Aside from Hall-of-Fame talents such as Bill Russell, Bob Cousy, ElginBaylor, Jerry West, John Havlicek, Wilt Chamberlain, Larry Bird, KevinMcHale, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Kobe Bryant, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, the rivalry's best feature has been its red-hot competitive quality.
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 John Kundla and power forward Vern Mikkelsen, remained from Minneapolis' five-title dynasty of the early 1950s. The Celtics' toughest test came in the Eastern Conference finals when they had to rally from a second-half Game 7 deficit to overcome the Syracuse Nationals (later the Philadelphia 76ers) 130-125.
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 Steve Hamilton, who later pitched 12 seasons in the Majors. Hamilton liked to joke that his career highlight was playing with two superstars: Baylor and Mickey Mantle.
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 Sam Jones (averaging a career-best 25.9 points) at their peaks, and Havlicek starting to become a force, the Celtics won an NBA record 62 games in an 80-game schedule and walloped the Baylor-less Lakers for their seventh straight title. The Game 5 clincher was a 129-96 massacre as Russell grabbed 30 rebounds.
Boston's biggest challenge was surviving an Eastern finals scare with a 110-109 Game 7 thriller over the 76ers, accompanied by Johnny Most's "Havlicek stole the ball!" call. Little noticed on the Celtics' ultra-deep roster was one of Russell's backups, future Georgetown coach John Thompson.
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 Don Nelson free throw gave Boston the 120-117 win. The Celtics captured their 10th title in 12 years with a 124-109 win in Game 6.
Russell, who had taken over from Red Auerbach at the end of the '66 season, was the first African-American coach to win a major U.S. championship.
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 Ray Allen each scored 26 points, and Kobe Bryant was held to 7-for-22 shooting. The veteran Celtics had done it the hard way, playing a record 26 postseason games to win the title.
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 SatchSanders' shirt.
Auerbach lit up a victory cigar for the final time as Celtics coach and retired with nine NBA championships, a record that stood until Phil Jackson won No. 10 in 2009. The lone good news for the Lakers was the return of Elgin Baylor after a devastating knee injury in the 1965 playoffs. He averaged 26.8 points in the '66 postseason, but never was quite the same high-flying player who had dazzled the league in the early 1960s.
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 OscarRobertson and the Cincinnati Royals, and grabbed a 3-1 Finals lead before Baylor's 43 points led the Lakers to a 126-119 Game 5 win in Boston. NBA fever was starting to seize Los Angeles. Because home playoff games were blacked out the Lakers arranged for Game 6 to be shown on closed-circuit TV at local theaters. About 6,000 fans paid $2.50 each but went home disappointed. Havlicek's 14 first-half points put Boston in front and the Celtics held off a Lakers' comeback in the second half for a 112-109 victory as Cousy dribbled away the final seconds of his sterling Boston career.
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 Johnny Podres finally leading Brooklyn to a World Series win over the Yankees. At 38, he was the oldest NBA Finals MVP after averaging 25.9 points, 9.0 rebounds and 5.7 assists. Magic Johnson added a Finals-record 14 assists per game.
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 Robert Parish. The Lakers led 107-106 with two seconds left. When Bird's shot from the corner barely missed at the buzzer, L.A. was up 3-1 and would close out the series by winning Game 6 106-93 at home. A disappointed but gracious Bird called Finals MVP Johnson (26 points, 13 assists, 8 rebounds) "the best I've ever seen."
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 Jack Kent Cooke had planned, including a huge balloon drop at game's end. Playing what would be his final game, Boston's player-coach told his team there was no way the Celtics would lose. Boston led from the start and had a 91-76 edge after three quarters. But fueled by West (42 points, 13 rebounds, 12 assists), the Lakers rallied and drew within 106-104 in the final minute. Then came a touch of Celtic luck. A Don Nelson jump shot as the 24-second clock was winding down hit the rim, bounced above the top of the backboard and fell through the net for a 108-104 Boston lead. A final Lakers basket made the score 108-106 in a series where the average margin of victory was only 5.6 points.
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 James Worthy crosscourt pass and tied the game with a layup. The Celtics won in overtime. The Lakers went ahead with a 33-point Game 3 beating as Bird questioned his team's manhood. Again, L.A. couldn't take command, blowing a last-minute five-point lead in Game 4 and losing their second overtime contest, a game best remembered for Kevin McHale clotheslining the Lakers' Kurt Rambis.
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. CedricMaxwell's 24 points, eight assists and eight rebounds led the Celtics to a 111-102 win as Bird, who averaged 27.4 points, 14 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 2 steals, was voted series MVP. It was the most-watched NBA Finals in history.
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 Danny Thomas, Doris Day, Dinah Shore and Pat Boone had started to show up at games, and
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 Frank Selvy baskets tied matters 100-100 in the final minute. After a Celtics miss, the Lakers had a shot to end Boston's dynasty. They almost did. Selvy was open but his eight-foot baseline jumper bounced off the rim. Baylor was in position for an offensive put-back but felt himself shoved out of bounds as the buzzer sounded. Indeed, films showed Sam Jones pushing Baylor away from a possible championship-winning basket. In overtime, Jones played more conventionally, scoring five of his 27 points as Boston won 110-107 for its fourth straight NBA crown. Baylor would never win an NBA title, retiring at the start of the 1971-72 season, the season when the Lakers finally won their first NBA championship in L.A. They would have to wait another 23 years before finally beating the Celtics.