Boston Celtics vs Los Angeles Lakers NBA Rivalry

​​Boston Celtics vs Los Angeles Lakers Rivalry

The Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers rivalry is one of the most storied and epic rivalries in all of sports. With dozens of Hall of Fame players in both teams’ histories and many championships won, these teams are each legendary in their own right. However, the many battles between these two teams throughout the decades are what fuel the rivalry.

Rivalry Overview

The rivalry between the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers is almost as old as the NBA itself. During the 1950s, the Lakers (at the time located in Minneapolis) won four championships (1950, 1952-1954) as the first NBA dynasty. The Celtics then emerged as a dominant franchise, winning their first championship in 1957. The first matchup between these two teams in the NBA Finals came in 1959. The Celtics went on to defeat the Lakers in the best-of-seven game series, winning 4-0, the first sweep in NBA Finals history. In 1960, the Lakers relocated to Los Angeles. 

The 60s were dominated by the Boston Celtics. They were dynastic, winning every championship in the decade except in 1967 where they did not make the finals. The Lakers were the Celtics’ opponents in six of those finals matchups, where the Celtics won every single time.

The 70s didn’t have any Celtics vs. Lakers finals matchups, but they both won finals in that decade. The 80s, however, were the prime of the rivalry in the modern NBA, in large part due to the personal rivalry and media narrative of Magic Johnson versus Larry Bird. The Lakers and Celtics stars respectively met three times in the Finals, where the Lakers won two out of three times.

The 90s saw a lull in Celtics and Lakers basketball. However, in the 2000s, the Lakers came back to prominence with three straight championships from 2000-2002. The Celtics came back during the 2008 season and eventually won the finals against the Lakers. They played the Lakers again in 2010, but the Lakers came out on top in this installment of the matchup.

Famous Moments

  • Celtics at Lakers on May 5th, 1969: This Finals game saw the Boston Celtics win the championship, but it saw Jerry West, who was on the losing team, win the Finals MVP.
  • Celtics at Lakers on June 6th, 1984: In this NBA Finals Game 4, Celtics superstar forward Kevin McHale clotheslined Lakers guard Kurt Rambis. Not only does this show the physicality of the era, but also it was a turning point in the series that fired up the Celtics, and they ultimately won the game by double digits. 
  • Lakers at Celtics on June 9th, 1985: This Game 6 was the final game of the series, as the Lakers beat the Celtics in the heavily anticipated rematch from the 1984 finals.
  • Lakers at Celtics on June 96th, 1987: In the 1987 NBA Finals Game 4, Magic Johnson used the move called the skyhook to score a crucial bucket in the waning seconds of the game. It’s called the “Junior” skyhook because it was Magic’s best impersonation of the skyhook that center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar made a career out of. 
  • Lakers at Celtics on June 17th, 2008: Game 6 of the 2008 NBA Finals was the closeout game of the Celtics' 17th championship. It was culminated by forward Kevin Garnett’s famous post-game quote, “Anything is possible!”
  • Celtics at Lakers on June 17th, 2010: Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals was the anticipated rematch between the Lakers and Celtics, where the Lakers ultimately got their revenge in a decisive win-or-go-home game.

Important People

  • Magic Johnson: Former Lakers player from 1979-1991, and 1996. Earvin “Magic” Johnson was the face of the Lakers during the 80s and early 90s. Considered by many to be the best point guard of all time, he battled with Celtics forward Larry Bird many times.
  • Larry Bird: Former Celtics Player from 1979-1992. Larry Bird is one of the most recognized Celtics in their storied history. The three-time champion and three-time MVP was best known for his rivalry against Magic Johnson.
  • Kobe Bryant: Former Lakers player from 1996-2016. Kobe Bryant, also known as the “Black Mamba”, is often considered the greatest Laker of all time. He was known for his difficult shot-making and late-game heroics.
  • Paul Pierce: Former Celtics player from 1998-2013. Paul Pierce was an instrumental figure in the 2008 Celtics championship. Known as “The Truth,” the forward won Finals MVP during this championship run due to his explosive scoring performances.
  • Shaquille O’Neal: Former Lakers player from 1996-2004 & former Celtics player from 2010-2011. One of the most dominant players in NBA History, Shaquille O’Neal was a force for the Los Angeles Lakers. He was the Finals MVP during his three Lakers titles.
  • Kevin Garnett: Former Celtics player from 2007-2013. Kevin Garnett, also known as “The Big Ticket,” was the emotional leader for the 2008 Celtics. His elite defense and scoring inside, along with his never-say-die mentality, helped the Celtics get the edge over their opponents.


Why are the Celtics and the Lakers rivals?

The Celtics and Lakers are rivals because of the many times they have faced off in the Finals, along with the animosity built up between star players during those games. Additionally, they are the two winningest franchises in the NBA. They both are tied with 17 NBA Championships. They have had so many epic matchups and memorable moments throughout the years.

When did the rivalry between the Celtics and the Lakers start?

The rivalry between the Celtics and the Lakers truly started in the 1960s. While they did meet once in the 1950s, it was not a rivalry yet. The 1960s saw the Celtics and Lakers play one another six times during that decade. However, the Celtics won every single matchup during this decade, so it was a lopsided rivalry that the Celtics dominated. It was not until the 1980s where the Lakers were able to win the Finals against the Celtics and start to turn the tide in the rivalry.

How many times have the Celtics and Lakers met in the NBA Finals?

The Celtics and Lakers have met in the NBA Finals on twelve different occasions during their history. Those twelve Finals meetings are the most between two franchises in NBA history. The first meeting was in 1959 when the then Minneapolis Lakers faced the Boston Celtics. The Celtics proceeded to then beat them in four straight games to win the NBA Championship. The latest iteration of the Finals rivalry came in 2010. However, this time, the Lakers won the championship in seven hard-fought games.