Boston Celtics and LA Lakers: An NBA rivalry for the ages

Boston Celtics vs LA Lakers is one of the most storied rivalries in the NBA.
Boston Celtics vs LA Lakers is one of the most storied rivalries in the NBA.

Boston Celtics and LA Lakers are arguably two of the most famous teams in the NBA. Ever since their first Finals meeting in 1959, the rivalry between the two teams has been an enticing one.

Following their victorious 2019-20 campaign, this epic rivalry has taken a new turn. The LA Lakers beat the Miami Heat in a six-game 2020 NBA Finals to tie the Boston Celtics' record of most NBA Championships (17).

On that note, let us take a walk down memory lane to see what makes the Celtics and the Lakers the two most storied franchises in the NBA.

How has the rivalry between the Boston Celtics and the LA Lakers evolved over the years

When Boston Celtics and LA Lakers matched up in NBA Finals
When Boston Celtics and LA Lakers matched up in NBA Finals

Before talking about head-to-head match-ups, here is a very interesting historical feat:

With his win with the LA Lakers, Rajon Rondo joined Clyde Lovellette as the only players to have won the NBA Championship with both teams.


The beginning of the historic rivalry between the Boston Celtics and the LA Lakers

The Boston Celtics and LA Lakers rivalry is one of the greatest in the history of the competition because they’ve met a record 12 times in the NBA Finals. Barring the 1959 Finals when the LA Lakers were swept 4-0, the Boston Celtics haven't had an easy time en route to their eight other titles at the expense of the LA Lakers.


The Celtics and the Lakers contested six of ten NBA Finals during this period

Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain
Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain

1960 was the year the Lakers moved to Los Angeles from Minneapolis. The reason they’re called the Lakers is because the city of Minneapolis is known for its lakes. The Lakers did not change their name after this move despite the general scarcity of natural lakes in southern California.

The Boston Celtics and the LA Lakers rivalry grew during this decade. They met six times in the NBA Finals during the 1960s. The Celtics won them all, with the 1962, 1966 and 1969 finals going to Game 7.

A very interesting story from the 1963 Finals match-up is about angry crowds showing up in Los Angeles to buy playoff tickets that were not available. The LA Lakers took care of it by offering closed-circuit TV viewing for $2.50 a head.

"We were aware we were testing the future of pay television", the Lakers GM Lou Mohs told reporters.

The Boston Celtics and the LA Lakers met again in 1965 and 1966. The first of these two finals was a tough one for the Lakers as they were missing Elgin Baylor due to an injury. In the 1966 Finals, the Lakers fought back from a 1-3 deficit to force a Game 7 but couldn't complete the comeback as the Celtics won after recovering from a 16-point deficit entering the fourth quarter.

When the LA Lakers brought on Wilt Chamberlain in 1968, it intensified the rivalry between the player and Bill Russell. While the Lakers posted their best record in the 1968-69 season and the Celtics struggled to make it to the Top 4, the latter upset the 76ers and Knicks en route to the NBA Finals. Despite an intense rivalry, Bill and Chamberlain remained good friends but saw their relationship deteriorate during the 1969 Finals.


A dull decade for the rivalry

Boston Celtics and LA Lakers won NBA championships in the 1970s but not against each other. The LA Lakers won in 1972, which was Laker legend Jerry West’s only title, and the Celtics won in 1974 and 1976.

To many, this decade might seem like a dull one in terms of the LA Lakers - Boston Celtics rivalry, but it actually sowed the seeds for the rivalry to evolve in the years to come.

During the 1978-79 NCAA season, Magic Johnson led Michigan State to the championship game of the NCAA Tournament, where they faced Indiana State University, which was led by Larry Bird.

In what was the most-watched college basketball game ever, Michigan State defeated Indiana State 75–64, with Johnson voted the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four. Johnson would later go on to be drafted by the LA Lakers, and Bird by the Boston Celtics.


In this decade, the Boston Celtics - LA Lakers rivalry was re-ignited

Larry Bird (left) and Magic Johnson
Larry Bird (left) and Magic Johnson

With three NBA Finals match-ups in the 80s, the personal rivalry between Larry Bird and Magic Johnson gave the Boston Celtics and LA Lakers rivalry a new spark as both strived to outplay the other.

The Showtime Lakers struck the first blow by winning the 1980 NBA Finals against the Philadelphia 76ers. The next year, behind the 'Big Three' of future Hall of Famers - Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish - the Celtics won the 1981 NBA Finals against the Houston Rockets.

The 1984 Finals was a well-fought, entertaining and value-for-money series for NBA fans. Two games went into OT, and the series went into Game 7. The Boston Celtics, however, came away with a 111-102 victory to take the series, with Larry Bird being named the Finals MVP.

Prior to Johnson and Bird's arrival, the NBA had endured a decade of declining interest and low TV ratings. However, with the two future Hall of Famers, the league attracted a whole generation of new fans. The rivalry between Bird and Johnson, and that of the Boston Celtics and the LA Lakers, contributed greatly to the success of the NBA during this decade.


Arguably the NBA's greatest player of all time emerged in this decade

Emergence of Michael Jordan
Emergence of Michael Jordan

The 90s decade was a dull one for both the franchises, and we know the reason for this – the emergence of Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. The Bulls had a perfect NBA Finals record during this decade, winning all of their six finals series.

The 90s was a tragic decade of sorts for both the franchises. On November 7, 1991, Johnson announced that he had tested positive for HIV and would retire immediately. Boston Celtics star Reggie Lewis died of a heart attack in 1993 when he was in his prime. In 1994, for the first time in the history of the NBA, both the Boston Celtics and the LA Lakers missed the playoffs.

The arrival of Kobe Bryant, drafted from high school in 1996 by the Charlotte Hornets and then traded away to the LA Lakers, kickstarted the rebuilding phase for the LA Lakers franchise. Later that year, Shaquille O’Neal was signed, and three years later, Phil Jackson was appointed as the Head Coach of the franchise.

How the Boston Celtics and LA Lakers rivalry evolved in the 21st century


LA Lakers had a three-peat with Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal at their helm

The Three-Peat duo of Kobe Bryant (left) and Shaquille O' Neil (right)
The Three-Peat duo of Kobe Bryant (left) and Shaquille O' Neil (right)

After the Boston Celtics secured their first three-peat in the early 1960s, the post-Minneapolis era from 2000-2002 saw the LA Lakers’ do so.

The duo of Bryant and Shaquille O'Neil for the LA Lakers was unstoppable during this period as they brought out many offensive and defensive plays for the highlight reels.

In 2000, the LA Lakers beat the Indiana Pacers, who were coached by Boston Celtic legend Larry Bird, 4-2 in six games.

In 2002, the Boston Celtics, who featured Paul Pierce and Antoine Walker, were set to make it to the NBA Finals but fell in six games to the New Jersey Nets in the Eastern Conference Finals. Their run to the Conference Finals was so impressive that many fans rooted for a LA Lakers - Boston Celtics NBA Finals, but that was not to be.

The LA Lakers then completed their three-peat by sweeping New Jersey Nets 4-0. It marked the third three-peat for Phil Jackson, who was known for the use of zen magic in his approach, with the other two coming while he was at the Chicago Bulls.

The Celtics' Big Three after signing Kevin Garnett
The Celtics' Big Three after signing Kevin Garnett

In 2004, Shaquille O’Neal was traded to Miami Heat after the LA Lakers lost to the Detroit Pistons in the NBA Finals.

The raw strength and defensive abilities of the Pistons saw them winning the Championship by defeating the LA Lakers. That same year, the Boston Celtics hired Doc Rivers as their head coach, and in 2007 Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen were added to the line-up. With Pierce added to the mix, a new 'Big Three' emerged.

Both Boston Celtics and LA Lakers were well stacked. The Lakers added Pau Gasol to their roster in a mid-season acquisition as the next few seasons brought the rivalry between the two historic franchises back to life.

The two franchises met in the 2008 NBA Finals where the Boston Celtics won in six games that featured inspiring performances at both ends to win a record 17th NBA Championship.

That apparently didn’t sit well with Kobe Bryant and the LA Lakers, and they were hungry for a re-match the next season. However, the Boston Celtics lost the 2009 Eastern Conference Finals to the Orlando Magic. The Lakers beat the Magic 4-1 in the NBA Finals as Kobe Bryant won his fourth NBA Championship.

In the summer before the 2009–2010 season, Phil Jackson ran into Paul Pierce and told him:

"Get it back! We want to meet you in the Finals!"

The LA Lakers played the Phoenix Suns in the 2010 Western Conference Finals, with chants of β€œWe want Boston!” erupting in the arena. Similarly, chants of β€œBeat LA.!” erupted at the TD Garden when the Boston Celtics played Magic.

Both teams won their respective series 4-2 to set the stage for one of the best NBA Finals battles in the league's history.

Bryant led the LA Lakers in scoring in six of seven games; Ray Allen's produced a Finals' record eight 3-pointers in Game 2; Derek Fisher carried his team to victory and then cried in Game 3; Game 7 became the highest rated NBA game since Michael Jordan's second retirement in Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals as the 2010 NBA Finals witnessed a bevy of historic moments.

The LA Lakers beat the Boston Celtics in Game 7 of the series to win their 16th NBA Championship, with Kobe Bryant named the Finals MVP for the second time in as many seasons. Game 7 was the third most-watched game in NBA history, with 28.2 million viewers (Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals was number one while Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals was number two).

Post 2010

The re-building phase for both the Boston Celtics and the LA Lakers

Despite adding Shaquille O’Neal to the their roster in the 2010-11 series, the Boston Celtics were sent packing by Miami Heat who had their own 'Big Three' of Dwayne Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh.

The LA Lakers, on the other hand, were defeated by Dirk Nowitzki’s Dallas Mavericks. Similarly in the 2012 NBA season, the Lakers and the Celtics lost in their respective conference finals to bring an end to a dominance that lasted for a long time.

Both the Boston Celtics and the LA Lakers missed the playoffs in the 2013–14 season, marking only the second such instance in the epic rivalry's history.

The next few seasons saw the two teams enter into a rebuilding phase. While the Lakers struggled to make the playoffs, the Boston Celtics had a few chances at the playoffs but could make no deep runs.

The Boston Celtics got a boost when rookies Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum joined the team after the franchise made trades for All-Star free agents Gordon Hayward and Al Horford and acquired Kyrie Irving from the Cavaliers.

The year 2018 marked the arrival of 3-time NBA Champion LeBron James to Laker Nation, which was followed by the signing of Anthony Davis from the Pelicans a year later. Many compared the new duo of LeBron James and Anthony Davis with that of Bryant and Shaquille O'Neil.

That same year, the Boston Celtics brought in Kemba Walker after Irving left to join the Nets.

2019-20: LA Lakers win a record-equalling 17th NBA Championship

The 2020 NBA Champions - LA Lakers
The 2020 NBA Champions - LA Lakers

In the 2019-20 season, the Lakers took the top seed in the Western Conference as Lakers fans yearned for a title run from the franchise.

The 2020 NBA Finals was a historic one for many reasons; the COVID-19 pandemic forced things to a halt. The season resumed in a bubble in Orlando , with teams invited to complete the remainder games to decide the final seeding and begin the Playoffs.

The Boston Celtics had a promising run to the Conference Finals where they faced the Miami Heat. Miami had entered the bubble as the underdogs in the East, but played as a strong unit at both ends.

The Heat beat the Boston Celtics 4-2 to advance to the 2020 NBA Finals where they faced the LA Lakers where LeBron James and Anthony Davis helped the LA Lakers win the Championship in six games.

Rondo was also instrumental for the LA Lakers as be brought in his energy and veteran experience into the mix. The triumph with the Lakers made Rondo only the second player ever to win an NBA championship with both the Lakers and the Celtics.

The 2020 NBA Championship brought LeBron James' total number of rings to four, with the player achieving the same with three different teams, which is no mean feat. LeBron James also won the 2020 Finals MVP, which was his fourth such honor.

The Boston Celtics and the LA Lakers' rivalry means a lot to the players as well. It is a 'Win at all costs" match-up for players from both sides. Ex-LA Lakers player Metta World Peace (a.k.a Ron Artest) sounded excited about what next year could have in store for the Boston Celtics and LA Lakers rivalry:

The LA Lakers' 17th NBA Championship equaled the record of the Boston Celtics for most NBA Championships. Although it would have been great if they managed to tie the record by beating the Celtics, fans would hope for the historic rivalry to be reborn in the coming seasons as either team would look to be the first in NBA history to win 18 Championships.

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Edited by Bhargav
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