Boston Paul Pierce grew up in Los Angeles watching the Lakers play the Celtics for NBA titles. Now he's the captain of the Boston team that is back in the finals for the first time since losing to the Lakers in 1987.
"As a kid, I hated the Celtics," Pierce said Friday night after Boston eliminated Detroit to advance to the NBA finals and a matchup with the Lakers.
"I'm going back home to play against my team that I grew up watching. It's a dream come true, man, just thinking about it. I think that rivalry really revolutionized the game of basketball, and now I'm a part of it."
The Celtics have won an NBA-record 16 championships, the last of them over Houston in 1986 to interrupt a run in which Larry Bird and Magic Johnson faced each other in the finals three times in four years. Those are the series Kansas University product Pierce watched, and the ones that established the rivalry as one of the NBA's best.
"To me, I think that's what pretty much got me started in basketball, growing up in Los Angeles, watching the Lakers and the Celtics," he said. "It's ironic, just being a Celtic, growing up, now you're playing against the Lakers in the finals."
For the last two decades, though, the NBA's most decorated franchise hasn't been good enough to keep the rivalry's intensity going.
While the Lakers beat the Celtics in 1987, won again against Detroit in '88 and then added three more trophies in the Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal era, the Celtics have missed the playoffs entirely nine times from 1994-2007. Twice, the team all but tanked the season in the hopes of winning big in the draft lottery; twice it failed.
There was a time, in fact, when the Celtics legacy was a burden on the team. The constant reminders of the past finally forced Rick Pitino to the breaking point, with his memorable rant that Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish "aren't walking through that door."
But - cheerleaders aside - the new owners have embraced the history.
"The whole reason to buy this team was to be trustees for the past," Wyc Grousbeck, one of the partners who bought the team in 2002 and named their company Banner 17, said Saturday. "We're trustees of one of the great franchises in the history of sports, and we're trying to extend the past. The legacy's the whole idea."
By Brian Mahoney - Associated Press Basketball Writer
A position-by-position look at the matchups in the NBA finals between the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers.
Kendrick Perkins vs. Pau Gasol. The Lakers wouldn't be here without their midseason acquisition of Gasol from Memphis. He's a good passer for a big man, making him an excellent fit for the triangle offense, and is shooting 53 percent in the postseason while averaging 17.7 points. Perkins made 61.5 percent of his shots in the regular season and had some strong games in the Eastern Conference finals, including an 18-point, 16-rebound performance in Game 5. Edge: Lakers.
Kevin Garnett vs. Lamar Odom. The Defensive Player of the Year, Garnett increased his offensive production in the conference finals, averaging 22.8 points in Boston's victory over Detroit. His intensity on both ends of the floor is what makes the Celtics go. The versatile Odom was inconsistent against San Antonio in the Western Conference finals, but rebounded from a poor Game 3 with strong performances in the last two games. Edge: Celtics.
Paul Pierce vs. Vladimir Radmanovic. Finally in the NBA finals in his 10th year with Boston, Pierce is set to face his hometown team. He has shown in the playoffs he still can be a potent scorer, notably in his 41-point effort to beat Cleveland in Game 7 of the second round, and has become an underrated defender. Radmanovic is a good perimeter shooter who doesn't do much else, and the Lakers need his jumper to be on to soften a Boston defense that held opponents to the lowest field-goal percentage in the league. Edge: Celtics.
Ray Allen vs. Kobe Bryant. Allen seemed to break out of his shooting slump in the final two games of the conference finals, averaging 23 points and going 8-of-14 from three-point range. Bryant, a tenacious defender, will certainly welcome the challenge of trying to get that slump started again. And the league MVP has been at his best in the playoffs, averaging 31.9 points to lead all players in the postseason and shooting 52 percent. Edge: Lakers.
Rajon Rondo vs. Derek Fisher. Fisher had a fairly quiet series in the conference finals, but his postseason experience, solid defense and courage to take big shots remain a comfort to the Lakers even when his shot isn't falling. Rondo's poor jumper was especially off late in the last round, when he shot 10-of-35 in the final three games. The Lakers will make him beat them from the outside. Edge: Lakers.
James Posey, P.J. Brown, Sam Cassell, Eddie House, Leon Powe, Glen Davis and Tony Allen vs. Sasha Vujacic, Luke Walton, Jordan Farmar, Ronny Turiaf, DJ Mbenga and Trevor Ariza. Posey won a title with Miami two years ago and is a key contributor who will help defend Bryant, but tough to figure out what else to expect from Celtics' reserves. Minutes greatly fluctuated along with their production for most of them during the postseason. The Lakers counter with a much younger bench that tries to increase the tempo and energy when Bryant is resting. Edge: Lakers.
Doc Rivers vs. Phil Jackson. Rivers did a great job molding all the Celtics' new pieces into a 66-win team. But he has appeared to lose confidence in some of his role players during the postseason, creating some inconsistent rotations. Jackson, the career leader in postseason victories, did one of his best coaching jobs this season on a team that started with the turmoil surrounding a possible Bryant trade and was never expected to be here. He seeks a 10th title, which would break Red Auerbach's record. Edge: Lakers.