Lakers fans ready for Boston
The team won't admit it while still playing the Suns, but they want the Celtics, too
LOS ANGELES -- The chants came raining down from the upper levels of Staples Center in the fourth quarter of the Lakers' 124-112 win over the Phoenix Suns like desperate cries from fans hungry for revenge and bored with the blowout taking place before them. They had seen enough of the undercard and were ready for the main event already.
"We want Boston! We want Boston!"
If the Eastern and Western Conference finals go for five or fewer games, the start of the NBA Finals will be moved up to June 1, according to the NBA. I'm probably pushing my luck here, but maybe they could go a step further and move it up to this weekend.
Do we really have to follow the lead of the media-savvy players and coaches and pretend the Lakers and Celtics aren't already looking forward to playing each other in the NBA Finals, after both teams took a 2-0 series lead in their respective conference finals?
By the looks on the faces of some of the players in the Lakers' locker room after the game when I brought up the prospect of playing the Celtics, you would have thought I was asking Jim Mora about the Colts' chances of making the playoffs.
"Boston? Boston? Ask me when we win two more games," said guard Jordan Farmar.
Fine, be that way. Act like a straight-A student who's still fretting about taking a couple of tests he already knows all the answers to. I guess we can all just play the role of a casting director, pretending to be interested in everyone else auditioning for roles we've already set aside for Al Pacino and Robert De Niro.
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Thanks for stopping by, Pauly Shore. We'll be in touch, Stephen Baldwin. You have our card, Steven Seagal.
The Lakers' "Road to Repeat" this season has turned into an unexpected "Road to Redemption" during these playoffs. Everyone thought they'd have to play either the Nuggets or Mavericks in the conference finals before taking on the Magic or Cavs in the NBA Finals. As it turns out, they got the Suns, who eliminated the Lakers from the postseason in 2006 and '07, and are now two wins away from playing the Celtics, who embarrassed them in the 2008 NBA Finals.
You can't really compare the Suns and Celtics when it comes to Lakers rivals, though.
Phoenix is the girl who broke your heart a couple of times in high school. Sure, it hurt, but you were young back then and you never really expected anything coming into the relationship. You obviously still want to show her up now that you're a big shot, but really, you forgot whatever corny nickname you two had for each other back in the day.
The Celtics, however, are an entirely different story. Boston is the girl who stood you up on your wedding day, broke up with you via text as you waited at the altar and ran off with your best man to Cabo. Even that doesn't even begin to capture how the Lakers felt after losing to the Celtics 131-92 in Game 6 of the 2008 NBA Finals, which actually wasn't as close as the final score would indicate.
Madison Avenue might have wanted Kobe versus LeBron in the Finals, but Lakers versus Celtics is the Finals matchup with the most drama, the most history and the most bad blood.
The Lakers are indifferent toward the Cavaliers and don't necessarily like the Suns, but they absolutely hate the Celtics.
They probably hate them more than the Lakers of the 1980s did. After all, Magic Johnson and the "Showtime" Lakers beat Larry Bird's Celtics in two out of the three Finals they played. Bryant, meanwhile, is still living with the nightmare of Game 6 and giving up a 24-point second-half lead in Game 4, which would have tied the series. If you thought he was motivated to vindicate a couple of first-round losses when he was on bad teams, you haven't seen anything yet.
While the Lakers and Suns rosters from four years ago have completely changed except for a handful of players, the Lakers and Celtics rosters from two years ago are almost identical except for a handful of players. This isn't a manufactured rivalry to get players motivated for an otherwise dull series; it's a deep-seated hatred built over years, which turn into decades when you run into older players who were a part of it before many current players were born.
Beating the Celtics means so much to Lakers owner Jerry Buss that he mentioned his desire to pass the Celtics in championships won when he traded Shaquille O'Neal six years ago. His son, Joey, stammered his way through saying how much he wanted to eclipse the Celtics' record of winning 17 titles when he accepted the team's 15th championship last year. Even when the Celtics aren't around, the Lakers are always thinking about them -- even if they don't want to admit it right now.
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When the Lakers play the Celtics in the Finals this year, Los Angeles will have the home-court advantage it lacked two years ago when it lost every game it played in Boston. It might prove to be the difference this time, as the Lakers have won 10 straight postseason games at home and are 27-3 over the past three years. Then again, home-court advantage hasn't stopped the Celtics from winning in Cleveland and Orlando in these playoffs.
"It looks like Boston is in a dominant position and they're going to make it, but we're not really worried or concerned about them," said Lakers forward Luke Walton. "We're not looking ahead to Boston."
That might be the company line from the Lakers' players and coaches now, but that's certainly not the case for their fans, who made it clear at the end of the game that they've had their fun with Phoenix but are ready for the real deal. Pretty soon, when the inevitable becomes reality, maybe the Lakers will finally let down their guard and join them in a chant that is already encompassing the city.
"We want Boston! We want Boston!"
Arash Markazi is a columnist and reporter for ESPNLosAngeles.com