The last time Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers faced the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals, they were on the losing end of a 39-point rout.
The Celtics captured their record 17th National Basketball Association title two years ago with a 131-92 win in Game 6 of the championship series.
While the Lakers rebounded to win their 15th NBA crown last season, beating the Orlando Magic, memories linger of their loss to the Celtics in 2008. The Lakers host Game 1 of the best-of-seven NBA Finals tonight at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
“There is some bad blood with the way that the ‘08 series ended, with everyone saying that the Celtics beat up the Lakers,” said Kevin McHale, who helped Boston to titles in 1981, 1984 and 1986, and is now an analyst for NBA TV. “That really bothers you as a player. Kobe wants another shot at them, I think all the Lakers do.”
The Lakers and Celtics have had one of sports’ most celebrated rivalries, combining to win 32 of a possible 63 NBA titles. They’ve met in the Finals 11 times, with Boston winning the first seven matchups from 1959 through 1969.
The Lakers won two of three championship series in the 1980s, when Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar played for Los Angeles and Larry Bird led the Celtics. The rivalry was renewed two years ago, when Boston ended a 22-year title drought that stretched back to the days of Bird and McHale.
“There’s things that we have carried with us from that series -- how to play as a unit at both ends of the floor and the tenacity that you need to play with,” said Bryant, who this postseason passed Jerry West as the Lakers’ career playoff scoring leader.
Kobe’s Fifth Ring?
Bryant won his fourth NBA ring with the Lakers last season and can pull within one of Michael Jordan’s total with a victory over the Celtics.
The Lakers also could get within one championship of Boston’s record total. Los Angeles is seeking to become the first team to win back-to-back titles since Bryant teamed with Shaquille O’Neal for three straight from 2000-02.
“Last year’s run, going to the Finals, we had a lot of adversity,” Bryant said. “We developed the poise of playing through that and still getting to our ultimate goal. You never see us get rattled by anything.”
Kevin Garnett says the Celtics won’t get thrown off their game either, not even by Lakers coach Phil Jackson, who said Boston’s defense has a “smackdown mentality.” Jackson, who’s won 10 titles, previously took verbal digs in the media at Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant and Phoenix’s Steve Nash before the Lakers played those teams in the playoffs.
“It’s Phil playing mind games,” Garnett told reporters. “It’s all good. I just don’t play into it. I understand the series and know why I’m here. I know my job.”
The Lakers and Celtics split their two regular-season meetings, with both games decided by one point. The Lakers are favored in the Finals and by 5 1/2 points in tonight’s opener.
“This series will come down to a shot here or a shot there,” McHale said.
The appeal of the Celtics-Lakers matchup pushed ticket prices to an average of $854, up from $709 for last year’s Finals, according to FanSnap.com, an Internet search engine that finds seats on 18 ticket-reselling websites.
Tickets for the four games in Los Angeles average $1,004, while those for three possible games in Boston are $655.
This is the first time the NBA’s past two champions have met in the Finals since the Lakers beat the Celtics in 1987.
“They’re the defending champs. That’s the motivation,” Garnett said. “This is the Finals, we’re back here and we’re playing the champs.”