Kobe Bryant and Paul Pierce. Kevin Garnett and Pau Gasol. The modern-day stars of the Boston-L.A. rivalry have written their own chapter in the history books, and until this week, we all thought it would end in 2008, with the C’s blowing the Lakers away in Game 6 at the TD Garden to win the championship.
But the Lakers got their wish this time around — another shot at the men in green. Whether they admit it or not, they most definitely wanted it.
“I think that’s the natural mentality,” Pierce said Monday. “When you lose to a team in the championship and then have the opportunity to play that team again, I think it’s just natural. I think if I was in that position, I’d probably feel the same way. I feel that way regardless, even though we won, that I want to play against L.A. I want to go there and try to win the championship again.”
Historically, things have been lopsided between the Celtics and Lakers. In the first 11 Finals meetings between the two teams, Boston won nine, including all of the first eight. And most recently, of course, Pierce and KG and Ray Allen dispatched the Lakers in six, just two years ago.
That pain hasn’t gone away yet for the Lakers.
“When you lose in the championship, that’s something that’s hard to forget,” Pierce said. “You’re talking about the biggest stage. I played in a lot of championship games when I played AAU, and when you lost those games, it hurt more. You’d almost rather lose earlier than in the championship when you’ve come so close. I know it’s something that sticks in their mind.”
Every chance you get to win a title is meaningful. The NBA is all about rings. But for the Celtics, playing the Lakers means more. You’re playing for double the glory.
“It’s a chance to be a part of history,” Pierce said. “This is something I grew up watching, these series. These are the types of series that got me into basketball, watching Lakers-Celtics.”
The history goes back farther than a lot of these Celtics can remember. Rajon Rondo and Glen Davis were in diapers when Magic Johnson made his famous sky hook to win Game 4 of the 1987 Finals. Kendrick Perkins was in the womb when Kevin McHale clotheslined Kurt Rambis in Game 4 in 1984. While Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain duked it out in the 1969 Finals, Doc Rivers was just finishing up the first grade.
“I always go back further than 2008,” Rivers said of the Celtics-Lakers rivalry. “I watched the Magic hook shot and the Rambis takedown. You do — you remember all that stuff. It was awesome. As a kid, you couldn’t wait to watch it, and then as an NBA player, when I was playing and they played, you still loved it. It was great basketball, because there was a lot of passion. Passion in sports is phenomenal.”
There will be plenty of passion come Thursday night. You’re looking at two teams that know exactly what they’re getting into — not only do they know the history of this rivalry, but they’re eager to become a part of it.
“Celtics-Lakers means more because of the history,” Rivers said. “Even the young guys know the history. You feel like when you’re a Celtic, you want to defend the Celtics, and they feel like when they’re Lakers, they want to defend the Lakers.
“But,” he added, “it’s no more than that. And one of the things I told our guys is once the game starts, it’s about playing basketball.”