Here are the Celtics’ five most hated rivals in the history of the franchise.
5. Milwaukee Bucks
The Bucks battled Boston for league supremacy throughout the latter half of the 20th century. The two met in the 1974 NBA Finals, and the Celtics were led by John Havlicek and Dave Cowens while Milwaukee boasted the dynamic duo of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson. Boston prevailed in seven games, but the Bucks would get revenge nine years later in the 1983 playoffs.
To the surprise of many, the Bucks swept Larry Bird’s Celtics in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. The teams met soon after in the 1984 and 1986 Eastern Conference Finals, and Boston returned the favor by winning both series handily en route to NBA championships. The Celtics also defeated the Bucks in the 1987 Eastern Conference Semifinals.
Most recently, the Bucks dismantled the C’s in the second round of the 2019 playoffs and put an end to Kyrie Irving’s stint in Beantown. The two teams also had an intense seven-game series in 2018, won by Boston.
4. Kobe Bryant
Kobe Bryant’s Lakers faced off against the Celtics in the 2008 and 2010 NBA Finals, and The Black Mamba performed spectacularly in both series. Bryant was arguably the league’s best player at this point in time, and he always brought his A-game when playing Boston. He was aware of the significance and history behind the Celtics-Lakers rivalry.
The green and white took home the 2008 title in a hard-fought six-game series, and this defeat further motivated Kobe. Bryant went on to lead the Lakers to back-to-back rings, and in 2010 it came at the Celtics’ expense. Kobe averaged 28.6 points, 8.0 rebounds, and 2.1 steals for the series and was rightly named Finals MVP.
3. Detroit Pistons
The Celtics and Pistons have crossed paths in the postseason on numerous occasions since the 1980s. From 1985 to 1991, the teams played five playoff series against each other. Boston took the first two in 1985 and 1987, while Detroit won the last three.
Detroit prevailing in the handful of series near the end of the decade marked the passing of the torch between the Eastern Conference powerhouses. The Pistons put an end to the Celtics’ dynasty under Larry Bird, who brought three titles to Boston.
The rivalry died down after the early ’90s, but Detroit and Boston met in the 2008 Eastern Conference Finals. Chauncey Billups and the Pistons were the only team to beat the Celtics at home in the playoffs that season, but they ended up bowing out in six games.
2. LeBron James
No player in league history has had a greater impact on Boston’s playoff shortcomings than LeBron James. He has eliminated the Celtics from postseason play five times since the year 2011, and James has battled the green in seven series since 2008.
Boston dethroned The King in 2008 and 2010 during his first stint with the Cavaliers, but once LeBron departed to Miami in the summer of 2010, he dominated the C’s for nearly a decade. The Celtics were close to defeating James’ teams a few times, though. In both the 2012 and 2018 Eastern Conference Finals, Boston held a 3-2 lead in the series but were unable to close it out at home.
It is quite possible that the Celtics would have an extra banner hanging in the rafters if they did not cross paths with LeBron year after year for a sizable stretch.
1. Los Angeles Lakers
The Celtics-Lakers rivalry is perhaps the most iconic in sports history. It has spanned over a half-century and dates back to the days when Bill Russell and Jerry West starred in the league.
The NBA’s two winningest franchises have met in the NBA Finals a record 12 times, with the first meeting occurring in 1959. Boston prevailed in the first eight championship series between the teams, but the Lakers have won three out of the last four meetings. Combined, these franchises account for 33 of the 72 titles in NBA history, which equates to just under 46 percent of all the league’s jewelry.
No matter the stakes or who is donning the iconic jerseys, there will always be something special about seeing the Celtics and Lakers face off on the hardwood.