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LEEInks list: Memorable Celtics-Lakers finals games

05.31.10 at 1:37 pm ET
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Bill Russell and Red Auerbach did plenty of celebrating after beating the Lakers, as they did here in 1966. (AP)

Bill Russell and Red Auerbach did plenty of celebrating after beating the Lakers, as they did here in 1966. (AP)

Within minutes after the end of Game 6 of the NBA Eastern Conference finals, the Celtics, their fans and all basketball enthusiasts (outside of Arizona) had one thought on their minds: Celtics vs. Lakers.

The Celtics have the most NBA championships of any team, with 17. The Lakers are a close second with 15. The No. 3 team isn’t even close — the Chicago Bulls with six. Of those 17 championships, the C’s beat the Lakers for more than half of them, nine, while the Lakers have won a mere two of their 15 over the Celtics. Overall the teams have played in 339 games (67 playoff games) with the Celtics holding a 192-147 advantage.

The names that accompany this series are the stuff of legends as well. There’s Bill Russell, Bob Cousy, John Havlicek, Elgin Baylor, Jerry West and Wilt Chamberlain in the ’60s matchups. There’s Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Robert Parish, Kevin McHale and, of course, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird from the ’80s. Now we’ve entered a third generation with Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant. Even the men who helmed the benches are famous — Red Auerbach, Bill Russell, Pat Riley and Phil Jackson among them.

With the Lakers coming out of the West by beating the Suns Saturday night, the rivalry will have another chapter, the 12th one, in 2010. While we wait for Thursday night’s Game 1, let’s look back on the most memorable moments in Lakers-Celtics finals history.

10. 1959 NBA finals, Game 4

This was the first time these two teams met in the finals, but there was one big difference. It was the Boston Celtics vs. the Minneapolis Lakers. There still was Cousy, Russell and Baylor, though. In the end, the C’s were too good and swept the Lakers in four games. More importantly, this series was the first of the Celtics’ amazing run of eight consecutive championships.

This would be the only occurance of the Minneapolis-Boston series, as the Lakers moved to Los Angeles the next year (and picked up Jerry West). Good thing, too, because “Beat Minneapolis” just doesn’t have the same ring.

9. 2008 NBA finals, Game 6

We jump from the first series to the most recent. After the 1987 finals, the Celtics fell apart and hit a lull in championships. It wasn’t until a monumental draft day trade when everything came back together. The Celtics picked up Ray Allen, then Kevin Garnett followed a month later, and soon there was a new Big Three along with Paul Pierce.

In the first season after the new acquisitions, the Celtics made the NBA finals, and who would they happen to play? The Lakers, of course. LA hadn’t been to the finals since 2004 and hadn’t won since 2001, so the Lakers were hungry. But the underdog Celtics were just too strong, and they powered their way to a 131-92 Game 6 victory to clinch the title. A message was sent that night: The rivalry was back and there was plenty more to come. That and: “Anything is possible!”

8. 1987 NBA finals, Game 4

Celtics fans, you may want to skip down the next couple of games in the countdown, but we have to give the Lakers some equal representation here. The next game comes from the Lakers’ second finals victory over the Celtics, in 1987. By the time Game 4 came around, the Lakers were up in the series, 2-1, but the series was now in Boston.

The Celtics knew what they were up against and fought hard in the closing minutes. The two went back and forth, trading the lead. Boston was down 104-103 until Bird hit a corner 3 with 12 seconds left. With Boston up 106-104, Abdul-Jabbar was fouled and hit only the first of his two at the line. On the missed shot, McHale and Mychal Thompson both went up for the rebound, and officials controversially called the ball off McHale. With seven seconds left, Magic Johnson took the inbounds pass and made true NBA “magic” …

Bird missed a shot at the buzzer, and LA won, 107-106, putting the Celtics in a deep hole.

7. 1985 NBA finals, Game 1

A year after the epic 1984 finals, the Celtics looked to repeat as champs. The Lakers were just hoping to finally beat the Celtics. The ’85 series was a fitting sequel to the previous year, as both teams finished with over 100 points in every game. Many expected an even series, as LA finished one game behind Boston’s regular-season record for best team in the NBA with a 62-20 mark.

That why it was so shocking when the C’s pulled off the “Memorial Day Massacre” in Game 1, dominating to the tune of 148-114. Abdul-Jabbar only had 12 points and three rebounds during the game, leading him to personally apologize to his teammates. That sparked a comeback by the Lakers as they won four of the next five, including the Game 6 clincher, 111-100.

6. 2008 NBA finals, Game 1

Welcome back, Celtics fans. In the previous game on our list, it was a huge loss that sparked a turnaround in the series. In 2008, it was an injury.

In the third quarter of Game 1, Pierce fell awkwardly and injured his right knee. After getting taken off the court by wheelchair and being evaluated by team physicians for a few minutes in the locker room, Pierce reemerged to a raucous Boston crowd a la Willis Reed and inspired his team to rally. The C’s were trailing 62-58 when he was injured. When he came back, he vaulted them into the lead for good with consecutive 3-pointers.

The series would last six games, but Pierce had already set the tone.

5. 1962 NBA finals, Game 7

While 1959 may have been the first Lakers-Celtics finals, 1962 was the first Boston-LA finals, and it certainly lived up to the billing.

This was another series in which both teams topped 100 points every game, with only three double-digit victories; the largest margin of victory was 14 points by Boston in Game 1. The series took seven games, with the final game going into overtime. Laker Frank Selvy missed an open 12-foot shot from the baseline, allowing the game to go to the extra period. With the help of Russell’s 30 points and 44 (yes, 44) rebounds, the Celtics won the game 110-107 and won their fourth straight championship.

4. 1966 NBA finals, Game 7

In what would be the last of the eight straight championships for Boston, the 1966 finals looked like it would be a pushover. Although the Lakers took Game 1 with a come-from-behind overtime win, the Celtics countered by reeling off three straight victories. With the series seemingly in hand, the Celtics lost the next two games, allowing the Lakers to tie up the series.

In Game 7, again it seemed like Boston would cruise to another championship when it built up a 19-point lead, but LA cut the lead to a mere two points with four seconds left. Havlicek managed to dribble out the clock amid the Boston faithful, who prematurely stormed the court. Auerbach was able to retire doing his favorite thing: winning.

3. 2008 NBA finals, Game 4

The Lakers were on their way to evening up the series, blowing out the Celtics in Game 4. They had a 35-14 lead after the first quarter — the largest first-quarter lead in finals history — and upped to margin to 24 points in the third quarter. Then the Celtics embarked on a legendary comeback, using a 21-3 spurt late in the third quarter and roaring back for a 97-91 victory.

Eddie House came off the bench to spark the C’s comeback, putting Boston ahead with just over four minutes remaining with an 18-foot jumper. Ray Allen clinched it with a left-handed reverse layup.

2. 1969 NBA finals, Game 7

In 1969, the Celtics were trying to win their 10th trophy in 11 years and finish out the fantastic ‘60s with their ninth championship. In their way, again, were the Lakers, but this time LA had youth, vigor, and maybe most importantly, swagger. The Celtics were aging and limped their way into playoffs while the Lakers finished seven wins ahead of them, garnering home-court advantage for the first time in this rivalry.

With a new addition in Chamberlain and a surging scorer in West, the Lakers had a 2-0 series lead before the Celtics took the next two, with the highlight a Game 4 buzzer-beater by Sam Jones for an 89-88 win. The Lakers took Game 5 and the Celtics took Game 6, forcing a Game 7 at The Forum.

Lakers owner Jack Kent Cooke was so confident in his team beating the Celtics that before Game 7, he reportedly printed up postgame plans that read: “When, not if, the Lakers win the title, balloons will be released from the rafters, 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.” When player-coach Bill Russell heard this, he told his team, “A lot of things can happen, but the Lakers cannot beat us. They can’t beat us. But it’s going to be fun watching them take down those balloons.”

In the game, the Celtics had an 18-point lead going into the fourth quarter and Chamberlain went to the bench with an injury. Somehow, the Lakers stormed back and were able to cut the margin to one. Cooke reportedly pleaded with LA coach Butch van Breda Kolff to reinsert Chamberlain, but he refused and the Lakers fell just short, 108-106.

The series MVP award went to Jerry West, who averaged 38 points per game. It would be the only time a member of the losing team would get the MVP award. No word on how much Russell enjoyed those balloons, though.

1. 1984 NBA finals, Game 4

When you think Lakers-Celtics, you think blood and guts, you think Bird and Magic, and you think of 1984. The series was quintessential Celtics-Lakers in that one of the two teams made the finals each of the previous four years, but they hadn’t played each other since the classic ’69 series.

The ’84 edition had everything; Gerald Henderson’s Game 2 steal, Game 3’s “Celtics play like sissies” comment, WEEI’s own Cedric Maxwell‘s choking taunt for James Worthy, Game 5’s 97 degree heat and lots of rough play.

Game 4 was the most memorable, though. In Los Angeles, the game and the series was all for the Lakers late in the game. They were looking at a 3-1 series lead as they had a five-point lead with under a minute to go in regulation. Inexplicably, Magic Johnson made two fatal mistakes, throwing a pass to Robert Parish, and missing two key free throws in overtime. The Lakers took an early overtime lead, but they weren’t able to hold on to that either as the Celtics took this one 129-125.

More could be said about this game and this series, but the images speak for themselves. And the McHale-Kurt Rambis clothesline picture is too epic to describe.

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