The Last Time the Boston Celtics Played in the NBA Finals, Kobe Bryant Struggled, and ‘There Wasn’t a Dry Eye’ in Boston’s Locker Room
Is this the year the Boston Celtics finally get over the hump? For the fourth time in six years, they’re in the Eastern Conference Finals. During that stretch, they’ve never tasted the NBA Finals.
In fact, it’s been 12 years since Boston has played in a championship series. That’s when Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen teamed up. They had won the championship in 2008, their first year together, when they knocked off the Los Angeles Lakers.
In the 2020 NBA Finals, Kobe Bryant got revenge, despite his Game 7 struggles. When it was all said and done, emotions took over in the Celtics’ locker room.
The Boston Celtics came up just short in their last NBA Finals appearance
Prior to the 2007-08 season, the Celtics acquired Garnett from the Minnesota Timberwolves in exchange for five players and a pair of first-round draft picks. Boston paired Garnett with Pierce and Allen, another All-Star acquired in the offseason, to form its first Big Three since the Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish era.
In their first year together, the Celtics won their first championship since 1986 and played in their first NBA Finals since 1987.
The basketball buzz around Boston was at its peak since those glory days of the ’80s. Expectations were high after their first title, but they came crashing down the following season when the Orlando Magic stunned the Celtics in Boston in a blowout Game 7 victory in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
Boston bounced back the following season, earning a rematch with the Lakers in the 2010 NBA Finals.
The Lakers held homecourt advantage, but the Celtics, after dropping a 102-89 decision in Game 1, bounced back with a 103-94 victory behind 32 points from Allen.
In a 2-3-2 playoff format, Boston won two of three at home to claim a 3-2 series lead. They needed to win one of two out in LA. The Lakers sent a message in Game 6, shutting down Boston’s offense in an 89-67 victory.
It all came down to Game 7.
The Boston Celtics sought their second NBA title in three years against Kobe Bryant and the Lakers
The Lakers wanted revenge. Although they knocked off the Magic in the 2009 NBA Finals, they wanted a piece of their rivals.
The Celtics had never lost a Game 7 in the NBA Finals, but this time they were short-handed. They played without starting center Kendrick Perkins, who provided them with a tough, physical presence in the middle. Perkins was injured the previous game.
In a game where offense was tough to find, the Celtics held a 64-61 lead with 6:28 left to play. Bryant and the Lakers got tough down the stretch and pulled out an 83-79 victory.
Despite shooting 6-for-24, Bryant finished with 23 points and was named Finals MVP. He claimed this championship was the sweetest of the five he earned with the Lakers.
“This one is by far the sweetest, because it’s them,” Bryant said of the Celtics after the game, per ESPN. “This was the hardest one by far. I wanted it so bad, and sometimes when you want it so bad, it slips away from you. My guys picked me up.”
Before the series, Bryant told reporters he would approach it like any other, downplaying the Celtics vs. Lakers rivalry.
“I was just lying to you guys,” Bryant said. “When you’re in the moment, you have to suppress that … but you guys know what a student I am of the game. I know every series the Lakers have played in, and I know every Celtics series. I know every statistic. It meant the world to me, but I couldn’t focus on that. I had to focus on playing.”
The Celtics were emotional after the Game 7 loss
The Celtics gave everything they had but fell just short. Now came the questions about their future. Would the Big Three stick together? Would head coach Doc Rivers stick around? Things got pretty emotional in Boston’s locker room.
“We were scratching and clawing, trying to do everything we could to try to pull this out,” said Allen, who also struggled, missing 11 of his 14 shots. “We had an opportunity to win, but it just didn’t go our way down the stretch. I don’t think we ran out of steam. Lady Luck just didn’t bounce in our corner. … There were a lot of tears, a lot of tears.”
Rivers confirmed the tears.
“There’s a lot of crying in that locker room,” Rivers said. “A lot of people who care. I don’t think there was a dry eye. A lot of hugs, a lot of people feeling awful. That’s a good thing. Showed a lot of people cared.
“We were the tightest, most emotional, crazy group, I’ve ever been around in my life.”