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The Lakers-Celtics rivalry or Celtics-Lakers rivalry is a rivalry between the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics, the two most storied basketball franchises in National Basketball Association history. The rivalry had been less intense since the retirements of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird in the early 1990s, but in 2008, the rivalry was reborn as the Lakers and Celtics met in the Finals for the first time since 1987. The Celtics currently lead in total championships with 17 to the Lakers' 15; together, the two teams' 32 championships account for half of the 63 championships in NBA history.


The Lakers and the Celtics have met a total of 11 times in the NBA Finals, with Boston winning the first eight meetings, and Los Angeles winning the next two. In the most recent meeting of the two franchises, the Celtics won the Championship series 4 games to 2 over the Lakers.

Year Winner Series
1959 Boston Celtics 4–0
1962 Boston Celtics 4–3
1963 Boston Celtics 4–2
1965 Boston Celtics 4–1
1966 Boston Celtics 4–3
1968 Boston Celtics 4–2
1969 Boston Celtics 4–3
1984 Boston Celtics 4–3
1985 Los Angeles Lakers 4–2
1987 Los Angeles Lakers 4–2
2008 Boston Celtics 4–2

The first NBA Finals match-up between the two teams was in 1959 when the Boston Celtics swept the then Minneapolis Lakers for their first of 8 straight titles. However the rivalry truly originated in the 1960s, when the Celtics defeated the Lakers six times in eight years (1962, 1963, 1965, 1966, 1968, and 1969) to claim the championship, and featured greats such as Bill Russell and Bob Cousy for Boston and Elgin Baylor and Jerry West for Los Angeles. In three of those NBA Finals ('62, '66, and '69), the series went to seven games, with the Celtics winning each time.

The rivalry continued with renewed fervor in the 1980s when both teams were strong, and was personified as Larry Bird (Boston) vs. Magic Johnson (Los Angeles). During this period, this rivalry took on many dimensions, such as East Coast vs. West Coast, Working class grit vs. Hollywood glitz, old tradition vs. air-conditioned luxury, and some believe white vs. black (the Celtics teams of the 1980s were predominantly composed of Caucasian players, while those of Los Angeles were mostly African American). Additionally, prior to the 1980s, the NBA had been struggling financially, with low attendance and television ratings. The battles between the two teams contributed mightily to the success of the league. Coupled with the emergence of the Chicago Bulls and Michael Jordan in the following years, the NBA became a media juggernaut and one of the dominant sports leagues of the United Statesmarker as well as the rest of the world. The effect the rivalry had on the league is remarkable, since the two teams only met in an 80's Finals three times (1984, 1985, and 1987) and only played each other twice each season.It was their rivalry that the NBA instituted the questionable 2-3-2 Finals format which began in 1985 when Celtics owner Red Auerbach proposed this format to NBA Commissioner David Stern because he did not like the frequent coast to coast flights between Boston and Los Angeles, especially after the 1984 NBA Finals was tied 2-2, the two teams traveled across the country and back for Games 5 (Boston), 6 (Los Angeles) & 7 (Boston). Auerbach later said it was terrible that the NBA went to this format because he thinks it's an advantage to the team with the three middle games and gets to host Game 5, which is usually the crucial game in a 7 game series, unlike in the traditional 2-2-1-1-1 format, the team with home court gets to host both Game 5 & Game 7.

The rivalry temporarily died down following Magic Johnson and Bird's retirements and the rise of Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls dynasty in the 1990s. Both teams suffered setbacks in the subsequent fifteen years, with the Lakers finally returning to prominence with three championships in the 2000s. After failing to advance in the playoffs after trading Shaquille O'Neal, the Lakers have returned as one of the top teams in the league. The Celtics also endured a lull, having suffered through some lean years during which the Sacramento Kings temporarily replaced Boston as the team Lakers fans loved to hate (see Lakers-Kings rivalry). The Celtics, like the Lakers, have once again improved to become one of the top teams in the NBA.

One of the lasting effects on the Lakers-Celtics rivalry was the usage of the famous "Beat L.A.!!!" chant, sung by fans in opposing arenas whenever a Los Angeles-based team plays in their home venue. Celtics fans sang the slogan in the 1960s at Boston Gardenmarker, and again in the 1980s in the Johnson-Bird rivalry. Perhaps its most famous usage was during Game 7 the 1982 Eastern Conference Championships when the Boston fans urged the victorious Sixers to "Beat L.A.". It has kept on with every Los Angeles sports franchise since then. The two teams met again in the 2008 NBA Finals, reviving the rivalry once again.

1969 NBA Finals recap

With Bill Russell and Sam Jones in their final season, Boston's dynasty was but a memory. The Celtics were the league's oldest team and struggled to make the NBA playoffs as the fourth and final seed in the Eastern Conference. They upset the 76ers in the first round and postponed New York's finals appearance for another year. Awaiting the Celtics were the powerful Los Angeles Lakers who had a nucleus of Jerry West, Elgin Baylor and newly acquired Wilt Chamberlain.

After losing the first two games in the Forum in L.A., no one thought Boston would even pull out a victory. However, they won game 3 and a buzzer-beater by Sam Jones tied the series up at 2 games apiece. The home team won games 5 and 6 which set up a dramatic seventh game. Before the game started, Laker's owner Jack Kent Cooke placed flyers in every seat stating "When, not if, the Lakers win the title, balloons will be released from the raftors, the USC marching band will play "Happy Days Are Here Again" and broadcaster Chick Hearn will interview Elgin Baylor, Jerry West and Wilt Chamberlain in that order." Celtics player coach Bill Russell got word of this and told his team "A lot of things can happen but the Lakers can not beat us. They can't beat us. But it's going to be funny watching them take down those balloons."

Boston, who had not won a game in the Forum all season, played tough through the first half and would keep the game close, with a score of 60-60. Remarkably, Boston would pull away and entered the fourth quarter up by 18. It seemed to be over when Lakers center Wilt Chamberlain was injured and replaced by reserve Mel Counts. The Celtics, however, would begin to show their age when they began missing shots and turning the ball over and Laker Jerry West pulled L.A. to within one. Despite having numerous opportunities, the Lakers couldn't get over the hump and Don Nelson would make an incredible foul-line jump-shot which bounced off the back-iron and fell back in. During this, another battle was heating up off the court between Jack Kent Cooke and Lakers coach Butch Van Breda Kolff. Chamberlain was pleading for Breda Kolff to put him back in, but he refused. Cooke then came down to personally order the defiant coach to insert Wilt to no avail. This would prove fatal as the Celtics held on and won 108-106.

The only consolation for Laker fans was the naming of Jerry West for the first NBA Finals MVP Award, but even he was saddened. West, along with the MVP Award, had also received a new car, which was a green Volkswagen Beetle. It was considered an insult to injury for their star player.

1980s: Bird vs. Johnson

The Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers made up 13 of the possible 20 NBA Finals appearances from the 1979-1980 to 1988-1989 seasons. The Boston Celtics went 3-2 and Los Angeles Lakers went 5-3 in NBA Finals appearances. The two teams went head-head in the 1984, 1985 and 1987 NBA Finals. Many contribute each team's success to Larry Bird and Earvin "Magic" Johnson. Earvin "Magic" Johnson was MVP 3 times (1980, 1982, 1987) and Larry Bird was MVP 3 times (1984 - 1986) during the 1979-1980 to 1988-1989 NBA seasons.

1984 NBA Finals recap

By virtue of a 62-20 record, the Celtics had homecourt advantage over the Lakers who finished the regular season with a 54-28 mark. The first two games were played at the Celtics home court, the Boston Gardenmarker, while the next two were held at the Lakers home court, The Forummarker in Inglewoodmarker, Californiamarker. The Celtics then hosted games 5 and 7 while the Lakers would host game 6.

The Celtics defeated the Lakers four games to three. The Lakers opened the series with a 115-109 victory at the Boston Gardenmarker. In Game 2, the Lakers led 113-111 with 18 seconds left when Gerald Henderson stole a James Worthy pass to score a game tying layup and the Celtics eventually prevailed in overtime 124-121. In Game 3, the Lakers raced to an easy 137-104 victory as Magic Johnson dished out 21 assists. After the game, Larry Bird said his team played like "sissies" in an attempt to light a fire under his teammates. In Game 4, the Lakers had a five point game lead with less than a minute to play, but made several execution errors as the Celtics tied the game and then came away with a 129-125 victory in overtime. The game was also marked by Celtic forward Kevin McHale's takedown of Laker forward Kurt Rambis on a breakaway layup which triggered the physical aspect of the rivalry. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar would go after Larry Bird later on in the third quarter, and 1981 Finals MVP Cedric Maxwell further antagonized the Lakers by following a missed James Worthy free throw by crossing the lane with his hands around his own neck, symbolizing that Worthy was "choking" under pressure. In Game 5, the Celtics took a 3-2 series lead as Larry Bird scored 34 points. The game was known as the "Heat Game", as it was played under 97-degree heat, and without any air conditioning at the infamous Boston Gardenmarker. In Game 6, the Lakers evened the series with a 119-108 victory. In the game, the Lakers answered the Celtics rough tactics when Laker forward James Worthy shoved Cedric Maxwell into a basket support. After the game, a Laker fan threw a beer at Celtics guard M.L. Carr as he left the floor, causing him to label the series "all-out-war." In Game 7, the Celtics were led by Cedric Maxwell, who had 24 points, eight rebounds, and eight assists as they came away with a 111-102 victory. In the game the Lakers rallied from a 14-point-deficit to three points down with one minute remaining, when Maxwell knocked the ball away from Magic Johnson. Dennis Johnson responded by sinking two free throws to seal the victory. Larry Bird was named MVP of the series.

1985 NBA Finals recap

The Celtics, looking to repeat as NBA Champions, had homecourt advantage for the second year in a row as they finished the regular season with a 63-19 record while the Lakers compiled a 62-20 record. For the first time, the Finals went to a 2-3-2 format with games one and two in Boston while the next three games were in Los Angeles. The final two games of the series, if necessary, would be played in Boston.

The Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Celtics four games to two. Game 1 became known as the "Memorial Day Massacre" as the Celtics soundly beat the Lakers 148-114. Celtic reserve forward Scott Wedman made all 11 out of 11 field goal attempts. The Lakers responded in Game 2 with a 109-102 victory as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had 30 points, 17 rebounds, eight assists, and three blocks. Michael Cooper had 22 points, making 8 out of 9 field goals attempted. In Game 3, the Celtics had a 48-38 lead in the second quarter before the Lakers, led by James Worthy, took a 65-59 lead at halftime and then pulled away in the second half to come away with a 136-111 victory. Worthy had 29 points while Abdul-Jabbar had 26 points and 14 rebounds. The Celtics tied the series in Game 4, 107-105 as Dennis Johnson hit a jumper at the buzzer. In Game 5, the Lakers raced out to a 64-51 lead and stretched it to 89-72 before the Celtics cut the deficit to 101-97 with six minutes remaining. However Magic Johnson made three shots while Abdul-Jabbar added four more shots, and the Lakers came away with a 120-111 victory to take a 3-2 series lead. Abdul-Jabbar led the Lakers with 36 points. The series shifted to Boston with only one full day off for both teams. In Game 6, the Lakers were led by Abdul-Jabbar who scored 29 points as the Lakers defeated the Celtics 111-100. Magic had 15 points, 14 assists, and 10 rebounds; Worthy had 28 points on 11 for 15 shooting. It was the only time a visiting team had claimed an NBA championship in Boston Garden. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was named MVP of the series, making him the oldest player (38 years, 1 month, 24 days) ever to win the MVP of an NBA Finals series.

1987 NBA Finals recap

After being eliminated in the Western Conference Finals a year earlier, the Lakers returned to the NBA Finals and were awarded with homecourt advantage as they accumulated a 65-17 record while the Celtics finished the season with a 59-23 record. The first two games would be played in Los Angeles, the next three games in Boston, and the final two games, if necessary, were scheduled to be played in Los Angeles.

The Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Celtics four games to two. In Game 1, the Los Angeles Lakers came away with a 126-113 victory. Magic Johnson had 29 points, 13 assists, and 8 rebounds, while James Worthy had 33 points, 10 assists, and 9 rebounds. In Game 2, the Lakers took a 2-0 series lead with a 141-122 victory. Magic had 22 points and 20 assists, while Michael Cooper made six three point shots, then a record for most three pointers made in a single NBA Finals game. In Game 3, the Celtics posted a 109-103 win, led by Larry Bird, who had 30 points and 12 rebounds. In Game 4, the Celtics had a 16-point lead in the third quarter before the Lakers stormed back into the game. Bird had hit a three point bomb with 12 seconds remaining to give the Celtics the lead, however, with two seconds remaining, Magic Johnson sank a "junior sky hook" to give the Lakers a 107-106 lead, then Bird missed a 20-foot jumper as time expired, allowing Los Angeles to gain a three games to one lead. In Game 5, the Celtics prevented the Lakers from celebrating in the Boston Gardenmarker by coming away with a 123-108 win. Boston guard Danny Ainge made 5 out of 6 three-pointers attempted, including a 45-footer as the first half expired. In Game 6, the Lakers trailed the Celtics 56-51 at halftime, but thanks to an 18-2 run, they regained control of the game with a 30-12 third quarter to cruise to a 106-93 victory and their fourth championship in the decade. Magic Johnson was named unanimous MVP of the series, averaging 26.2 points, 13.0 assists, 8.0 rebounds, and 2.3 steals, leading the Lakers in all four categories.

Bird vs. Johnson Head-to-Head

Finals: Magic's Lakers won 11 of 19 games.

  • Magic: 20.7 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 13.5 apg
  • Bird: 25.3 ppg, 11.1 rpg, 4.6 apg

Regular Season: Magic's Lakers won 10 of 17 games.

  • Magic: 20.5 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 12.2 apg
  • Bird: 23.0 ppg, 11.6 rpg, 6.5 apg

2008 NBA Finals

The Celtics and the Lakers faced off in the NBA Finals for the first time in 21 years. During the regular season, the Celtics beat the Lakers in both meetings. However, these games occurred before the Lakers acquired Pau Gasol from the Memphis Grizzlies. In the first game, held in Boston on November 23, 2007, the Celtics beat the Lakers 107–94. The Celtics again beat the Lakers 110–91 on December 30, 2007. Before the Finals began, many fans and the sports media picked the playoff-dominant Lakers to cruise through a Celtics team that went through two seven-game series with the Atlanta Hawks and the Cleveland Cavaliers and a tough and physical six-game battle with the Detroit Pistons.

In Game 1 of the 2008 Finals, Paul Pierce came back after suffering a knee injury earlier in the game, and took over the game for a 98-88 Celtics win. There was much controversy about whether he was actually injured though because he came back minutes after having been carried off the floor. Some thought he faked the injury to fire up his team.

In Game 2, the Celtics built a 24-point lead early in the fourth quarter. However, the Lakers hit a large number of three-pointers and scored 41 in the final quarter, cutting Boston's lead to two points late in the game. The Celtics hit several free throws to hold on, and won 108–102.

In Game 3, the Lakers beat the Celtics 87–81. In the game Paul Pierce made only 2 of his 14 field goals. Kevin Garnett also struggled, scoring 12 points. Ray Allen, the other member of Boston's "Big 3", scored 25 points. Saša Vujačić scored 20 points in 28 minutes and Kobe Bryant scored a series-high 36 points, leading the Lakers to their first win in the series. With the win the Lakers added another win to their undefeated streak at home in the 2008 postseason.

In Game 4, the Celtics completed the largest comeback in NBA Finals History by battling back from a 24-point deficit in the first half to win the game 97–91. The Celtics had strong performances from Pierce, Allen, James Posey (18 points off the bench) and Eddie House (11 points). Bryant did not make his first field goal until the third quarter and finished with 17 points overall, making only 6-19 (32%) shots.

In Game 5, the Lakers again jumped out to a quick start, leading by as many as 19 in the second quarter. However, Boston again made a furious comeback and closed the halftime deficit to three. The Lakers would build their lead back up to 14 in the 4th quarter, but the Celtics again came back to tie the game at 90-90. With less than 1 minute left in the 4th quarter, the Celtics had the ball, trailing 97-95 with a chance to tie or take the lead. Kevin Garnett missed two free-throws in a row, keeping the Lakers up by 2. On a Celtics drive, Pierce had apparently beat Bryant off the dribble, but Bryant knocked the ball out of Pierce's hands from behind. Lamar Odom recovered the loose ball, and passed down court to Bryant for the break away jam to give the Lakers a 99-95 lead. The steal and dunk by Bryant would seal the game for the Lakers, as the Lakers went on to win 103-98, and in the process, sending the series back to Boston.

In Game 6, Kobe Bryant jumped out with a hot shooting hand in the first quarter and scored 11 points, including hitting 3 out of 4 from beyond the 3-point line. But offensive contributions from other Lakers players were few and far between and the Celtics defense tightened and finished the quarter with a 24-20 lead. At the 7:50 mark of the second quarter, the Lakers trailed the game by three points, 32-29, and would never get any closer. Sparked by back to back 3-point shots by bench players James Posey and Eddie House, the Celtics went on a 26 to 6 run and completely took over the game. The second half brought more of the same, with the Celtics extending their lead to as high as 43 points with 1:22 left in the fourth quarter when Eddie House fed an alley-oop pass to Tony Allen for an over the shoulder exclamation mark slam. The Celtics thoroughly dominated the clinching game of their 17th championship by the final score of 131-92. Individually, Celtics Captain Paul Pierce was named MVP of the series while Ray Allen tied single game record for three pointers made in the clincher with seven, in the process breaking the record for three pointers made in a NBA Finals series with 22. The 39 point differential in Game 6 was the largest in a clinching game in NBA Finals history and the second largest margin overall for any Finals game.


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