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Scott Howard-Cooper

Odom, Bryant, Fisher ... the Lakers have a lot on the line this week.
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Celtics on verge of putting a historical hurting on L.A.

Posted Jun 14 2010 11:39AM

BOSTON -- It was the damndest thing. Celtics playing the Lakers on a parquet court, Celtics winning (naturally), the arena rocking, and who should show up late in the fourth quarter Sunday night but Red Auerbach.

Several people sitting high in TD Garden noticed. The unmistakable smell of cigar smoke floated to the rafters as Boston finalized its latest victory in the rivalry and the ghost of Red got all traditional and lit up a signature stogie. Old habits and all.

This is so about history. The Lakers are down 3-2 and have four days at most to save the series, their season and their legacy. A successful recovery is one of the great moments in franchise history. A loss Tuesday in Game 6 or Thursday in Game 7 changes the tint on the current run of three consecutive Western Conference titles and 2009 championship, because the Celtics will have stepped on their chest twice in that time in the Finals.

And if Boston claims the crown in Los Angeles by winning either of the next two? Bill Russell will be cackling, Jerry West will be seething, Larry Bird will be drawling trash talk under his breath and Magic Johnson will be shaking his head in disgust.

Ten previous times the Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers have met in the Finals, and Boston won eight. Six of those eight came in the 1960s alone, before the Showtime era. More to the moment at hand, one of the eight was 2008, this generation, and so another defeat would build the image of Celtics dominance.

Plus, just maybe somebody in green will note how the single L.A. title in those three years came as Boston was leveled by injury and lost in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Healthy, the old men of the Cs probably would have liked their chances in '09 as well.

When the Lakers finally broke through and won in 1985, closing the series in Boston Garden at that, they couldn't help but realize the moment was for all those who had come before. So it was surprising to hear Kobe Bryant say this is just another championship series, that the rivalry has no impact. He was asked about it again Sunday, about the chance for payback for 2008 and whether he will talk to his teammates about not letting it get too personal.

"Just man up and play," he said. "What the hell is the big deal? I don't see it as a big deal. If I have to say something to them, then we don't deserve to be champions. We're down 3-2. Go home, win one game, go into the next one. Simple as that."

That was not long after Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo sat at the same head table in the interview room, was asked whether people here would enjoy a title more because of the opponent, and said: "Yeah, definitely. It would be something special because it is the Lakers [and] the history that these two franchises have had in the past couple years and almost a century. It would be great to get the win against the Lakers."

That's the big picture at play as the series heads West with Game 6 on Tuesday. The Celtics can't reduce the Lakers' grand 2009 achievement. But the Celtics can change the conversation around the Lakers. If it comes to two championship-series losses in three seasons, the rubberneckers won't be able to avoid the historical context. Or that cigar smell.

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

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