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Scott Howard-Cooper

The Lakers still have some unpleasant memories of the Game 6 loss to Boston in The Finals.
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images)

Sting of '08 Finals defeat still somewhat fresh for Lakers

Posted Jun 2 2010 11:17AM

LOS ANGELES -- Of course they remember. Anyone with self respect would remember, the way their bus got rocked and their hearts got removed with a bare-handed clutch followed by a hard yank, how they were left not simply in defeat but in humiliation.

The Lakers do not forget 2008. The Lakers cannot forget that Finals. The Lakers will not forget what the Celtics did to them -- what the whole city of Boston did to them, really -- the last time the teams met for the championship. And the Lakers couldn't even if they wanted to, not when everyone is tossing the memory back at them this week as the rematch approaches and the chance for revenge is at hand.

They can't change the cringing outcome of two Junes ago. But there is a lot to be said for the redemption angle considering that wasn't just any loss the last time.

For one, it was the Celtics, and that's enough. But it was also Boston coming back from a 24-point deficit at Staples Center to win Game 4 in the largest Finals comeback since 1971, and then a series-clincher coming in Game 6 by a 39-point margin, Gang Green generally playing with more heart and toughness. It was a team winning the Western Conference title, making meaningful strides with the mid-season acquisition of Pau Gasol ... and then being held up to ridicule.

Of less certainty is how that will impact this. The Lakers appear split on whether they will use 2008 as motivation, or even whether they can. Two years is a long time in sports. Ron Artest wasn't in L.A., Rasheed Wallace wasn't in Boston, Rajon Rondo wasn't in this stratosphere. Maybe there should be a statute of limitations on the comparison.

On the other hand, maybe not. Celtics-Lakers in the postseason is an unavoidable big deal, forged through the years of many of history's greatest players building their legacy in this matchup. The outcome should be historic.

There is such a connection across the miles, in fact, that coach Phil Jackson tells the story of how he went to see his daughter at her apartment in L.A. and ran into Celtics star Paul Pierce, a Southern California native, at the complex not long after the Magic had won the East last season.

"I said, 'Get it back, we want to meet you in the Finals,' " Jackson said. "So here it is almost a year later. We have this opportunity, both of us, to renew this rivalry."

But he also noted how "This is a whole new situation," and that contrast runs through the Lakers, with some players knowing they need to beat the Celtics to make it right, the same way Magic, Kareem, Coop, Byron, Big Game James and Clark Kent had to climb Mt. Boston once and for all to be able to look Larry, Chief, Kevin and DJ in the eyes.

"It's going to be a great story," said Lakers forward Luke Walton, the son of an ex-Celtic, Bill. "The way they're playing right now, it's going to be an amazing challenge. Obviously there's still a lot of hurt and a feeling of unfinished business from the last time we played 'em. Obviously the rivalry of the franchises speaks for itself. I think everyone's in for one of those great Finals.

"It's tough to say you want Boston, as good as they are. But definitely, everyone that was on the team has still been thinking about that, just like we've been thinking of that old Phoenix series from a few years back. It's not a case of us wanting them. It was more a case of us taking care of business and if they get there and we get there, then we have our chance for redemption.

"The 24-point lead that we gave up at home. Game 6, them blowing us out of the building and celebrating, us being in the locker room, hearing them celebrate. All of that stuff stings. All of that, it's like it happened yesterday.

"I think it's impossible to get more amped in the NBA Finals for one team or the other. I think everybody's going to be as amped. But I think come Thursday it's going to be really hard for the team to come out at that level that he likes us at. I think people are going to be ready to get that brawl started."

And there went, "This is a whole new situation," flying out the window.

"We all remember what happened," said center Andrew Bynum, who missed the '08 Finals with a knee injury. "That's going to be our fuel and motivating factor, sitting in their locker room [at TD Garden], having to take that bus ride with their fans knocking on the bus and throwing rocks and all that."

Kobe Bryant, on the other hand, said, "I didn't give a damn who we played," and some teammates agreed with that sentiment, that what starts downtown on Thursday night is not about trying to avenge the past. The Lakers can't change that outcome.

They can, however, change that lasting image of the locker room and the bus and being rolled at home. There's a part of the Lakers that wanted the Celtics for that very reason, to redeem themselves. Now it's time to actually do something about it.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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