Sunday, April 3, 2016

Celtics vs Lakers: 20-years of Kobe Bryant

It was a storybook type of ending at the TD Garden back in December, as Kobe Bryant hit a dagger 3-pointer with 1:40 left in the fourth quarter to put his Lakers up for good. A familiar shot we've become so accustomed to seeing, which turned out to be the game winner over the Celtics in his final appearance as an active Lakers player in Boston.

"I just can't believe this is the last time I'm gonna be here," Bryant said nearly four months ago. "It seems like just yesterday we were playing in the Finals here."
Despite the many cheers during warm-ups and player intros at the Garden that night, Bryant understands the passion of Celtics fans that still remains strong as ever, especially since it was only a little over five-years ago that the two winningest franchises met in the NBA Finals.
"It felt great to get booed at [TD Garden]," Bryant said. "It was like, the recognition at the top of the game and as soon as I touched the ball and they booed, I was like 'Oh, I'm home.'"
As a Celtics fan since the age of five, I've been lucky enough to witness greatness with the likes of Michael Jordan through the 90's and now Kobe Bryant through the 2000's. Of course I hated when they would beat my team but I couldn't help but respect the competitiveness and above all their heart.

Here on Causeway Street we couldn't let the 'Black Mamba' come and go through Boston one last time, as he prepares to play in his final game against a long time Eastern Conference rival at the Staples Center, without reminiscing about some memorable moments between the Celtics and Lakers over the past 20-years. Some of these Kobe games will put a smile on your face, while other moments you'd probably prefer to forget.

Either way, let's take a stroll down memory lane with some of Kobe Bryant's biggest moments against the Celtics over the years:

11.27.96 - Kobe's first game in Boston at the Fleet Center: Celtics 110 - Lakers 94

In only his 16th game as a pro, Bryant (18-years young) was barely averaging 20-minutes per-game and playing behind his now current coach Byron Scott (got to love the irony). Kobe finished with 2 points on 1-of-7 shooting (0-for-3 from behind the arc), 4 rebounds and 1 block at the then Fleet Center. His first taste of the Celtics-Lakers rivalry resulted in a loss and not exactly a sexy stat line to boost.

11.26.97 - Kobe's second game against the C's: Lakers 118 - Celtics 103

In a second NBA season full of higher exceptions for a young Kobe, now officially the Lake-Show's sixth man, Bryant's second outing in Boston resulted in a win while finishing with 14 points (5-of-11 shooting), 5 rebounds, 2 assists and 1 steal in 28 minutes off the bench. The best was clearly yet to come for this historic rivalry.

2.19.02 - The rivalry heats up at the Staples Center: Celtics 109 - Lakers 108

On a night where L.A. led literally the entire game and by as much as 15 points, Kobe (27 points, 9 assists) was matched up against Paul Pierce (33 points, 8 rebounds, 5 steals, 2 blocks), but it was Antoine Walker (30 points, 14 rebounds, 10 assists) who got the last laugh out in LA-LA Land. With the Celtics down 108-106 with 4.2 seconds remaining, it was 'Toine's bank shot 3-pointer that gave Boston's it's first lead 109-108 with 1.2 left on the clock, while Phil Jackson called timeout. We all knew who's hands the ball was going to end up in. Bryant not only got 'The Truth' to bite at the first pump fake, but he nailed the jumper from the right hand just outside the paint at the buzzer...Or at least that's what we thought before the three officials got together to waive the basket and give the C's the win and stun a Lakers' crowd in the process. Thank goodness for no replay or better yet a lit backboard system that would not take effect until the 2003-04 season.

Take a look at an irate Kobe below, as that basket should have counted...oh well.

Side note on this particular West road swing for the Celtics, it led to the whole team wearing headbands, Pierce of course hasn't stopped wearing his ever since.

3.2.05 - The then Fleet Center welcomes back Antoine Walker: Celtics 104 - Lakers 101

In the first season of the post Shaq-era for the Lakers (28-28), both teams had similar records while the Celtics (30-28) were riding a momentum following a trade-deadline move that landed former captain Antoine Walker back for a postseason run. It was Walker's first return at the then Fleet Center since being traded to Dallas a year in a half prior. For yours truly, this would be my first and only time I caught Kobe live in Boston. In a back and forth and a raucous home crowd as if it were a playoff game, Bryant struggled from field going 9-of-24 for 26 points, while Pierce finished with 29 points and 9 rebounds and 7 assists. Old friend Ricky Davis also chipped in 29 points, while going 13-23 from the floor. With 0.9 remaining, Kobe missed a game tying 3-point shot that would of sent the game into overtime.

6.5.08 - NBA Finals rivalry renewed: Celtics 98 - Lakers 88 NBA Finals [Game 1]

In the first NBA Finals matchup between these two historic franchise in over 20-years, the Celtics were back in the big dance for the first time since 1987, while the Lakers had waited only four-years since their last finals appearance. Following an early season trade landed Pau Gasol in Los Angeles and a blockbuster summer offseason trade landed Kevin Garnett in Boston, meant the two best teams in basketball were set to square off and add another chapter to their historic rivalry. After Kobe Bryant shot 9-of-26 from the field for only 24 points, it was too much KG (24 points and 13 rebounds) and an inspired Paul Pierce (22 points, 3-of-4 from behind the arc) including back-to-back 3's after coming back from a what most thought was a playoffs-ending knee injury in the second half, proved too much for L.A. as they grabbed a 1-0 series lead

6.12.08 The greatest comeback in NBA Finals history: Celtics 97 - Lakers 91 NBA Finals [Game 4]

The Lakers looked liked they were going to easily tie the series at two-games a piece at home when they had a 24-point lead early in the fourth quarter over the Celtics. It was the unsung heroes of Eddie House (2-of-4 from 3) and James Posey (4-of-8 from 3) who sparked a late comeback combined with Paul Pierce switching off to guard Kobe Bryant (17 points on 6-of-19 shooting and 10 assists). Boston made history for the best fourth quarter comeback in NBA Finals history and took a 3-1 series lead.

6.15.08 Father's Day miracle in the city of angles: Lakers 103 - Celtics 98 NBA Finals [Game 5]

On a special day where Paul Pierce's family was in attendance and the Celtics were looking to wrap things up on Father's Day no less. Kobe did what the 'Black Mamba' does best, he spoiled what was "The Truth's" (38 points, 8 assists, 6 rebounds) best all around game of the Finals. With 49.9 seconds left and the Celtics down 95-97, Pierce had the ball at half court and what appeared to be a foul to me (surprise, surprise) ended up being a clean Kobe steal, and a layup on the other end, pretty much sealing the Lakers victory. Kobe's quest for his first ring without Shaq was still in his grasp heading back to Boston down 3-2.

6.17.08 Largest margin for a Finals clinching win in NBA history: Celtics 131 - Lakers 92 [Game 6]

It had been 22-years since the Celtics hung their 16th banner, and while the building had changed, the atmosphere remained the same as "Beat L.A.!" echoed throughout the night. Kobe went 7-of-22 from the field (3-of-9 from behind the arc) for 22 points in 42 minutes. He watched his counter parts, the new Big-3 (Pierce, Garnett and Allen combine for 69 points) pure it on from start to finish. It seemed like the Garden faithful never sat down, as the "Beat L.A." chants finally came fruition. The Lakers would lose in the greatest margin in a NBA Finals series-clinching win. Bryant in tears afterwards would call that night the "the lowest point of his career," up to that moment. Clearly he had no clue what he'd endure from 2013 to the present day.

12.24.08 Kobe's revenge while snapping Boston's 19-game winning streak: Lakers 92 - Celtics 83

It's hard to imagine a 27-3 start to an NBA season as no 'big deal' considering what we have witnessed with the Warriors over the last six months. But at the start of the 2008-09 season the Celtics were off to a hot start and winners of 19-straight when they rolled into the Staples Center on Christmas Day. Kobe Bryant scored a game high 27 points, while Pau Gasol added 20 points for the Lakers who snapped the C's win streak, giving Phil Jackson his 1000th victory in the process. Despite Paul Pierce's double-double of 20 points and 10 rebounds, it wasn't to pull of the win during this nationally televised match.

2.5.09 Lakers snap Boston's 12-game home winning streak: Lakers 110 - Celtics 109 [OT]

Celtics started a new win streak and were looking to avenge a Christmas Day lost to the Lakers again on national TV (TNT game) for the second and last meeting of the season. Both the Celtics (41-10) and Lakers (40-9) had the best record in their respective conferences and seemed to be on a collision coarse to the NBA Finals for a second straight year. But it was Kobe who got the last laugh going 10-of-14 from the field for 24 points snapping yet another Boston double-digit win streak after just a few weeks later.

6.15.10 Lakers force a Game 7 at home: Lakers 89 - Celtics 67 NBA Finals [Game 6]

With the Celtics up 3-2 and a chance to wrap up a second title in three seasons against the Lakers would have been epic for Boston sports. But once Kendrick Perkins got injured (later diagnosed with a torn ACL) early in the first quarter, it completely took away any momentum the C's had. Kobe Bryant sense blood and went for the kill scoring 26 points and grabbing 11 rebounds to force a Game 7, winner takes all at the Staples Center.

6.17.10 Kobe wins his fifth and last championship Lakers 83 - Celtics 79 NBA Finals [Game 7]

It pains me to even write this as I still believe that the 2010 Celtics were in fact the better team and even despite Kobe scoring 23 points (6-for-24 from the field) and grabbing 15 boards to lead the Lakers to their second consecutive title, he shot horribly for the series and still won Finals MVP. Phil Jackson passed Red Auerbach's record by winning his 11th ring for the most as a head coach in NBA history. I have only watched this game once other since that painful day, to see what could have gone differently. Even though the whole starting lineup finished in double figures (including Rasheed Wallace 11 points, 8 rebounds, who started in place of Perk). But that's the way life goes I guess, but it doesn't mean I have to accept it. At the end of the day in retrospect, it was the last real opportunity for the new 'Big-3' to win multiple titles.

12.30.15 Kobe's very last game in Boston and the TD Garden: Lakers 112 - Celtics 104

In year three of the post Paul Pierce era in Boston, it seemed like the Lakers-Celtics rivalry didn't have that same spark, especially since Kobe had been injured over the last couple of seasons (this matchup was barely being broadcasted nationally, either). Kobe had just announced his retirement a couple of weeks prior and you couldn't get a ticket to the Garden unless you sold one of your kidneys on the black market.

As a sign of respect to one of the greatest of all-time, Kobe got cheered when introduced and at the conclusion of the night. But, every other time No. 24 touched the ball he was booed including when he hit a long 3-ball to beat the buzzer, which proved to be the game winner. A classic way to say good-bye to an environment and city he loved to compete in.

Kobe is clearly one of the last of a unique breed, as he made his final curtain call in Boston a few months ago. And I'm saying this even though his last game at the Garden was a loss for the Celtics, but that's the beauty of sports. You win some and lose some, you celebrate or you experience heart break and that's how life works.

While Kobe is set to play in his final game against a rival storied franchise he's knows all too well, it's hard to fathom that there aren't any true rivalries during this new generation in the NBA anymore. So enjoy tonight and bid farewell to the best basketball player since Michael Jordan (that's right I said it).

The way I see it, every true basketball fan can't deny KB24's greatness over the past 20-years.

So thank you Kobe... I hated you when you faced the Celtics, but I'm also sad to see you go... I'll cherish the memories that much more for the legend you truly are and always will be.

Watch Kobe address the Boston media in his final presser at the TD Garden below

Joel Pavón

Picture used courtesy of Getty Images

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