Rivalry Unmatched: Ranking 11 previous Celtics-Lakers Finals
The Lakers-Celtics rivalry is one of the most heated in sports, especially when you consider the stakes. This year's Finals marks the 12th time the league's two most decorated franchises have met to decide the title. The rivalry that began under
Aside from Hall-of-Fame talents such as
Of the 11 previous Celtics-Lakers NBA Finals, only two failed to go at least six games and four went the full seven. The four Game 7s were decided by a total of 16 points.
Here's a look at how the past series rate, starting with the least competitive:
The '59 Lakers were not good. Their 33-49 record remains the worst of any NBA Finals participant. Only a pair of Hall of Famers, coach
Russell averaged an NBA Finals record of 29.5 rebounds, and the first sweep in NBA Finals history gave the Celtics 22 straight wins over the Lakers. The Finals ended on April 9, more than two months earlier than today's drawn-out postseason. The Lakers, who would move to Los Angeles one year later, featured two rookies in the frontcourt: future Hall of Famer Elgin Baylor and backup
Many NBA historians regard the Celtics' 67-win team of 1986 as Boston's best, but a strong case could be made for the '65 squad. With Russell (leading the league with 24.1 rebounds per game) and
Boston's biggest challenge was surviving an Eastern finals scare with a 110-109 Game 7 thriller over the 76ers, accompanied by
Neither second-seeded team was special in the regular season, but the playoffs were another matter -- particularly for Boston. Trailing 3-1 in the East finals, the Celtics rallied to stun Chamberlain and the defending champion 76ers. The Lakers and West (who averaged 30.8 points in the playoffs) made the Celtics work nearly as hard, tying the Finals after four games. Despite a sprained ankle in Game 5, West's 35 points helped L.A. rally from an 18-point third-quarter deficit to force overtime. A key block by Russell and a
Russell, who had taken over from
It was restoration time in Boston as after 22 years the Celtics finally earned their 17th championship banner. They had played like champs all season with 66 wins (third best in club history) and a team-record 10.2 point differential.
The first NBA Finals between conference No. 1 seeds since 2000 turned in Game 4 when Boston rallied from a 24-point third-quarter deficit for a 97-91 win and a 3-1 series lead. Series MVP Paul Pierce's 20 points led one of the biggest Finals comebacks in history. The Celtics demolished L.A. 131-92 in Game 6, their 39-point margin setting an NBA record for a championship-clinching game. Kevin Garnett and
A deceptively non-competitive, seven-game series where the Celtics' record-setting eighth straight NBA title never seemed in doubt. Boston won both Games 3 and 4 in Los Angeles to take a commanding 3-1 lead. The Celtics then appeared to lose interest, dropping the next two games before regrouping at home in Game 7. They ran off to a big lead and held on for a 95-93 win.
Celtics fans resembled a rowdy soccer crowd at the end, storming the court in the final seconds, spilling juice cups on the Boston bench, knocking over Russell (who had grabbed a game-high 32 rebounds) and ripping off
Auerbach lit up a victory cigar for the final time as Celtics coach and retired with nine NBA championships, a record that stood until
This series was one of the rivalry's closest: Five of the six games were decided by seven points or less and three games were decided by three points, including the Game 6 finale. The season was bittersweet for Celtics fans as the beloved Bob Cousy played his last game in a Boston uniform. But rookie John Havlicek showed extraordinary promise, and Auerbach dismissed calls that Boston was "an old team."
The Celtics survived a seven-game Eastern final showdown against
After a humbling 148-114 Game 1 defeat at Boston Garden, the Lakers seemed on their way to a ninth straight NBA Finals loss to the hated Celtics. But spurred by their captain, veteran center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the Lakers won four of the next five games. The Game 6 clincher on Boston's parquet floor -- the first time the Celtics had surrendered an NBA championship at home --made the Lakers' 111-100 win that much sweeter.
Longtime Dodgers fan Abdul-Jabbar, who had scored 29 points in Game 6, compared himself to
All that was at stake was the title of "Team of the '80s" for the NBA. Both teams had won three championships and were 1-1 in Finals meetings. L.A. won the first two games handily at home but Boston rallied for a Game 3 victory. Game 4 was crucial. The Celtics raced to a 16-point second-half lead and still led 103-95 with less than four minutes left. A 9-0 run put the Lakers up by one. Larry Bird's three-pointer made it 106-104 Boston. An Abdul-Jabbar free throw drew L.A. within one and then Johnson hit what may have been the biggest shot of his Hall of Fame career: a "junior, junior sky hook'' over Kevin McHale and
The Lakers added a fifth title for the '80s in 1988 before giving way to the "Bad Boy" Detroit Pistons.
The Celtics reached the Finals with only 48 wins, the lowest total of the Russell era. With West, Baylor and the newly acquired Chamberlain, the Lakers seemed to have all the pieces for their first title in L.A. Sam Jones rescued Boston in Game 4 when his off-balance jump shot in the final seconds gave the Celtics an 89-88 victory and a 2-2 series tie.
After the teams split the next two games, Game 7 in L.A. would decide it all. Russell got wind of a massive victory celebration Lakers owner
West, who had averaged 38 points, became the only player from a losing team to win the Finals MVP while Russell wondered what the Lakers were going to do with all those balloons. A few months later he would join Jones in retirement. Bill Russell was -- and is -- the greatest winner in American team sports: 11 NBA titles, two NCAA championships and an Olympic gold medal.
This was the Finals that helped lift the NBA to big-time status. Bird and Johnson had entered the league as rookies in 1979 but had yet to meet for the ultimate prize. Now they would battle for a championship for the first time since the 1979 NCAA title game and in the first Lakers-Celtics series in 15 years. The Showtime Lakers came oh-so close to a four-game sweep. After winning Game 1 at the Boston Garden, L.A. was seconds from a 2-0 series lead when Gerald Henderson swiped an ill-advised
Under the current Finals format, Game 5 would have been in L.A., but this was the last year of the 2-2-1-1-1 system. The Celtics routed the Lakers back in Boston as the temperature hit 97 in air condition-less Garden. L.A. won Game 6 at home, setting up only the third NBA Finals Game 7 in 14 years.
Boston often had its way with foes during the Russell years but 1962 was an exception as the Celtics had to survive a pair of seven-game series. After outlasting the Philadelphia Warriors and Chamberlain in the East finals, the Celts would meet a 54-win Lakers team that was in the NBA Finals for the first time since moving to L.A. Celebrities such as
Hollywood scriptwriters could not have provided more drama for the '62 Finals. The visiting team won four games and a Finals Game 7 went into overtime for only the second time. It was a Finals of superlatives: Baylor scoring an NBA Finals record 61 points in Game 5; Russell tying his own Finals record with 40 rebounds in Game 7. Baylor's big outing gave the Lakers a 3-2 series lead but the resilient Celtics won Game 6 in L.A. by 14.
Game 7 was one for the ages. Boston led most of the way but two