|ESPN.com: Hollinger||[Print without images]|
LOS ANGELES -- With all the hype over the Lakers-Celtics re-enacting their great rivalries of the '60s and '80s, it surprising that nobody has pointed out yet how similar this series is to the last time to these two teams met in the Finals, in 1987.
Perhaps that's because the two sides have switched roles.
In '87, it was the Lakers who won the first two games at home -- including a 141-122 runaway blowout in Game 2. This year, of course, it was the Celtics who did the same, although the Game 2 blowout wasn't quite as severe thanks to the Lakers' too-little, too-late rally in the fourth quarter.
In '87, it was the Celtics who rallied to win a tight Game 3 when the series returned to their home court; this time, of course, it was the Lakers who won in similar fashion.
The most eerie similarity, though, comes with Game 4. In '87, it was the Celtics kicking away a 16-point lead at home to lose on Magic Johnson's hook shot; in '08 it was L.A. who punted a big advantage (24 points) en route to a shocking home defeat that put them down 3-1.
Fittingly for a game played in the land of Hollywood, Sunday night's Game 5 followed the script as well. Back then, Boston staved off elimination in '87 by playing its best game of the series, a 123-108 win that sent the series back to the other coast for Game 6.
Ditto for 2008, L.A. played its best game of the Finals to stay alive and send the series back to Boston.
If you're looking for omens for Game 6, this isn't a good one for the Lakers. Back in '87, Boston dropped the sixth game 106-93 to make the Lakers the champs in front of their home crowd. So if this series follows the '87 script one more time, Boston will be the champs.
If so, it would be a poetic justice for the Celtics -- an exact reversal from their defeat the last time they reached the Finals, and against the some opponent to boot. And if they win 106-93 -- the score the Lakers won Game 6 by 21 years ago -- it would be downright freaky.
Of course, maybe they could win by a 114-97 score instead -- like they did in winning Game 6 at home against the Rockets in 1986, the last time the Celtics won the title.
Yes, this series is following the course of that year's Finals rather nicely as well. Like this year's series, '86 featured the two home wins with a Game 2 blowout, the narrow squeaker of a loss on the road in Game 3, the great escape in Game 4 to go up 3-1, and the defeat in Game 5 in the opponents' best effort of the Finals.
Obviously, there are differences too -- nobody fought in Game 5 in this series, for instance, as opposed to the Ralph Sampson-Jerry Sichting brouhaha we had in '86. And unlike in '87, it's the team with home-court advantage that comes in with all the injures -- 21 years ago it was Boston limping back to L.A. with a wounded Kevin McHale and backed by a paper-thin bench.
Either way, though, Boston fans have to hope the similarities to '86 and '87 outweigh the differences ... and more importantly, that they can last one more game. If so, few will remember Sunday night's setback for long.