June 1, 2008


Celtics, Lakers Rivalry Goes Back Further Than 1980s (MARTIN JOHNSON, June 2, 2008, NY Sun)

When the Celtics and Lakers first met in 1959, it was a time of transition for both teams. The Lakers, who were still based in Minneapolis, had been the first dominant team of the NBA, winning five titles in the league's early years, 1949-54; they had a few holdovers from that unit, plus an exciting new forward, Elgin Baylor. Still, this Laker team, at 33-39, was one of the weakest teams to vie for the title, but they earned their shot with a stellar postseason run. They beat the Detroit Pistons in the first round and in the Western Division finals, and they downed the St. Louis Hawks, the defending NBA champion. In the finals, though, Boston sweeping the Lakers. The Celtics had drafted center Bill Russell in 1956, and he led them to a title the following year. In 1959, the Celts added guard K.C. Jones to their starting lineup. With Russell and future Hall of Famers Bob Cousy and Tom Heinsohn, the Boston was set for a run of unprecedented dominance — eight straight titles.

Those eight banners didn't come easy; the Lakers made the Celtics earn them.

When the two teams met in 1962, the Lakers had relocated to Los Angeles and added guard Jerry West to the mix. During their decade together, West and Baylor ranked among the most potent scoring duos in NBA. However, these Lakers were a good defensive team too, ranking second in the league in fewest points allowed per game. The Celtics, the dominant defensive team in the league with Russell, led the league that year. The teams split the first four games, and the Lakers' chances looked good after a 126-121 win in Boston Garden in Game 5. However, Boston went to Los Angeles and won Game 6, and then nipped the Lakers 110-107 in overtime in Game 7 to win their fourth consecutive title.

The Lakers lost a rematch the following year in six games, and two years later they lost in five games. The Lakers fortified their perimeter game, adding future Hall of Famer Gail Goodrich and UCLA star Mahdi-Abdul Rahman (then known as Walt Hazzard) to the lineup, which gave them the league's top offense in 1966. The league's top defense as usual belonged to the Celtics, and the two squads met in another seven-game classic. The Lakers won Game 1 in Boston 133-129 in overtime, but the Celts regrouped and won the next three high-scoring contests. The Lakers rallied, winning close games in Boston and L.A., which set up a winner-take-all game at the Boston Garden. In a tight, low-scoring contest, Boston won 95-93 and claimed their eighth straight title.

The following year, 1967, the Wilt Chamberlain-led Philadelphia 76ers — not the Lakers — broke Boston's title streak, eliminating the Celtics in the Eastern Division Finals and downing the San Francisco Warriors for the title (the Lakers lost West to injury late in the season and fell in the first round). After the Lakers lost the 1968 finals in six games, they made a blockbuster trade with Philadelphia for Chamberlain, and after years of frustration the Lakers finally seemed to have all the pieces in place to beat the Celtics. Meanwhile, it seemed that the Celtics were slipping. They finished fourth in the Eastern Division, and thus when they met in the finals, the Lakers had the home-court advantage. Early on, that seemed crucial; the home team won each of the first six games. However, in Game 7, the Celts raced out to an early lead against a stunned Laker squad. The Lakers rallied, mysteriously with Chamberlain watching much of the comeback from the bench, but Boston prevailed 108-106 in one of the greatest Games 7sever.

...when one team always beats the other?

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 1, 2008 9:55 PM

I haven't watched one minute of an NBA game since Bird retired. Nor will I until they stop using the NCAA as a minor league system.

Dangling millions in front of 18 and 19 year old kids (many who shouldn't be in college anyway) is just not right.

Posted by: Bartman at June 2, 2008 8:13 AM

I heard an interview with Jerry West and you could tell dude is still mad about losing so many times, like eating him up inside 20+ years later mad...

Posted by: Benny at June 2, 2008 11:07 AM

Yankee fans have been asking themselves that same question for some 80 years now.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at June 2, 2008 12:50 PM

In related news, Joba is still fat...

Posted by: Benny at June 2, 2008 1:01 PM

But nowhere near as fat as he's going to be.

Posted by: oj at June 2, 2008 3:56 PM

Yes, there's never been a Sox-Yanks rivalry. It was to lopsidedly Yankees last century and Sox this.

Posted by: oj at June 2, 2008 3:57 PM

So I guess there's not a Lakers-Celtics rivalry now, what with the Lakers having won every series since the mid-80s?

Posted by: Chris at June 2, 2008 4:26 PM

What series?

Posted by: oj at June 2, 2008 7:24 PM