On Thursday, for the 12th time in NBA history, the Celtics and the Lakers will meet in the NBA Finals, surely the league’s greatest rivalry in its 64 years. In honor of all the hall of famers and future ones as well, we bring you our Top 7 for the best NBA Finals Series’ between the two teams.
No. 7 – 2008 NBA Finals, Boston win 4-2
Twenty one years after the last time these two franchises met last in the NBA finals, the re-born Celtics (finished 24-58 in 2006-2007), headlined by Paul Pierce (Finals MVP), Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen faced Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers. The series started with a Boston win 98-88, which was mostly remembered for Pierce getting wheeled off the court after colliding with Kendrick Perkins, only to return later from the dressing room. Faker? Didn’t matter. Game 4 was probably the most memorable, as the Lakers jumped to a 35-14 lead early on, only to be stunned by the Celtics in the third quarter, making a 21-3 run led by Pierce and Ray Allen. The Lakers won game 5, but seemed lifeless when arriving at Boston for Game 6. The C’s went on to win in one of the most one sided games in Finals history, destroying the Lakers 131-92.
No. 6 – 1987 NBA Finals, Lakers win 4-2
A tired and almost broken Celtics team (two seven game series with the Bucks and Pistons) were hoping to be the first team since the 60’s Celtics to repeat, but they weren’t good enough. Magic Johnson, the first guard to win the regular season MVP since Oscar Robertson led what was maybe the best Lakers team ever, going 65-17 in the regular season. The Lakers ran the Celtics off the floor in Game 1 (126-113) and Game 2 (141-122), with Magic scoring 51 points and dishing 33 assists in both games combined. The Celtics seemed to turn things around in game 3, beating the Lakers 109-103, which led Larry Bird to declare – “Game 4 is going to be easy.” Magic Johnson’s baby sky hook or whatever you want to call it won the game for the Lakers 107-106. Bird: You expect to lose on a sky-hook, You don’t expect it to be from Magic.” The Lakers finished the series at home, winning 106-93 as Magic won his third Finals MVP award.
No.5 – 1985 NBA Finals, Lakers win 4-2
A series that began with the “memorial day massacre” – Boston destroying the Lakers 148-114 and ended with the Lakers’ first ever Finals Series win against the Celtics, winning their third title in six years. The Lakers clinched the series with a 100-111 win in Boston, the first and only time a team won the series at the Boston Garden. Kareem scored 29 points, winning the Finals MVP for the second time in his career, averaging 30.2 throughout the series.
No.4 – 1962 NBA Finals, Celtics win 4-3
The Lakers were new to LA (moving from Minneapolis), drawing celebs like Doris Day, Danny Thomas, Dinah Shore and Pat Boone. The Celtics? They had Auerbach, Cousy, Sam & K.C. Jones and above all, Bill Russell. The Lakers were actually glad at the beginning, happy about getting Boston (6th straight finals trip) and not Philly, as they didn’t feel they could cope with Chamberlain. Jerry West and Elgin Baylor led the Lakers all the way to game 7, where Frank Selvy missed a potential title winning shot at the closing seconds. The game went into overtime, and the Lakers began their tradition of losing in NBA finals (next title – 1972) and specifically to the Celtics (first finals win against Boston – 1985). Elgin Baylor scored 61 points in Game 5 of the series, (still) the most points scored in a Finals game.
No.3 – 1966 NBA Finals, Celtics win 4-3
Another seven game classic – The Lakers were with a 75% (as he referred to it) Elgin Baylor after knee problems and with Jerry West, scoring 31 points a game in the regular season. Boston were without Cousy, but with Russell, the Jones’s, Don Nelson and one John Havlicek. Auerbach announced in the beginning of the season he’ll retire from coaching when the 1965-1966 season ends, announcing his giving other teams “one last shot” at toppling the C’s. Boston didn’t finish with the East’s best record for the first time in over a decade, but as usual, got rid of Wilt in the playoffs. Eventually, it went down to another game 7. Bill Russell played with a broken foot, or so the legend says, grabbing 32 rebounds. The Lakers fought back after a horrible start, as West & Baylor combined for 3-18 from the field in the first half. The were close, but eventually, Boston won it’s 8th consecutive title, winning game 7 95-93 as the crowd stormed the court before the time was up.
No.2 – 1969 NBA Finals, Celtics win 4-2
A special series, that marked an end of an era, and again, went seven games, ending in a 108-106 Celtics win in Los Angeles. Bill Russell was the player coach, and played his final NBA season, retiring three months later. The Lakers came into the series for the first time probably as favorites. They finally had a presence in the middle – Wilt. Enough to make them feel confident. Jerry West was the best player in the league, and showed it throughout the series, scoring 53 in game 1 and 41 in game 2, as Russell famously refused to double up on the NBA logo. The Lakers had a 2-0 lead when Russell came to his senses, and started to tighten the D’s grip on West. Havlicek had a huge game 3 (111-105) and Sam Jones hit a shot at the buzzer over Wilt Chamberlain to tie the series at 2-2. Both teams split games 5-6 and then came game 7, the ones the Celtics tend to win. They did. Don Nelson hit a famous shot in the closing seconds, as the ball bounced off the rim high into the air before sinking back in the net, making it 108-104 and an eventual 108-106 Boston win. Jerry West won the first Finals MVP award, the only time the MVP came from the losing side. Boston won it’s 11 title in 13 years as the greatest dynasty in the history of Basketball came to an end.
No.1 – 1984 NBA Finals, Celtics win 4-3
Some say the 1986 Celtics team is the best ever. I think the 1984 one was better. This final was the first Magic-Bird showdown since the famous NCAA final, and began the greatest rivalry in the history of the NBA, suddenly renewed in the last few years, without the legend power surrounding the 1984, 1985 and 1987 finals. The Lakers stunned Boston at the Boston Garden in the series opener, with Kareem having a great night, scoring 32 points. Game 2 – Gerald Henderson made a huge play with the Celtics down 113-111 with 18 seconds left, picking off James Worthy’s pass and making a game tying lay up. The Celtics won 124-121 after overtime. Game 3 – The Lakers crushed the Celtics 137-104, with Magic Johnson dishing 21 assists, a Finals record. Larry Bird was famously quoted after the game, saying “We played like a bunch of sissies,” probably giving the Celtics the push they needed for the heated game 4 – James Worthy made another passing mistake, as M.L. Carr picked off his pass in overtime to dunk and seal the 129-125 victory. The game will mostly be remembered for McHale’s clotheslining Kurt Rambis on a breakaway layup, as Riley later called the Celtics “Thugs”. The Celtics grabbed the series lead in game 5, winning 121-103, with Larry Bird scoring 34 points with no air conditioning working in the Garden. Kareem carried the Lakers with 30 points in game 6, tying the series and bringing it back to Boston for a deciding game 7. Cedric Maxwell had a huge 24-8-8 night, DJ scored 22, Bird scored 20 points, leading the Celtics to a 111-103 with the Lakers falling apart in the closing minute after bringing their deficit to only 3 with a minute to go.