Of all the rivalries in professional sports, few can match the intensity and rich history of the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers. After battling it out in the NBA Finals during the 1980s, the Celtics and Lakers renewed their rivalry in 2008.
In their first season with Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce leading the team, the Celtics survived a treacherous path through the Eastern Conference playoffs to reach the Finals. Meanwhile, Kobe Bryant and the Lakers were buoyed by a mid-season trade for Pau Gasol.
L.A. went on to finish with the best record in the Western Conference and largely cruised to a matchup with their arch rival. The Celtics got the better of the Lakers, capitalizing on a historic Game 4 comeback and later dismantling them in Game 6 to win the title.
Most expected a rematch the following year but the Orlando Magic intervened. The Celtics and Lakers met again in 2010 in what amounted to a seven-game slugfest. Bryant and the Lakers avenged their defeat from two seasons prior.
During a recent appearance on “Fair Game with Kristine Leahy,” former Celtics head coach Doc Rivers reflected on that Finals defeat and the sting he still feels:
“That broke my heart, too. Still does. You don’t get over that. It was just the chance to win another title, and I thought it would’ve put a stamp on that group. I don’t think we were ever the same after Kevin got hurt. … I wanted so badly for that team to win another one, because that would’ve stamped them as one of the great teams.”
Considering his competitive nature and history of the rivalry, it’s certainly understandable that Rivers has not recovered from losing to the Lakers. Byron Scott expressed a similar sentiment even though he too was part of a Lakers team that eventually made up for a loss.
While plenty of work lies ahead of both teams, Kyrie Irving being part of the Celtics’ new core and LeBron James signing with the Lakers has led to renewed enthusiasm and early hope they will meet in the Finals.
Though almost assuredly not to the level of Rivers asking Celtics players for money so he could leave a bundle of cash in the ceiling of the visitor’s locker room after a February 2010 game because of confidence they would return to collect during that season’s NBA Finals.