The Celtics and Lakers, who have combined to win 32 of the 62 NBA championships, will meet for the title for 12th time, with Game 1 on Thursday night at Los Angeles. Here are a few points of interest to whet your appetite for our wall-to-wall coverage of one of sports’ great rivalries.
Remember last time?
When the teams met in the 2008 Finals, it was the first time in 21 years they’d squared off for all the marbles. The Celtics had won the first eight Finals matchups (from 1959 to 1984), the Lakers the next two (1985 and ’87).
Boston put a huge exclamation point on this series with a historic 131-92 blowout in Game 6, the biggest rout ever in a Finals clincher. The Celtics blew open a close game with a 26-6 second-quarter run sparked by a 3-point barrage from subs James Posey and Eddie House, then built their lead as high as 43 points late in the game on a Tony Allen alley-oop dunk. Think the Lakers remember that one?
If the teams’ regular-season meetings are any indication, fans will need a lot of antacid on hand. Both games went down to the wire.
On Jan. 31 at the TD Garden, the Celtics, who led by as many as 11 in the fourth quarter, held a slim one-point lead when Paul Pierce was called for an offensive foul while trying to get a shot off with 28 seconds to play. Then Kobe Bryant, who hit just 8 of 20 shots for the game, made a move to the hoop, stepped back from defender Ray Allen, and swished a shot with 7.3 seconds left for L.A.’s only second-half lead. Allen missed a shot at the buzzer, and the Lakers won 90-89.
In the rematch on Feb. 18 at the Staples Center, Allen got revenge, putting a hand in the face of Derek Fisher as he missed a potential winning shot at the buzzer, giving the C’s an 87-86 win. Allen led the Celtics’ offense, too, hitting 10 of his first 11 shots and scoring 24 points as the Lakers suffered their first loss with Kobe Bryant out of the lineup thanks to an ankle injury.
The visiting team won both regular-season meetings, which would bode well for the Celtics. In fact, Boston is the first NBA finalist with a better record on the road (26-15) than at home (24-17) in the regular season, and is 6-3 away from home this postseason.
C’s ground topflight foes
The Celtics reached the Finals after beating the teams with the best record (Cavaliers) and second-best record (Magic) during the regular season. They’re only the second team in NBA history to do that before reaching the Finals, joining the 1995 Rockets. And they’ll have the chance to knock off the No. 3 team in the Lakers.
Lakers on guard
After the teams’ Jan. 31 meeting, the Lakers’ inability to contain Rajon Rondo was a concern. ESPN Los Angeles columnist Dave McMenamin wrote, “Quick, penetrating guards make the Lakers' defense fold faster than a Texas hold 'em player who draws a 2-4 unsuited.” And L.A. coach Phil Jackson said Rondo “literally changed the ballgame in a matter of about four minutes” in the second quarter.
Rondo helped erase a 13-point Lakers lead in the blink of an eye with his at-will penetration. Rondo, who finished with 21 points, 12 assists, 5 rebounds and 2 steals, was covered primarily by Bryant rather than 35-year-old L.A. point guard Fisher, though Jackson made a point of blaming the whole team’s defense for letting Rondo run wild.
Bryant wasn’t around for the Feb. 18 rematch, but Rondo again had a major impact with 14 points, 11 assists, 5 rebounds and 5 steals. How the Lakers contend with Rondo could be the most important aspect of the Finals.