Celtics-Lakers Rivalry: Boston’s Miraculous Comeback Shifts the 2008 NBA Finals
In 2008, the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers met in the NBA Finals for the first time since 1987. Boston’s lineup included newcomers Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, giving the Celtics a makeover that helped them to an NBA-best 66 victories.
The Lakers’ 57 wins were tops in the Western Conference, and the Celtics-Lakers rivalry was once again rejuvenated in the postseason.
The Celtics-Lakers rivalry heated back up again in 2008
The Celtics and the Lakers were a given in the NBA Finals back in the 1980s. In every year of the decade, either the Celtics or Lakers found their way into the championship round. They squared off against each other three times.
The Celtics and Lakers first met in the finals that decade in 1984. It was the first championship matchup between Boston’s Larry Bird and LA’s Magic Johnson since their epic NCAA championship meeting in 1979. Johnson’s Michigan State Spartans defeated Bird’s Indiana State Sycamores.
After LA topped Boston in 1987, it took 21 years for them to meet again in the Finals. It took a major overhaul on Boston’s part to vault them from worst to first in one season. The previous year, the Celtics won 24 games and finished dead last in the Eastern Conference.
The Celtics made two significant offseason deals, trading for Garnett and Allen, that turned them into an instant contender. Boston’s 66-16 record was seven games better than the Detroit Pistons, the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference.
As fate would have it, the top-seeded teams survived the conference playoffs and met for an NBA championship. Boston had homecourt advantage and held serve, winning the first two. The Lakers did their part in Game 3 with an 87-81 victory.
The 2008 Finals shifted after a wild comeback in Game 4
The Lakers looked to stay even with the Celtics with a Game 4 victory. The couldn’t have gotten off to a better start.
LA raced out to a 35-14 lead after one quarter, sticking the Celtics with the largest first-quarter deficit in championship history. The Lakers led 58-40 at halftime.
Boston bounced back, hustling its way to back from what was once a 24-point deficit by outscoring the Celtics 57-33 in the second half. Boston won 97-91, forcing the Lakers to win three straight, with two of those games scheduled to take place in Boston. The momentum of the series swung after the Celtics took control in the third quarter, outscoring LA 31-15.
“It’s definitely a great win, one that you’re going to put up there in the library and break back out one day for your kids to watch,” Pierce said after the game, per ESPN. “But I want nothing more than that ring right now.”
The NBA was still using the 2-3-2 format, so Game 5, which was won by the Lakers, was played in LA. Boston closed out the series in Game 6, winning handily, 131-92.