75 Years of Memories: Top Moments from Celtics-Lakers Rivalry
As the NBA celebrates its 75th anniversary this season, the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers are celebrating three-quarters of a century of the greatest rivalry in sports.
Dating back to 1948, the Celtics own a 205-163 record against their archrival in the regular season and playoffs combined, including a 9-3 mark in their 12 NBA Finals matchups.
Before they face off in their 369th meeting Friday night, let’s take a look back at some of the greatest moments from their storied feud.
1962 Finals, Game 7 – Boston Edges L.A. in OT
The Celtics and Lakers faced off in the Finals a remarkable seven times in the 1960s with Boston emerging victorious each year. The closest L.A. came to beating the Celtics was in Game 7 of the 1962 Finals, but it just barely missed its chance at the end of regulation.
With less than five seconds remaining in a tie game, Laker guard Frank Selvy got a wide-open look along the baseline from 12-feet away. However, he missed the shot that could have prevented a Celtics four-peat. The game would then go into overtime, where the Celtics prevailed 110-107 behind a monster 30-point, 40-rebound effort from Bill Russell, giving them their fifth championship banner and fourth in a row.
1969 Finals, Game 4 – Sam Jones Game-Winner
The seventh and final championship bout between the Celtics and Lakers in their 1960s glory days featured a couple of the most epic moments in NBA history, including Sam Jones’ game-winning shot in Game 4 of the 1969 Finals.
With an 88-87 lead at TD Garden, L.A. was just seven seconds away from taking a 3-1 series advantage, until Boston swung the momentum back in its favor with one quick play. John Havlicek, Bailey Howell, and Larry Siegfried set a triple pick for Sam Jones, who then took an off-balance jumper that sailed over the outstretched fingertips of Wilt Chamberlain before caroming off the front-rim and through the net at the buzzer for an 89-88 win. That single shot prevented the C’s from facing early elimination, and completely changed the tide of the series.
1969 Finals, Game 7 – Don Nelson Pops L.A.’s Balloon
The Lakers were so confident that they were going to win Game 7 of the 1969 Finals that owner Jack Kent Cooke had thousands of balloons suspended in the rafters of the Forum in anticipation of a celebration. According to the Washington Times, he had flyers printed and placed on every seat that read: “When, not if, the Lakers win the title, balloons will be released from the rafters, the USC marching band will play "Happy Days Are Here Again" and broadcaster Chick Hearn will interview Elgin Baylor, Jerry West and Wilt Chamberlain in that order.”
Well, those flyers made their way into the visitors’ locker room before tip-off, and the Celtics weren’t impressed. In fact, Bill Russell let Jerry West know during warmups that those balloons would not be descending to the court on his watch.
Boston wound up leading for the majority of the game, but a late 8-0 run by the Lakers cut the C’s advantage down to one point with just under two minutes remaining. At the 93-second mark, John Havlicek nearly committed a costly turnover after being swiped by Keith Erickson; however, Don Nelson was in just the right position to pick up the loose ball and managed to get off a wild 18-footer just before the shot-clock buzzer, which miraculously bounced off the rim and through the net to give Boston a 105-102 lead.
That single shot sucked the air out of L.A.’s comeback attempt. The Lakers committed a couple of costly turnovers during the final minute and a half, allowing Boston to escape with a 108-106 win.
And up in the rafters, the balloons remained.
1984 Finals, Game 2 – Henderson Steals the Ball
The 1984 Finals was an epic, seven-game ride, which marked the first championship meeting between Larry Bird and Magic Johnson since the 1979 NCAA title game. There were quite a few moments that stood out during that series, starting with Gerald Henderson’s famous steal in Game 2 that helped prevent the Celtics from falling into a 2-0 hole.
The Lakers seemingly had the game in their hands, ahead 113-111 with 18 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter and possession of the ball. However, Henderson literally stole the game away from L.A. when he picked off a James Worthy pass and took it straight to the hole for a game-tying layup. Johnson then inexplicably dribbled out the game clock, sending the match into overtime where the Celtics would prevail 124-121, largely thanks to Scott Wedman’s game-winning jumper with 14 seconds remaining.
That one steal changed the entire course of the series, as the Celtics went from potentially losing the first two games of the series at home, to instead heading to L.A. tied 1-1 with momentum in their favor.
1984 Finals, Game 4 – McHale Clotheslines Rambis, Lakers Choke
Game 5 of the 1984 Finals was famously declared the “Heat Game,” as the temperature inside TD Garden reached as high as 97 degrees in a 121-103 Celtics win. Some may argue, however, that the true “Heat Game” of the series took place two nights prior in what was the most physical match of the storied rivalry.
Following a 137-104 blowout loss in Game 3, Larry Bird called out his teammates out for playing too soft. Those words lit a fire under their bellies for Game 4, as they came out three nights later swinging – literally.
The Celtics were trailing 76-70 with seven minutes remaining in the third quarter when Kevin McHale dealt the game-changing blow in the form of a clothesline takedown of Kurt Rambis while the latter was driving to the basket.
The incident cleared both benches and set off a domino effect for what would be a blood-boiling second half. Several altercations occurred in the aftermath, including two separate instances when Larry Bird later went after Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Michael Cooper.
Eventually, Boston wore L.A. down. The Lakers had a five-point lead with less than a minute remaining in regulation, but Magic Johnson committed a few key mistakes, including a bad pass that fell into the hands of Robert Parish and turned into points on the other end of the floor. The Lakers also missed several key free-throws down the stretch. After one such miss by James Worthy, Cedric Maxwell walked across the lane with his hands raised to his throat in a choking motion, providing further antagonization.
The Celtics would prevail, 129-124, tying the series at two games apiece, before eventually winning the title in seven.
2008 Finals, Game 4 – The 24-Point Comeback
Thirty-four years after Boston’s Game 4 win in the 1984 Finals came another pivotal Game 4 win over the Lakers. After building a 2-1 series lead, the Celtics fell into an early 35-14 hole in Game 4 at STAPLES Center, marking the largest first-quarter deficit in Finals history. The Lakers went up by as many as 24 points and were well on their way to tying up the series until Boston pulled off the improbable.
The Celtics went on a 21-3 run in the third quarter and eventually took their first lead of the game with just over four minutes remaining in the final frame. Boston’s Big 3 of Paul Pierce (20 points), Kevin Garnett (16 points, 11 rebounds), and Ray Allen (19 points) led the charge, while Eddie House and James Posey combined for 29 points off the bench to help lead the C’s to a 97-91 win.
That game broke the back of L.A., as it went from potentially tying up the series to facing elimination with two of the final three scheduled games to be played on the road.
2008 Finals, Game 6 – ‘Anything is Possible!’
However, it only took two more games for Boston to shut the door on L.A. After losing Game 5, 103-98, at STAPLES Center, the Celtics returned home for what would be the most dominant championship-clincher in NBA history.
After a wobbly first quarter, Boston broke open the game, outscoring the Lakers 34-15 in the second frame. From there, L.A. never stood a chance, as the Celtics cruised to a 131-92 victory.
It was a near-perfect game across the board for Boston, which had massive advantages in total rebounds (48-29), offensive rebounds (14-2), assists (33-16), steals (18-4), blocks (4-0), and turnovers (7-19).
Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett led the way with 26 points apiece, while the former set a then-Finals single-game record with seven 3-point makes. Rajon Rondo stuffed the stat sheet with 21 points, eight rebounds, seven assists, and six steals, while eventual Finals MVP Paul Pierce chipped in with 17 points and 10 assists.
After Doc Rivers got his red Gatorade bath (courtesy of Pierce) and the final buzzer sounded, the Celtics stormed the TD Garden court to celebrate their first championship win in 21 years. It was then that Garnett, who had joined the team 11 months prior and had soaked his Celtics uniform with blood, sweat and tears in an effort to achieve his lifelong dream, shouted to the rafters, “ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE!”
That statement rang true for the entire Celtics organization after winning just 24 games the previous season. And to end their championship drought against their archrival in such convincing fashion was the cherry on top.
Allen Sets 3-point Mark
Each of the moments that we’ve highlighted so far have been team-oriented feats. But on Feb. 10, 2011, there was an individual milestone of note, which just happened to fall during a regular-season meeting between the Celtics and Lakers.
It was the night when Ray Allen broke Reggie Miller’s record for career 3-pointers.
Allen tied Miller’s mark of 2,560 at the 4:14 mark of the first quarter with a triple from the right wing, and then broke the record less than three minutes later with a wide-open make from the exact same spot. The fans at TD Garden stood up the moment the ball left Allen’s fingertips and gave him a standing ovation that lasted around four minutes.
"It's one shot of many," Allen later said of the record-breaker. "But it ends up being one shot that stands alone."
At the next stoppage of play, Allen made his way over to the TNT announcers booth from where Miller was calling the game, and the pair shared a handshake and an embrace. Allen then got a fist bump of approval from Kobe Bryant, who had been defending Allen on the shot, before making his way over to his family for a brief celebration.
Allen wound up making 2,973 3-pointers in his career – a record that still stands to this day with Stephen Curry just 56 makes behind.
A Farewell to Kobe
Despite the heated nature of the Celtics-Lakers rivalry, there is still immense respect between the two most successful franchises in NBA history. Such respect was on full display on Dec. 30, 2015, when Kobe Bryant played his 23rd and final game at TD Garden.
Bryant was the ultimate villain in the eyes of Celtics fans, especially when he snagged that 2010 title from their grasp. But, as much as they may have hated to admit, they appreciated the villainous impact that he made in enhancing their fan-hood.
So, when Bryant was introduced one last time before tip-off, Celtics Nation showed such appreciation in the form of a thunderous standing ovation. But then, as soon as the ball was tipped and found Bryant’s hands, they serenade him with a proper downpour of boos.
“It was unbelievable,” Bryant said of the reception after a 15-point, 11-rebound effort in a 112-104 Lakers win. “The recognition at the top of the game, and then as soon as I touched the ball and they booed, I was like, ‘Ah, I'm home.’ It felt great.”
For late Hall-of-Famer, it was always special playing inside TD Garden, as was surely the case for several Lakers legends. And the fans always made sure to make them feel right at home, in their own unique way.
Brown Booms ‘Bron in Blowout Win
The Celtics-Lakers rivalry has been full of highlight moments, and Jaylen Brown owns one of the most impressive of them all. On Jan. 20, 2020, the Celtics were in the midst of one of a 139-107 victory when Brown checked one of the items off of his basketball bucket list: dunking on LeBron James.
The Celtics were up 16 points early in the third quarter when Brown drove through the Lakers defense straight at James. The King rose up to meet Brown at the rim, but he didn’t stand a chance as JB threw the rock down with both hands before screaming and staring down the man who dared to challenge him.
Though, it wasn’t just that moment that made the 365th meeting between these two teams so special. The Celtics also limited James and star teammates Anthony Davis to just 24 points combined, while Jayson Tatum scored 27 on his own. Brown, Tatum, and Kemba Walker all reached the 20-point mark, while no Laker made it out of the teens. And, it was the largest blowout in the rivalry since Boston’s 2008 championship-clinching game.