Though their rivalry is missing the gusto that made their 1980s rivalry so compelling, the Lakers versus Celtics on the NBA's grandest stage still causes the hair on the back of basketball fans' necks to stand on end come tip time.
The 2010 NBA Finals will be no different. Though the names on the back of the jerseys change, the tradition and thirst for Gold versus Green remains.
However, to truly appreciate how this rivalry evolved to this point, you must pay your respects to the players and past franchises that built the rivalry's current pedestal. Some consider the final two teams in Whatifsports.com's Lakers versus Celtics: Tournament of Champions, two of the top ten NBA teams of all-time.
The top seeded 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers' identity took a hit less than ten games into the regular season that year. Their franchise player Elgin Baylor had to walk away from the game, though his knees barely afforded him that luxury. The Lakers could have used Baylor's retirement as an excuse, but instead they, led by Wilt Chamberlain and Jerry West, steamrolled their way through the regular season.
They finished the regular season with a 69-13 record, the best regular season mark up until that time. The Lakers faced little competition in the playoffs as well, breezing through the first and second rounds before taking care of the Knicks in the NBA Finals 4-1.
Thirteen years later, the Boston Celtics' front office constructed one of the deepest line-ups in NBA history. Bird, McHale, Parish, and Walton all eventually landed in the Hall of Fame. The concept of team basketball truly lifted the Celtics to another level during the 1985-86 regular season. Boston finished at 67-15, a franchise record for wins in a season. Bird collected his third consecutive MVP trophy later that year.
Like the 1971-72 Lakers, these Celtics found little resistance during their playoff run to the finals. Boston only lost one game in the Eastern Conference playoffs before facing Houston in the NBA Finals that spring. It took the C's a bit longer than expected, but they contained the Rockets' big men (Sampson and Olajuwon) enough to win the franchises 16th NBA title in six games.
Who would have thought at the time it would take another two decades to win the 17th?
Boston may have won 59-percent of the time in the Tournament of Champions title game, but the Celtics' average margin of victory was less than one point if you take into account all the simulations. Though morale victories, simulated or not, are look down upon in the sporting world, it is yet something Lakers' fans can hang their hat on.
The first quarter between these two storied franchises is what you would expect. The Lakers and Celtics matched each other shot for shot. That was until the Lakers created a little bit of breathing room, leading by eight 20-12 with under six minutes to go in the quarter.
But as so many teams learned throughout the 1985-86 season, the Celtics balanced attack can catch you at any time. Boston finished the quarter on a 16-4 run to take a four point lead.
Los Angeles answered in the second quarter, outscoring the Celtics by nine to take a five point lead into halftime.
Boston trailed by as many as twelve in the third quarter before slowly chipping away at the Lakers' lead the final six minutes of the quarter. Los Angeles' lead once double digits was now only three.
Fourth quarter leads for both teams hovered around one point the majority of the period. No team giving the other any chance to relax. The tension was rising with the Lakers leading 95-94, but then Boston broke out a 14-2 run during the most critical stretch of the game. Kevin McHale's bucket with a little over two minutes to go in the game gave the C's a 108-97 lead.
The Lakers showed a lot of heart the final 60 seconds, but the Celtics had built enough of a lead to sustain the last second offensive surge.
Boston walks away from the Tournament of Champions 122-119 winners over the rival Lakers.Player of the Game: Celtics - Dennis Johnson (28 pts, 8 ast)