|Pau Gasol's midseason arrival helped fuel LA's run to the playoffs. (Mark J. Tirrell/Associated Press)|
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. - The Celtics easily won both regular-season meetings with the Western Conference champion Lakers. So what does that mean when they meet in the NBA Finals?
A Celtics-Lakers matchup will be completely different because there are too many major pieces involved now that weren't involved during the regular-season meetings. The Lakers made it to the NBA Finals by eliminating the Spurs in Game 5 Thursday.
"It has no bearing on the situation whether it's something concrete or psychological of us having won," Ray Allen said yesterday, prior to the Celtics eliminating the Pistons, 89-81, in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals. "Really, it would be us playing a different team."
And that team now includes center Pau Gasol, who arrived in a midseason trade from Memphis. He wasn't with the Lakers when they played the Celtics. Andrew Bynum started both games at center for the Lakers, but is recovering from knee surgery and will not play in the Finals.
On the Celtics' side, Sam Cassell was with the Clippers at the time of both games. And P.J. Brown was a free agent, at home in Slidell, La.
Furthermore, the Celtics and Lakers have not seen each other in five months. The Celtics won the first meeting, 107-94, at TD Banknorth Garden Nov. 23, and took the second game, 110-91, in Los Angeles Dec. 30.
"What you do in the regular season with teams doesn't matter," said Cassell, who won two titles with Houston. "Ironically, [when] we swept Orlando [in the 1995 Finals], they beat us both times in the regular season by scores of almost 16 and 17 points. And we swept them in the Finals.
"I didn't play [against the Lakers with Boston]. Pau didn't play. It's totally different. So you can't put much on what you did in the regular season. At this time, everything is different."
If there is one thing the Celtics can gain from the regular-season games, it's how to guard Lakers star Kobe Bryant.
The NBA MVP averaged 28.3 points in the regular season and is averaging 31.9 in the playoffs. Bryant scored 28 points but missed 12 of 21 field goal attempts against the Celtics Nov. 23. He also struggled in the Dec. 30 game, scoring 22 points on 6-of-25 shooting, and he missed all six of his 3-point attempts.
"We play for one thing and one thing only, and that's championships," Bryant said after the Lakers eliminated the Spurs. "This is big, big stuff for us. We're all very excited. We are all very proud of what we've accomplished. Now the real season starts."
The Celtics-Lakers rivalry is the most storied in NBA history, but it has been dormant since the retirements of Larry Bird (1992) and Magic Johnson (1991). The Celtics have won 16 titles, defeating the Lakers eight times for the title. The Lakers have 14 banners and have beaten the Celtics twice for the championship.
Cassell said prior to last night's game that a Celtics-Lakers final would be "good for everyone.
"It would be real sweet to play against the Lakers. I think it would be good for everyone. It would be good for the morale of the league, first and foremost, to have rivals like the Celtics and the Lakers playing again. We had the best record in the East and they had the best record in the West. That's similar to the old days.
"It would be good for both teams. Both teams respect each other."