There are sports rivalries, and there are sports rivalries. In baseball, it’s the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox. In football, it’s the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Commanders (Redskins) and Michigan and Ohio State. In hockey, there are the Boston Bruins and the Montreal Canadians. And in professional basketball, there is no more significant rivalry than the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Celtics and Lakers rivalry dates back to 1948, and although it’s waxed and waned over the years, it’s ever-present when the teams face off on the court. The teams have had some of the greatest players in the sport’s history on their respective rosters, have both won 17 championships apiece, and now play in competing conferences meaning when they meet in the playoffs, it’s always the finals.
How many finals? The Celtics and Lakers have met 12 times in the NBA Finals. Their first meeting was in 1959. They faced each other in the Finals six times in the 1960s, thrice in the 1980s, and twice since 2000. They account for 34 of the 74 championships (or 45%) in the history of the NBA. Boston is the only team with an overall winning record against Los Angeles.
Here’s a quick look at some significant moments in the storied rivalry.
2010 Finals Game Seven
Heading into this game, the Boston Celtics had never lost a game seven in the NBA Finals. Despite that, sportsbooks such as BetMGM had Boston as 7-point underdogs after dropping game six 89-67 in one of the most lackluster games in Celtic playoff history.
In the final deciding game, Boston held the lead through most of the night while holding the Lakers to ridiculously low 32% shooting percentages, but the Lakers rallied in the final minutes, winning the game 83-79.
When the Celtics failed to close it out on the coast, they became the seventh team to blow a 3-2 Finals lead after winning Game 5.
Magic’s Junior Sky Hook
Great players are expected to make great plays when everything is on the line, and Magic Johnson did just that in game 4 of the NBA Finals in 1987. Although it wasn’t a win-or-go-home moment, the Lakers were up 2-1 in the series; when you’re playing in the Finals, every game counts.
Boston was up 106-105 in the game’s final moments, and the Lakers had to score with 7 seconds left on the clock. Kevin McHale was guarding Magic when he launched his junior sky hook into the basket with only two seconds left. When Larry Bird missed the gaming winning shot, the Lakers went up 3-1 in the series on their way to defeating defending NBA champion Celtics 4 games to 2
Celtics 2008 Comeback
The Celtics dominated the first two games in the series against the Lakers in 2008, and it looked like the series was all but over when it shifted to LA for game 3. However, the Lakers regained their composure, defeating the Celtics 87-81 in game 3. Many fans believed the momentum had shifted, and the Lakers still had a chance at winning the series.
The Lakers built a 20-point lead in Game 4, and it seemed an inevitable conclusion that they’d tie the series. However, they collapsed in the second half, allowing the Celtics to get back in the game.
The Celtics would go on to win the game, and the Lakers found themselves in an unenviable position, being down 3-1 with the series shifting back to Boston. The Lakers would win game 5, but the Celtics took care of business in Game 6, blowing out the Lakers by 40 points and winning the championship.
Kevin McHale’s Hard Foul
As one of the greatest rivalries in sports history, it’s not surprising that things get rough on the court from time to time. Celtics legend Kevin McHale collared Kurt Rambis in Game 4 of the NBA finals, changing the game with his team tying the series by winning 129 to 125.
It all started with a Lakers’ fast break led by James Worthy, who passed the ball to Rambis. When Rambis went up to complete a lay-up, McHale slammed him. A fight was only averted when Worthy shoved Rambis to the ground as he was getting up, ready to go to blows with a defiant McHale.
While McHale didn’t have a reputation as a dirty player, it’s not uncommon for refs to let players get away with more contact in the finals. However, if this had happened today, McHale would likely have been fined and ejected from the game.