is this good, there are no losers. Forget about where LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and the rest are going to play basketball next year. History is made on the court--not through reporters.
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