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The Celtics-Lakers future is anything but bleak

Suraj
CONTRIBUTOR
Modified 13 Dec 2013, 18:57 IST
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Kobe Bryant (L) of the Los Angeles Lakers and Kevin Garnett (R) of the Boston Celtics going at it during the 2010 NBA Finals

The 2010 NBA Finals was an epic seven-game series between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics. As loose as it sounds now, back in the 2010 playoffs both teams pushed as though it was their last legitimate shot at the gold. The Lakers took game 7 and the NBA title that year.

Every hoops fan, one way or another, is well aware of the Celtics-Lakers rivalry. Not only is it the NBA’s fiercest rivalry, it is also one of the most storied rivalries in all of sports. Two franchises that invoke extreme emotions from fans and haters alike, have also given the game of basketball some of its greatest players. Jerry West, Bill Russell, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Danny Ainge, Karim Abdul Jabbar and other greats made way for great talents of the modern era. Our generation discusses the rivalry on the basis of names like Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo, Derek Fisher, Pau Gasol and other accompanying players. The two teams have won a total 33 championships, with the Celtics having won one more than the Lakers. But it is the Lakers that have dominated the rivalry in the modern era.

Today the two teams are facing times that every fan dreads. It is not something uncommon – every team and every athlete has been, and will continue to be, plagued by low points. But the reason this situation right here demands attention is because this time, and the next few coming years, could change the entire face of the rivalry between the C’s and the Lakers. I will try to give you a perspective about that, taking into consideration the past few years and the coming few.

The Lakers have always been a heavy spending franchise. The most glorious days that the modern day Lakers fans were witness to came back in the Shaq-Kobe years. A hungry Bryant and a dominating Shaq combined to form one of the most formidable frontcourt-backcourt duos to have set foot on the hardwood. They were joined by Phil ‘Zen’ Jackson as head coach, and went on to achieve a three-peat (gold in 2000, 2001 and 2002).

But what a few people tend to overlook is that the Shaq-Kobe era too came as part of the re-building process after a lull during the 90s. It was like that the decade of the 90s was specifically tailored by the Lord himself, for Michael Jordan and Phil Jackson to cement their respective places as the greatest player and greatest coach. The years post 1996 were the beginning of the re-ignition; Shaq and Kobe did it for the Lakers, while Boston got Paul ‘The Truth’ Pierce in 1998. The Celtics team, built around Pierce, kept pushing for progress while the Lakers got the three-peat.

Then came the game-changer in 2004 – big Shaq was traded to the Miami Heat. With the big man gone, the Lakers joined the Celtics in a place called ‘mediocrity’. In all this while, it is not that the two teams just vanished; it is just that neither made any spectacular run at the playoffs or to the Finals.

Then came the year 2008. Boston had made blockbuster trades to bring in Garnett and Allen to join Pierce, Rondo and coach Doc Rivers. The Lakers had Kobe, joined by the likes of Gasol, Fisher, an injured Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom. The two teams met in the 2008 NBA Finals, with Boston taking the series 4-2. This was Boston’s first championship since 1986 and 17th overall. The year also paved the way for the arrival on the scene of Boston’s Big-3 (Garnett, Pierce and Allen) and one of the best point guards in the game in Rajon Rondo.

Ray Allen (L) and Pau Gasol (R) formed a key part of the teams’ title winning runs

The following year, the Celtics fell to the Orlando Magic in the Eastern Conference finals. The Magic went on to face the Lakers in the 2009 finals, which saw LA take the gold. The year 2010 brought this rivalry back to its epitome, in a way that moved even fans of the Bird-Magic era beyond words. Both teams were in the zone and every player with the potential to play to their very best. Kobe was joined by Gasol, Artest (Metta World Peace), Bynum and Fisher, while the Celtics had Garnett, Pierce, Perkins, Allen and Rondo. Practically every fan on the street was in either the purple and gold or the green. With even the Gods as audience, the two teams literally went to war.

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Tearing at each other through six games, it all finally came down to game 7 at the Staples Centre in California. It was what every fan had waited for, for ages – the Laker Show versus the Celtic Pride. In a hard-fought game, the Lakers came out on top with Bryant getting his 5th championship, his 2nd Finals MVP and the Lakers’ 16th title. It was also the first time that the Lakers won a game 7 against the Celtics. A number of fans like myself, as happy as we were at the display of great basketball, silently knew that this could probably be the last great franchise battle for at least a while. That series also made another thing clear – one can go ahead and hate Kobe, dis him, not give him due credit, but one simply cannot ignore his will to never give up, and his unstinting attempts to be king-of-the-mountain.

Post the 2010 season, both teams made a number of shuffles. Every change made in the three years leading up to this season was a contributing factor to the teams’ current scenario and also part of the re-building strategy that both teams have employed.

Phil Jackson retired after the 2011 season. The Lakers traded away veteran Derek Fisher and got Jordan Hill from the Houston Rockets. Steve Nash was brought in from the Phoenix Suns in exchange for draft picks and cash. Lamar Odom was traded to the Dallas Mavericks.

In a four team trade, Andrew Bynum was traded to bring in the best big man in the game today, Dwight Howard. With this trade, the Lakers were expected to become serious title contenders. But alas, unlike Jabbar and Shaq, Howard could never establish his dominance as a big man and ended up getting the sour end of a blockbuster deal. That ‘Dwightmare’ ended when Howard ended up at Houston this season.

On the other hand, after 2010 the Celtics got Shaq and Jermaine O’Neal to fill in for the injured Perkins, and Delonte West came back. Perkins was then traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder. The C’s made additions in the form of Jeff Green, Carlos Arroyo and Nenad Krstic. Other player movements in and out the Celtic locker room involved Brandon Bass, Marquis Daniels, Mickael Pietrus, Glen Davis, Jason Terry, Von Wafer, etc.

What the Celtics did in 2012 was let go of Ray Allen, who chose to move to Miami despite a pay cut. Coach Doc Rivers was then traded to the Clippers in 2013 which made way for the big shocker – a few days later Garnett and Pierce along with Jason Terry and D. J. White moved to the Brooklyn Nets.

This marked the absolute end of the ‘Big 3’ era. Brad Stevens, the head coach of Butler University, is now Head Coach of the Celtics.

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Published 04 Dec 2013, 21:02 IST
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