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Dan Shaughnessy

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Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / May 26, 2008

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. - Sometimes you're better off saying nothing. Don't blurt out the thought that's on your mind. Swallow hard and let it go. Be patient and prudent. Save it for later.

Sorry. No can do. Like David Stern, the stockholders of ABC, and every sports fan who lives outside of San Antonio and Detroit, I am excited about the prospect of a dream-matchup, old-school NBA Finals featuring the Celtics and Lakers.

It's folly to even entertain such a thought at this juncture, of course. Bill Belichick would lock me in a Gillette Stadium kitchen freezer if he heard me talking about a Super Bowl rematch with the Giants on the eve of the AFC Championship. John Henry would buy out the New York Times Co.'s 17 percent interest in the Red Sox if the Globe speculated on a Sox-Cubs World Series while the Franconamen were still in the middle of an ALCS with the Tigers.

Can't help it. The Celtics are ahead of the Pistons, and the Lakers are ahead of the Spurs, and by this time next week we could be knee deep in Magic/Larry throwback jerseys and "Beat LA" chants. It'll be time to dust off that video of Kevin McHale taking down Kurt Rambis on the breakaway at the Forum in 1984.

If things go according to plan, Game 1 of Celtics vs. Lakers starts next Thursday night at the Garden (Tuesday if by some miracle the Celtics and Lakers both win in five).

It's been a while since the Celtics and Lakers met in the Finals. Those Rambis Youth Kids of 1987 today have AARP cards. The retro black-frame eyeglasses they once wore for fashion now have bifocal lenses.

The Celtics have a long way to go before getting to the Finals, of course. Before Saturday night's game at the Palace, there was doubt Boston ever would win a road game in these playoffs. The Pistons are a formidable opponent with a roster of grown-ups and six straight appearances in the conference finals. Detroit is a good bet to win tonight, and knot the series at 2. The Pistons have demonstrated the ability to win at the Garden.

But the Celtics have reclaimed home-court advantage, Chauncey Billups (hamstring injury) is playing like Chauncey the Gardener, Rasheed Wallace takes a lot of nights off, and Flip Saunders looks about as secure as Willie Randolph. So I've been saying Celtics in six. Or seven.

Whenever it happens, the Lakers will be waiting. And the NBA will have its best showcase since Michael Jordan retired.

Celtics-Lakers was the theme of these playoffs before they even began. Sports Illustrated introduced its postseason preview with an April cover that featured Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett next to the headline: "Playoff Dreams, Lakers vs. Celtics? The Ultimate Crowd-Pleaser."

The story lines will be spectacular. We can go way back to the 1960s when the Lakers never could beat the Celtics in the Finals. There was Frank Selvy's shot and six Lakers teams sent home by the Green. There was the night Jack Kent Cooke filled the Forum ceiling with balloons, infuriating Red Auerbach and inspiring Bill Russell in his last professional game. The '69 Celtics beat a Lakers team that had Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, and Elgin Baylor. It was the last roundup for Russell and Sam Jones.

And then Larry and Magic exploded on the scene in 1979 and put the NBA on the map forever. The three Celtics-Lakers Finals in the 1980s did more for the league than anything since the 24-second clock. They were as celebrated and memorable as the three Ali-Frazier fights. Hall-of-Famers roamed the floor and Jack Nicholson flew back and forth between Boston and Los Angeles. In 1984, Nicholson flew alongside the Celtics in first class, and Jack ignored the in-flight movie, "Terms of Endearment."

Danny Ainge and Mitch Kupchak played against one another in the 1984 and 1985 Finals. Now they are the general managers of their respective teams.

Luke Walton was a little kid who lived in a big drafty house in Cambridge when his dad played for the world champion Celtics in 1986. Now Luke is a millionaire sub for the multitalented, soon-to-be Western Conference champs from Los Angeles.

Phil Jackson? When the Celtics beat the Lakers in the Finals in 1984, Jackson was coach of the Albany Patroons of the CBA. Chief Triangle since has won nine NBA championships as a head coach, putting him in a tie for first with Auerbach. Red always resented Jackson, and denying Jackson No. 10 would be one more bit of incentive for the 2008 Celtics.

But first the Lakers need to finish off the Spurs. And the Celtics still have little bit of business with the Pistons.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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