While the Celtics hold the edge over the Lakers in overall Finals matchups by an 8-2 margin, the Lakers have far and away been the more dominant team over the past two plus decades, winning four titles and only missing the playoffs twice. Lakers.com gives you a special edition of our Since We Saw Them Last, chronicling the defining moments and changes endured by L.A.’s biggest rival since they last faced Boston in the 1987 NBA Finals.
The Lakers second NBA Finals victory over the Celtics in the 1987-1988 NBA Finals officially began the downfall of a once glorious Boston team. With Larry Bird bowing out to injury just six games into the 1988-89 season, the Celtics were forced to play through an uncharacteristic 42 win season.
Although the Celtics improved in the following two seasons, buoyed by the addition of rookie guard Dee Brown and the return of Brian Shaw, they were eliminated prematurely in the playoffs both seasons, first by New York and then by Detroit in 1991.
Despite serious injuries to Bird and Kevin McHale, the Celtics won their division the following year, but again were unable to come through in the playoffs, losing to the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals.
While the signs had been there for years, the Celtics’ downfall really began when Bird retired before the start of the 1992-93 season, signaling an end to a remarkable streak of success for the team.
After losing in the first round in the following two seasons, the Celtics only managed to win 33 games in 1995-96, one year before going down in defeat a franchise-record 67 times.
Improvement was on the horizon though as Antoine Walker, Chauncy Billups and Paul Pierce joined Boston’s youthful team, bringing them back into the national spotlight with respectable seasons the next three years. However, it wasn’t until 2002 when the Celtics finally regained their edge in the playoffs, fighting their way to a near NBA Finals bid before losing to the Nets in the conference finals.
After ceding to the Nets once again the following year, the new Danny Ainge-led Celtics made their biggest trade of the decade so far, trading away longtime star Walker, resulting in a first round exit to Indiana.
With Doc River assuming head coaching duties, Boston clawed their way to a seven-game defeat at the hands of the Pacers in the 2004-2005 Eastern Conference Semifinals.
Last year saw the Celtics only win 24 games, leading to the dramatic franchise-altering trades for Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen prior to this season. The results have been nothing short of miraculous as Boston was an NBA-high 66 games this year en route to their first Finals appearance since their fateful series against the purple and gold 21 years ago.