x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

The fall and rise of Celtics and Lakers

To put NBA 2008 in perspective, you have to go back to October 2007.

Boston's signing of Kevin Garnett was key.
Boston's signing of Kevin Garnett was key.

To put NBA 2008 in perspective, you have to go back to Oct 2007. The Boston Celtics were finishing a season with a record of 22 wind and 58 defeats - the second worst in the league. The Los Angeles Lakers were mediocre, finishing the season 42-40, with a slew of drama surrounding their best player Kobe Bryant. Boston made two franchise-changing trades, acquiring Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to give help to their one-man-show of Paul Pierce.

Overnight the Celtics went from a doormat to one of the league's top teams. The experienced trio of Garnett, Allen and Pierce led them to the best record in the league last season. The old formula of slowly building through the collegiate draft was eschewed. The Celtics went with a new recipe: add two All-Stars, stir, instant winner. The Lakers had their own problems. While their roster was strong, their best player was not happy. Bryant had little post-Shaquille O'Neil success and there were rumours that he and the Lakers were thinking about a new home for the three-time champions.

Just days before the season, it looked like the Chicago Bulls would trade for Bryant, but when the season started there was Kobe in the Lakers starting line-up. With the Celtics cruising in the Eastern Conference, the Lakers fought through a tougher road in the Western Conference to make it to the NBA Finals against their old foe from Boston. This was a coup for the NBA to have their two premier franchises together again. Television ratings for the NBA finals were the best in a decade. All the usual suspects showed up at the finals, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

The three-headed monster of Garnett, Pierce and Allen were two much for Kobe to topple single-handed as the Celtics won the title four games to two. Off the court, 2008 was another rough year for the NBA. In 2007, long-time referee Tim Donaghy was fired and arrested for betting on numerous NBA games, including those he worked. In June, Donaghy claimed that game six of the 2002 Western Conference finals was fixed by two referees.

Despite denials by NBA Commissioner David Stern, the faith of the NBA supporters took a blow. Luckily for the league, the 2008 finals match between Boston and Los Angeles trumped the ugliness of the Donaghy scandal. This season could be more of the same. The Lakers have started the year well, while Celtics, the defending champions, are even better. LeBron James and his Cleveland Cavaliers are nipping at their heels, but this season's NBA finals could be more of the same.

ppabst@thenational.ae