Every major sport have their biggest rivalry ever, and if you know a bit about basketball, you have to be aware of the great despite that exists between the two most winning franchises in NBA history: the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics.
The Boston Celtics were complete rulers of basketball world during the early years, led by an unstoppable Bill Russell, until the purple and gold overcame all odds with their Showtime to become the ultimate leaders of the scene later on.
Both franchises share a huge part of basketball history, and they’ve seen the best players in the history of the game go through their locker room en route to the highest stage of basketball, with 33 combined titles between both and the Celtics slightly leading the all-time champions list with 17 titles.
Over the course of history, we’ve been part and witnesses of the never-ending debate regarding the ultimate question: Boston or Los Angeles? And truth to be told, the answer never seems to be quite clear for anybody (other than fans, obviously).
Having said that, we’re going to do something to put an end to this futile debate, taking the best 12 players in each franchise’s history and throwing them to the hardwood to fight on a 7 game series, with the winner taking all for good. Are you ready? Sit down and enjoy the all-time Lakers squad take on the all-time Celtics squad.
All-Time Los Angeles Lakers
Point Guard: Magic Johnson
One of the most obvious choices ever. Magic was a whole team on just a single guy, a player able to play and guard all five spots, and arguably the greatest point guard in the history of the game with his two-way ability, highly versatile skillset and basketball IQ. With averages of 19.5 points, 7.2 rebounds, 11.2 assists and 1.9 steals per game, Magic won 5 titles with 3 NBA Finals MVP during his Lakers career.
Shooting Guard: Kobe Bryant
Regardless of his haters, Kobe Bryant will go down as the greatest player ever to be dressed in purple and gold, and the black mamba would even be the team’s captain despite Magic’s presence down here. Averaging 25 points with 5.2 rebounds, 4.7 dimes and 1.4 steals per game, Kobe made his way to 5 rings, 2 Finals MVP, 2 scoring titles, 12 All-Defensive squads, 1 MVP and soon enough, the Hall of Fame.
Small Forward: Elgin Baylor
Elgin Baylor is perhaps the most unlucky Laker in history, as he spent his entire career dressed in purple and gold but was never able to shake off Bill Russell’s dominance, having to retire without a ring (which the Lakers won the very next year of his retirement). Still, his career averages of 27.4 points, 13.5 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game make him one of the best ballers to ever play the 3.
Power Forward: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Obviously, we couldn’t leave the NBA all-time leading scorer out of the squad, and he’s one of the main responsible why the Los Angeles Lakers became the most dominant team during the Showtime era.
Kareem was unstoppable with his hook, and his averages of 24.6 points, 11.2 rebounds and 3.6 dimes with almost 3 blocks per game led him to 6 MVPs, 6 Rings, 2 Finals MVP and 2 scoring titles.
Center: Wilt Chamberlain
If it wasn’t for Michael Jordan and Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain would most likely be considered the GOAT as the most dominant player in NBA history. As a matter of fact, he was the main reason why the league was forced to change some rules and regulations in order to make the game more fair. Through his career, he averaged 30.1 points and 22.4 rebounds and is the only player in history to have a 100 point game, although he just won a couple of Championships.
Coach: Phil Jackson
Considered to be the best coach in NBA history alongside Pat Riley and Gregg Popovich, Jackson definitely earned the right to coach this squad, leading his Lakers to 5 NBA Rings and almost 120 playoff wins during his Los Angeles stint, with a winning percentage of 70.42% over that span.
Bench: Jerry West, James Worthy, Shaquille O’Neal, Bob McAdoo, Robert Horry, George Mikan, Michael Cooper
If you want balance, you just got to take a look at this team’s second unit, featuring just two way players in The Logo, Shaq, McAdoo, and Worthy, with lockdown defenders like Michael Cooper and the total owner of the glass in George Mikan, the first player ever inducted into the Hall of Fame.
West would lead the way with the playmaking duties in the second unit, establishing a lot of PnR sets with Shaquille O’Neal, while Horry and Cooper play as the team’s main stoppers to leave Worthy open in the wing.
Of course, leaving other Laker greats like Pau Gasol, Derek Fisher, A.C Green, Byron Scott and Jamaal Wilkes out of the team was a heartbreaking task, but we’re pretty certain coach Jackson is bound to be quite satisfied with this selection.
All-Time Boston Celtics
Point Guard: John Havlicek
Over a 15 year career, Havlicek was durable as they come, and even though “Hondo” spent most of his career at the two playing off the ball, he was also a hell of a playmaker and would matchup very well against Magic. Through his career, he won 8 Championships, made 8 All-Defensive squads, won 1 Finals MVP and averaged 20.8 points, 6.3 rebounds and 4.8 dimes with 1.2 steals per game.
Shooting Guard: Paul Pierce
Pierce spent his entire career playing at both forward spots, but we’re bound to play him at the two here. The Truth is one of the greatest scorers in the history of the game, a vocal leader and one of the fans favorite players ever. Through his career, he managed to win a Championship with 1 Finals MVP, posting career averages of 19.5 points, 5.6 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.3 steals per contest.
Small Forward: Larry Bird
Before LeBron James, Larry Bird was considered the undisputable best small forward in the history of the game. Bird was so skilled, so light yet so heavy, and his stroke from distance was something the league had never seen before. Through his Celtics career, Larry averaged 24.3 points with 10 rebounds, 1.7 steals and 6.3 helpers per contest, leading Boston to 3 rings with 2 Finals MVP and 3 MVPs.
Power Forward: Kevin Garnett
After being left on an island in Minnesota, Kevin Garnett arrived to the TD Garden to take his career to a whole new level, becoming an instant fan favorite with his hustle, strength, determination and trash talking.
Arguably a top 5 player in his position, Garnett left career averages of 17.8 points, 10 boards, 3.7 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.4 blocks per game, winning 1 ring with the C’s as well as a DPOY and 1 MVP.
Center: Bill Russell
If we’re talking about Championships, there’s no one greater than Bill Russell, and there will never be. Russell was the main guy in basketball during the early days, and the main responsible for the Celtics all-time glory. Winner of 11 rings and 5 MVPs, this living legend averaged 15.1 points and 22.5 rebounds on an era where they didn’t even count blocks.
Coach: Red Auerbach
Red Auerbach earned the right to coach this team after giving most of his life to this organization en route to a 795-397 record with 9 Championships over a 16-year span, including 8 in a row. Auerbach’s Celtics never missed the postseason or finish below 500. “The Boston Celtics are not a basketball team, they are a way of life.”
Bench: Bob Cousy, Dave Cowens, Robert Parish, Kevin McHale, Sam Jones, Ray Allen, Jo Jo White
Things got really interesting now when we take a look at this second unit, mainly led by Bob Cousy, one of the ultimate two-way point guards in the history of the game alongside one of the most skilled defenders in the history of basketball: Dave Cowens, the lone guy capable of containing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
At the two, we’ve got one of the best shooters this game has ever seen in Ray Allen, with Kevin McHale taking boys to school all day with his ballerina-like footwork, while Parish takes the wing with his always consistent mid-range shot and capable defense.
Jo Jo White would have the hard task to try and suffocate Kobe Bryant with his pesky defense, while Sam Jones is no stranger to playing beside Bill Russell in the glass. Sadly, we had to cut Dennis Johnson, Nate Archibald, Bill Sharman and Danny Ainge, though.
All-Time Boston Celtics vs. All-Time Los Angeles Lakers
Game 1: Boston Celtics vs. Los Angeles Lakers
The series kickoffs at the TD-Garden with the Boston Celtics owning home court advantage because they’ve won one more title. Obviously, the crowd takes a huge toll in the Lakers mentally, and the inspired home team seems like the fullsteam train in the early going, with an inspired Larry Bird that looks like he can’t miss from anywhere in the floor.
At the end of the first half, Los Angeles doesn’t know what hits them, with the C’s owning a 62-40 lead. The second unit makes a late push in the 4th, but Bird takes care of business once again and the green prevails despite Magic and McAdoo’s stellar play in both ends of the floor with a 133-121 final score.
Larry Bird 33 PTS, 12/16 FG
Magic Johnson 15 AST
Bill Russell 13 REB
Kevin Garnett 3 BLK
Game 2: Boston Celtics vs. Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers jump to an early lead and are keen to take home court advantage from the Celtics, led by the fierce duo of Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal like in the good old days and clinging to a 55-47 halftime lead, being unstoppable in the pick and roll and just shooting lights out regardless of who the Celtics throw at them.
During the second half, coach Red decides to go small with Cousy, Allen, Havlicek, Bird and Garnett, and the Lakers simply don’t have an answer for that lineup. During the final possession, Allen buries a game-tying three-pointer to send the game to overtime, where Boston eventually prevails with a 121-120 final score. Larry Bird was great with 27 points and Bill Russell had a triple-double with 17 points, 20 rebounds and 11 assists.
Kobe Bryant: 35 PTS, 17/32 FG
Bob Cousy: 9 AST
Shaquille O’Neal: 14 REBS
Bill Russell: 4 BLK
Game 3: Los Angeles Lakers vs. Boston Celtics
We’re finally heading back to LA with the Lakers in a must-win position, with Phil Jackson making several adjustments and sending Chamberlain to the bench to let Jerry West play the 2. Boston plays with confidence, with Pierce and Garnett getting in the Lakers heads and Kevin McHale torching Baylor down low on every touch.
The game’s tied and emotion keeps growing until Kareem and Magic take care of business, while Russell gets injured trying to hack Shaquille O’Neal, a potential momentum changer. Magic and Kareem go back to their old showtime days, bounce passes, no look dimes and skyhooks all over the place. At the end, the home team takes a much needed 136-121 victory.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: 29 PTS, 13/17 FG
Magic Johnson: 20 AST
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: 15 REBS
Sam Jones: 2 BLK
Game 4: Los Angeles Lakers vs. Boston Celtics
Los Angeles knows it’s now or never so coach Jackson sticks with the winning lineup trying to make the most of Russell’s short-term absence. Nonetheless, the C’s small lineup starts to kill the Lakers from distance once again, taking an early 20 point lead at halftime due to their sharpshooting.
For that matter, Jackson turns to a whole defensive lineup to try and get stops, and the Lakers close the gap late in the 4th, going on a 15-4 run and completely demolishing every Boston intention in the offensive end. Game tied, 3.5 in the shot clock, Lakers ball, timeout.
McAdoo with the inbound, Kobe sees a cutting Shaq and sets him up for the Alley-Oop: Series tied at 2 after 115-113 for the Los Angeles Lakers.
O'Neal had a monster stat line with 20 points, 25 rebounds, 5 blocks and 3 assists.
Elgin Baylor: 27 PTS, 13/21 FG
Magic Johnson: 12 AST
Shaq O'Neal: 25 REB
Shaq O'Neal: 5 BLK
Game 5: Boston Celtics vs. Los Angeles Lakers
Russell’s back and that means trouble for the Lakers, Pierce heads to the bench in favor of Robert Parish. This game gets physical early on, nobody wants to lose their leverage, expulsions and sanctions are likely to happen, the Lakers reach halftime with a 2 point lead and a lot of bruises. Things don’t change much during the second half, with Kobe, Pierce, Shaq, Magic and Garnett all getting technicals.
The final ball of regulation, Cousy finds a wide-open Ray Allen, but his shot is blocked by a recovering Horry, we’re heading to overtime. Celtics cling to a 2 point lead, the Lakers have no timeouts, Magic throws it up to Kobe, who’s three-pointer rims out. Final score: Celtics 97-95 Lakers despite Johnson’s triple-double (15 points, 13 rebounds, 11 assists).
Kobe Bryant: 19 PTS, 10/30 FG
Magic Johnson: 11 AST
Bill Russell: 27 REB
Bill Russell: 7 BLK
Game 6: Los Angeles Lakers vs. Boston Celtics
The action goes back to the Staples Center on the potential title-clinching game. Boston gets an early lead and coach Jackson isn’t having any of it, calling two early timeouts to make adjustments. Eventually, we’re all tied at halftime (57-57). Finally, the Lakers are getting anything out of an inspired Wilt Chamberlain, who’s taking Russell, McHale, Jones and everyone the C’s throw at him to school.
Youngbloods take a seat, we’ve got a classic in our hands. Jackson goes with Magic, West, Baylor, Kareem and Wilt; Red answers with Cousy, Havlicek, Bird, McHale and Russell. Game tied, final possession, Magic helps and strips Bird to find a running Chamberlain, who dunks with authority with the shot clock winding down (121-119), and this series will have to go to 7 games.
Wilt Chamberlain: 45 PTS, 20/23 FG
Magic Johnson: 14 AST
Wilt Chamberlain: 22 REB
Bill Russell: 5 BLK
Game 7: Boston Celtics vs. Los Angeles Lakers
The moment of truth has come, and Paul Pierce knows it. Boston is inspired, and they’re just bullying their way into the paint during the first quarter, so Jackson decides to go big to contain that run. At the end of the first half, we’re all tied with Shaq and Garnett as the main guys in the hardwood, both with 17 points, both with technicals and 3 personals.
Every time the Lakers make a run, the Celtics respond with a speed Jackson can’t fathom, and we’re heading to the final ball of the game with all tied once again. Kareem misses, Bill gets the board, but Bird’s attempt from distance barely hits the backboard. Overtime.
Anxiety builds up, nobody wants to lose this game, Garnett and Shaq foul out, Russell had an early ankle injury, Parish gets ejected for a cheap shot at West groin.
At the end of 5, we’re still tied and heading into the second overtime.
Somebody has to make a play, somebody needs to risk it all, it’s Mamba time. Kobe takes the rock, Kobe drives to the lane, Kobe finds Kareem, who gets the bucket and the foul, we’re all exhausted, Lakers lead by 1 with under 30 secs in the clock. Rondo inbounds, drives and kick to an open Bird, Celtics are up by 1 and it seems like they’re going to get the W.
Baylor with the inbound, Kareem fakes to drive and hands it off to Magic, who finds an open Kobe in the elbow Kobe turns, fades, the ball rims in... MONEY!!!. The buzzer beats, the Lakers have won it all, with a final score of 151-150.
Kobe Bryant: 55 PTS, 20/32 FG
Magic Johnson: 17 AST
Kevin McHale: 13 REB
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: 3 BLK