Hello, ignominy, their old friend.
It turned out the Lakers and Celtics weren't reliving any of their Finals in the 1980s, after all. This one is right out of the '60s, when it wasn't a matter of what would go wrong for the Lakers but when and how horrific it would be.
Thursday night's Game 4 just went up there with Frank Selvy's wide-open miss, Don Nelson's shot that bounced off the back rim and dropped back in and the balloons in the rafters for the Game 7 celebration the Lakers never got to hold.
After a torpid start in the first three games, the Lakers awoke as if from the dead, taking a 24-point lead, then died all over again, blowing it all and falling, 97-91.
Even the '60s Lakers, who lost six Finals to the Celtics, never had a game like that and no other NBA team may have either.
Maybe the Lakers should have quit this rivalry while they were ahead. After a 21-year break to enjoy their 1987 Finals victory that followed their 1985 breakthrough -- after having lost the first eight -- the Lakers saw the Celtics turn the hands of time all the way back to the '60s when Boston ruled everyone, especially them. The only thing missing was the cigar smoke but the Lakers should be able to remember this one without it.
Does it get any better?
Even back when the Celtics stunk and the Lakers closed the championship gap to two, I never changed my tune. The NBA consisted of two teams, and the Celtics were winning that contest 16-14.
Nothing else mattered, and, other than the fact that the score is now 17-14, nothing much has changed.
Purple v. Green. Green v. Purple. It’s still the only game in town.
No, it's not yet Thanksgiving, but it's time to start talking about Christmas.
Of all the ignominious moments suffered at the hands of the Celtics, the Lakers defeat in the 1969 Finals surely ranks at the top. In 2006 Jerry West admitted he still has nightmares about that loss (kind of like how Magic thinks about the 1984 series). The Lakers, who had acquired Wilt Chamberlain over the summer, were anointed champions before the 1968-69 season had even begun. The Celtics, meanwhile, were an aging, injured group of veterans whose time had passed. The Lakers stormed to the league's best record, and entered the Finals as prohibitive favorites (seems like the Lakers are always "prohibitive favorities").
Talk of a Finals sweep entered the discussion when the Lakers won the first two games in Tinseltown (not unlike when talk of a sweep entered the discussion after the Lakers won game 1 in 1984). The Lakers then blew a lead in game 3 and lost by a single point in game 4. From there the rest is history. Nellie's improbable game winning shot in game 7 and the Jack Kent Cooke balloon kerfuffle added insult to injury. Just for fun, Jerry West was named Finals MVP, the only player ever to win the award in a losing effort (not unlike Kobe winning regular season MVP last year, only to watch Paul and KG take home the important trophies).
What these individual stories don't capture, and, indeed, simply cannot capture, is the magnitude of the saga. We're not talking American Idol or Survivor. We're talking Shakespeare and Homer, and, like any Great Book, themes keep repeating themselves, over and over and over again.
Which returns us to the 12/25/2008 game at Staples.
It doesn't really matter what happens, now does it?
The Lakers are already atop the power rankings, and, with the addition of Andrew Bynum, are favored to win the whole enchilada next June (sound like a repeat of 1968-69 to you, too?).
If the Celtics win on Christmas, the Lakers' balloon is popped much earlier than anyone expected.
If the Lakers win, it will only serve to make the Lakers much stronger favorites heading into the second half of the season, which, in turn, will make the Lakers-Celtics tilt at the Gah-den even more dramatic. If the Celtics lose that one, the drama will continue increasing until the June rematch.
Does any student of Celtics-Lakers history really think the Purple will prevail in the Finals?
Didn't think so.
The 1980s were good to the Lakers. But the 2008 Finals tell me that the 1980s were but a brief interlude between periods of deep, dark agony the Purple were brought on this planet to endure.
Jerry West has the heartache to prove it.
- #05 (Walton)
- #08 (Wedman)
- #12 (Sichting)
- 1971-72 Lakers
- 2007-08 Scores
- Banner 17
- Grassy Knoll Network
- Green Mile
- Larry & Magic
- NBA Scoreboard
- Russell v. Chamberlain
- Walton Gang (1977)