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The evolution of the Lakers-Celtics rivalry (into a new decade)

Lakers, Celtics, Magic Johnson, Wilt Chamerlain, Pau Gasol, Kobe Bryant, Paul Pierce, Larry Bird, Kevin Garnett, Anthony Davis, LeBron James, Kemba Walker, Jayson Tatum

The rivalry between the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics has been one of the few in professional sports to stand the test of time. Although this rivalry isn’t filled with regular fights or physical play on the floor anymore as it was during the Showtime era with Magic Johnson and Larry Bird battling it out, these two teams still have a passion for beating their longtime rivals.

Last season, the rivalry got a bit of boost with former Celtics star Rajon Rondo coming to Boston as a member of the Lakers and hitting the game-winning shot. Kyrie Irving, a former teammate of LeBron James, hit a clutch layup over Tyson Chandler and Kyle Kuzma to put the Celtics up by one with 11.5 seconds left in the game.

After a mad scramble following a missed layup by Brandon Ingram, the ball ended up in the hands of Rondo at the free-throw line with just enough time to get a shot off.

Although it was only a year ago when Rondo sealed the deal against the team he helped win a title against the Lakers back in 2008; these two look much different this year with some talented players coming and going. Irving is now on the Brooklyn Nets as he has teamed up with Kevin Durant while the Lakers have changed the majority of their squad to bring in superstar forward Anthony Davis.

Kemba Walker has filled in admirably for Irving in Boston, and might even be an upgrade. Davis’ presence, along with some key veterans like Danny Green, Dwight Howard, and former Celtic Avery Bradley, have led Los Angeles to the top spot in the Western Conference with a record of 34-8. The Celtics have played well without Irving and are currently sitting in fourth place in the Eastern Conference at 27-14.

Along with Walker helping Boston forget about the short stint of Irving, the Celtics have Gordon Hayward healthy and back on the court showing signs of his old form. Jayson Tatum is also returning to form while sitting behind Walker (22.1) at 21.3 points per game.

The Milwaukee Bucks are currently the cream of the crop in the East and for good reason with Giannis Antetokounmpo having another MVP-caliber season. The superstar forward has his team clicking with the best record in the NBA with only six losses ahead of their matchup with the Chicago Bulls on Monday.

Despite the Bucks’ success, the Celtics are arguably a contender in the East this season, making Monday’s matchup against the arch-rival Lakers a potential NBA Finals preview. This showdown between two of the best teams in their respective conferences will likely be one of the best during a full slate of games on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

In order to put this rivalry into perspective, former Lakers trainer Gary Vitti recently spoke about it with ClutchPoints and how much it meant to him as his fondest memory during his time with the team was beating Boston in 1985.

“That’s interesting question,” Vitti said of his fondest Lakers memory. “I guess I would have to say winning the championship in 1985 against the Boston Celtics. When I came to the Lakers, even in my interview, they made me understand that there was one mission and one mission only, and it wasn’t just to win an NBA championship. It was to beat the Boston Celtics to win the NBA championship.”

Ironically enough, it has been 10 years since the Lakers and Celtics last met in the NBA Finals. Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol were able to lead Los Angeles to a title that year, essentially ending Boston’s run at that time. Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Rondo were unable to rebound from that series leading to the team breaking up every star player eventually heading elsewhere.

To make things a bit more interesting in this era of the rivalry, the Celtics currently have the most titles in NBA history with 17. The Lakers are right behind them with 16 and can match their arch-rivals. Former Lakers forward A.C. Green also recently spoke with us about the rivalry with the Celtics and whether this LeBron-led team can even or surpass Boston’s 17 titles.

“You got to take it a year at a time and stay in the season that you’re in,” Green said. “The potential is out there. The Lakers are showing that they’re a team to be reckoned with. They just have to keep doing what they’ve been doing and hopefully get ready to represent the West.”

On Monday night in Boston, the Lakers will look to impose their will against their rivals once again, but this time with Davis in the fold. Davis has missed the last five games due to injury and will make his return in Boston in an effort to get the team’s 35th win of the season.