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Bits and pieces of the 2023-24 NBA schedule have been leaked before the full release, and the Boston Celtics will face the Los Angeles Lakers in one of five Christmas Days games this year. According to Shams Charania, the other NBA holiday matchups this year are the Milwaukee Bucks at the New York Knicks, the Philadelphia 76ers at the Miami Heat, the Dallas Mavericks at the Phoenix Suns, and the Golden State Warriors at the Denver Nuggets.

This will be the seventh straight Christmas Day appearance for the Celtics, and the fifth time in history they’ve faced the Lakers on the holiday. The last time they squared off on Christmas was in 2008. The Celtics and Lakers have an NBA-leading 17 championships each and are one of the biggest rivalries in all of sports. We took a look back at five memorable moments, in no particular order, from the Celtics/Lakers rivalry.

Kevin McHale clotheslines Kurt Rambis as the Boston Celtics steal the momentum in Game 4 of the 1984 NBA Finals

The Boston Celtics were desperate. They had been completely outplayed in the first three games of the 1984 NBA Finals. If not for Gerald Henderson’s late steal in Game 2, the Celtics would be on the verge of being on the wrong end of a sweep heading into Game 4. Instead, the Celtics were down 2-1 but trailed 76-70 in the third quarter of Game 4.

That’s when Kevin McHale clotheslined Kurt Rambis, taking the Lakers forward down with a hard foul. This came after Larry Bird blasted his teammates after Game 3, calling them “sissies” for their soft play.

McHale’s takedown of Rambis changed the momentum of the game. Boston won in overtime to tie the series and eventually went on to outlast the Lakers in seven games.

The Lakers celebrate the 1985 championship on Boston’s home court

The Lakers felt they let one get away in 1984. In 1985, revenge was on their mind.

“You can’t look at 1985 without looking at 1984,” Magic Johnson said to Sports Illustrated in 2015. “We all thought we should’ve won. It was the ultimate motivator.”

In the ’85 series opener, things didn’t look good for the Lakers, who were blown out 148-114 in Boston in a game known as the Memorial Day Massacre. The Lakers quickly regouped, stealing home court advantage from the Celtics in Game 2 with a 109-102 victory. In the new 2-3-2 format, the Lakers won two of the next three at home to head back to Boston with a 3-2 series lead. They closed it out in Game 6 with a 111-100 win and enjoyed every second celebrating on Boston’s floor.

“That was our year,” Abdul-Jabbar said in a 2020 video put out by NBA History & Legends on CLNS. “We finally beat the Celtics. The Laker/Celtics thing was dead now because we went up there and whooped them in Boston Garden. We were the only team to win a championship in Boston Garden other than the Boston Celtics.

“They got to live with that forever. That’s awesome. That made my career. It was that good to me. I enjoyed 1985, and I’m still enjoying it.”

The Boston Celtics rally from a 24-point deficit in Game 4 of the 2008 NBA Finals

After dropping the first two games on the road, the Lakers cut their deficit in half with a Game 3 win over the Celtics in the 2008 NBA Finals. They looked to even the series in Game 4 when they jumped out to a 35-14 lead after the opening quarter.

LA led by as much as 24 points, but the Celtics continuously chipped away and outscored the Lakers 57-33 in the second half en route to a shocking 97-91 victory.

“I don’t want to get overjoyed,” Paul Pierce said after the game, per ESPN. “I want to go out there to try and win Game 5 on Father’s Day and then I’ll be able to breathe. Right now, I’m waiting to exhale.”

Although the Celtics lost Game 5 in LA, they closed out the series with a 131-92 victory in Boston in Game 6.

Magic Johnson hits his baby skyhook in Game 4 of the 1987 NBA Finals

The Celtics had a golden opportunity to tie the series in Game 4 of the 1987 NBA Finals. They held a 16-point lead in the third quarter, but the Lakers capitalized on sloppy fourth-quarter play and scored nine straight points to help claim a one-point lead. Bird hit a jumper with 12 seconds left to put Boston in front 106-105.

That’s when Magic Johnson took a page out of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s book and hit his famous “junior, junior, junior skyhook” as he called it, per Sports Illustrated. 

“My man switched to Kareem, and Kevin McHale jumped out to me,” Johnson said on ESPN’s Best of Enemies series. “Soon as I saw Kevin, I said, ‘Ohh, I’m taking him.’”

Magic’s shot gave the Lakers a 107-106 lead, and they held on as Bird missed a shot at the buzzer.

Bill Russell and the Celtics beat the overconfident Lakers in 1969

The Lakers hosted the Celtics in Game 7 of the 1969 NBA Finals. LA was the favorite, and the Lakers’ overconfidence showed before the game started when they had celebratory balloons high in the rafters ready to come down at the concusion of the game.

“I noticed them when I walked in,” Red Auerbach said in 1987, according to United Press International. “I was doing the color (commentary on television). After we won, I asked, ‘What is Jack Kent Cooke going to do with all those damn balloons?’ What they did was make the biggest mistake you could make in sports.

“They had a mimeographed sheet, and they gave it out to everybody; we all got a copy of it. It said, ‘After the Lakers win, this player should go here, and that player should go there, and the balloons will be released from the four corners of the building.’ And it all backfired.”

The Celtics went on to win in what was Bill Russell’s final game. Boston posted a 108-106 victory. Lakers guard Jerry West was named MVP of the series despite the loss, so at least one of those ballons could have gone to him.


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