As Celtics chase Banner 18, here’s what they really did against Lakers

First, the Celtics have to beat the strong-armed Heat, and then possibly the mighty Warriors. But this unlikely run to Banner 18 is actually all about another team — the Lakers.

Do you remember them – Showtime, Shaq and Kobe, LeBronaissance? For decades, the Celtics have been the Yankees or Canadiens of the NBA, a team that not only holds the most titles but leads by absurd margins.

For Boston sports fans of a certain age, the Celtics have single-handedly cleaned up the Red Sox, Bruins and Patriots. The Red Sox haven’t won in nearly a century, the Bruins can’t beat the Habs, and the Patriots are best known for nearly going bankrupt when Michael Jackson’s hair caught fire.

So thank God for the Celtics. From Bob Cousy and Bill Russell, to John Havlicek and Dave Cowens, to Larry Bird and the Big Three, the Celtics kept reloading, Often at the expense of the Lakers, who won five championships in Minneapolis before no one cared about basketball, and then just a decade despite Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor and Jerry West .

The Celtics are always in the way, and we love it. When Bird raised their 16th flag in 1986, the Lakers were second with nine points. They will certainly never close that gap in our lifetimes.

But Magic Johnson and Showtime won the next two championships. Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal led a three-peat in the early 2000s. The Lakers won back-to-back titles after a 2008 loss to the Celtics, which was a seven-game revenge for the new Big Three’s last respite.

When the Celtics burst their 2020 bubble against the Heat, it meant they wouldn’t have a chance to defend the franchise’s honor. Regardless, with LeBron James and Anthony Davis, the Lakers were largely unstoppable, beating Miami in six games.

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And just like that, the unthinkable happened: The Lakers tied the Celtics with 17 championships.

We can be forgiven for glumly accepting that it won’t stay that way for long. LeBron and AD aren’t going anywhere, and the Lakers are a favorite to repeat when they start 2021. Instead, the Suns bounced them back in the first round. Then this year unfolded like a disaster movie, with James finally showing his age, often showing his frustration, and for the fourth time in his career that he was brought into the gate and missed the playoffs entirely.

On the other side of the country, no one sees a Celtics contender. Despite the presence of potential superstar Jayson Tatum, Kyrie Irving’s departure has doomed the organization’s middle-class mediocrity. What team can lose Irving, Al Horford, Gordon Hayward and Terry Rozier in quick succession, replace them with a crumbling Kemba Walker, and then bounce back?

Certainly not the Celtics. As recently as January, they were still below 0.500. We spend more time checking their draft odds on Tank-A-Thon than any chance of making the playoffs. What’s the point? They are cooked.

Except they don’t, not even close. They caught fire in January and now much of the NBA is ablaze. Behind the league’s most stifling defense and 3-point bombing offense, the Celtics just leveled their competition. They went 33-10, swept the Nets in the first round, and then beat the defending champion Bucks in seven games.

If they can focus on two more games and beat the Heat, they’ll be back in the Finals for the first time in 12 years. Once they get there, they only need four wins to restore the team to its rightful place in the NBA’s all-time hierarchy, putting the Lakers back in No. 2, and we can all agree they belong there.

They should do it for Cooz, who is still sharp at 93, defending the honor of his era against arrogant people like JJ Redick. They should do it for Russell, the greatest champion in team sports history. They should do it for the legends we’ve lost over the past five years, from Havlicek to Sam Jones to KC Jones to our own Tommy Heinsohn, who would love it all while begging Tatum and Co. “Get out and run! “They should have done that for Bird and the Chiefs, and of course Danny Ainge, who built most of the current roster.

The post-Bird era was the worst in franchise history, a dark age that lasted three years before Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen teamed up. However, this team is destined for no more than one or two wins, as they did in their respective 30s.

This group is different. This is just the beginning. Besides Al Horford, 35, the oldest regular is 28-year-old Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart. Tatum is only 24 years old. Fellow All-Star Jaylen Brown is 25 years old. Defensive Swiss Army Knife Robert Williams is 24 years old. Grant Williams is 23 years old. We could reasonably see the birth of the NBA’s next mini-dynasty, which should once again make Boston a destination.

John Tomas on the potential of C

This group is different. This is just the beginning. Besides Al Horford, 35, the oldest regular is 28-year-old Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart. Tatum is only 24 years old. Fellow All-Star Jaylen Brown is 25 years old. Defensive Swiss Army Knife Robert Williams is 24 years old. Grant Williams is 23 years old.

We can reasonably see the birth of the NBA’s next mini-dynasty, and it should make Boston a destination again. Meanwhile, the Lakers are in crisis. They needed a new coach, James turned 38 in December, Russell Westbrook’s experiment failed miserably, and Davis was rumored to be traded to half the league.

The Celtics may be gearing up to draw some real distance between the championship department and the Lakers over the next few years, but it’s beyond us.

The first task is to raise banner number 18 and break the tie.

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