For months, sportswriters have salivated at the thought of a Lakers-Celtics matchup in the NBA Finals, figuring this would mean the renewal of the league's greatest rivalry. It's true that whenever we see these teams on the court together, our minds inevitably flash back to Chamberlain-Russell, West-Havliceck, and Magic-Bird.
Dig a little deeper, however, and you can make a stronger case for Spurs-Lakers as the greater playoff rivalry. Over the last 40 years, the Celtics have met the Lakers in the finals four times (1969, 1984, 1985, and 1987), with each franchise winning twice. If we count this season, however, the Spurs and Lakers have met six times in the last 10 years (always in the second or third round), and even the blowouts have been dramatic. Between them, these two teams have won seven of nine NBA titles in the post-Jordan era, and eight of the nine Western Conference crowns. Beyond that, they've always had chemistry: The glamour and flash of Kobe Bryant and Co. vs. the fundamental brilliance of Tim Duncan and his mates. And both superstars have something major to prove: Bryant, that he can go all the way without Shaq. Duncan, that he can win back-to-back titles. Something's got to give.