Sunday, April 3, 2016

Celtics Vs Lakers: 20-years of Kobe Bryant

It was a storybook ending at the TD Garden back in December as Kobe Bryant's dagger 3-ball with 1:40 left in the fourth quarter to put his Lakers up for good also proved to be the game winner over the Celtics in his final appearance in Boston.

"I just can't believe this is the last time I'm gonna be here," number 24 recalled back in December. "It seems like just yesterday we were playing in the Finals here."

Despite the many cheers during warm-ups and player intros three months ago, Bryant understands the passion of the Garden faithful is still as strong as ever, especially since it was only a little over five-years ago these two 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 green team but you couldn't help but respect their competitiveness and above all heart.

Here on Causeway Street we couldn't let the 'Black Mamba' come and go for one last time in Boston, and now playing in his final game against the C's without reminiscing about some memorable moments between the Celtics and Lakers over the last 20-years. Some of these will put a smile on  fan's faces, while other moments they would prefer to forget.

Without further adieu, let's take a stroll down memory lane:

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 Fleetcenter. 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 season with higher exceptions for 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 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) 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. We all know who's hands the ball was going to end up in. Bryant not only got 'The Truth' to bite at the first bump fake, but he nailed the jumper from the right hand side at the buzzer. Or at least that's what we thought before the refs 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 following season.

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

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

3.2.05 - The Fleetcenter welcomes back Antoine: Celtics 104 - Lakers 101

In the first season in the post Shaq-era for the Lakers (28-28), both teams had similar records while the Celtics (30-28) were riding a momentum from a post trade-deadline deal that landed former captain back Antoine Walker for a postseason run. On this night it was Walker's first game at home since being traded a year in a half prior. For yours truly, this would be my first and only time to catch 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 with 29 points going 13-23 from the floor. With .9 remaining, Kobe missed a 3-point shot to send the game to overtime.

6.5.08 - NBA Finals rivalry renewed: Celtics 98 - Lakers 88 NBA Finals (GM 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. An early season trade that landed Pau Gasol in Los Angeles, and a summer trade that landed Kevin Garnett in Boston, the two best teams in basketball were set to square off and add another chapter to thier 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 series-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 NBA Finals comeback ever: Celtics 97 - Lakers 91 NBA Finals (GM 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 angels: Lakers 103 - Celtics 98 NBA Finals (GM5)

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 and 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 C's down 95-97, Pierce with the ball at half court and what appeared to be a foul to me (surprise, surprise) ended up being a Kobe steal 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.

6.17.08 Largest margin for Finals clinching win in NBA history: Celtics 131 - Lakers 92 (GM 6)

It had been 22-years since the last time 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 combined for 69 points) pure it on from start to finish. It seemed like the Garden faithful never sat down, as the C's beat the Lakers in the greatest margin of victory 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 C's win 19-game winning streak: Lakers 92 - Celtics 83

It's hard to imagine 27-3 start to an NBA season as not a 'big deal' considering what we have witnessed with the Warriors 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. Despite Paul Pierce's double-double of 20 points and 10 rebounds, it wasn't enough during this nationally televised match.

2.5.09 Lakers snap C's 12-game winning streak at the Garden: Lakers 110 - Celtics 109 (OT)

Celtics started a new streak, and were looking to avenge a Christmas Day lost to the Lakers again on national TV (TNT game) for the second meeting of the season. Both teams in first in their respective conferences (Lakers 40-9, Celtics 41-10) looked like to be on a collision coarse straight to the NBA Finals for the second straight year. But it was Kobe who got the last laugh going 10-of-14 from the field for 24 points snapping a second double-digit win streak for Boston at 12 wins.

6.15.10 Lakers force a Game 7 at home: Lakers 89 - Celtics 67 NBA Finals (GM6 )

With the Celtics up 3-2 and a chance to wrap up a second title in three seasons and 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 forcing a Game 7 winner takes all at home.

6.17.10 Kobe wins fifth and last championship Lakers 83 - Celtics 79 NBA Finals (GM7)

It pains me to even write this as I still believe that the 2010 Celtics were in fact the better team, and 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 MVP. Phil Jackson surpassed Red Auerbach winning his 11th ring for the most as a head coach in NBA history. I have only watched this game once more since that faithful 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 in place of Perkins). 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-three' 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 seems like the Lakers-Celtics rivalry didn't have that spark since Kobe had been injured the last few seasons. He announced his retirement just a couple weeks prior and you couldn't get a ticket to Garden unless you sold your right arm. As respect to one of the greatest of all time, Kobe got cheered when introduced and at the conclusion of the night. Every other time number 24 touched the ball he was boo'd including a long 3-ball to beat the buzzer that proved to be the game winner. A classic way to say good-bye to an environment and city he loved to compete in.

The last of a dying breed in today's NBA, made his curtain call in Boston three months ago. Even though it wasn't a win for the Celtics, but that's the beauty of sports, you win some and lose some and that's how life works. As Kobe is set to play in his final franchise rivalry game, it's hard to fathom that there aren't any true rivals in this generation anymore. So enjoy tonight and bid farewell to the best basketball player since Michael Jordan.

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

Thank you Kobe...I hated you when you faced the Celtics but I also hate to see you go...I'll always have the memories and cherish them even more.

Joel Pavón
Follow us on Twitter: @CausewayStreet

Picture via: Getty Images
Video used via: YouTube

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