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Havlicek appreciates the past — and present

By Robert Mays
Globe Correspondent / June 9, 2010

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John Havlicek isn’t short on memories. After a Hall of Fame career, eight NBA championships, and stealing the ball, he’s got his pick. But there are a few that stand out for the Celtics legend. And most of them involve the Lakers.

Of Havlicek’s eight titles, five came against Los Angeles.

“When you play against a team that many times in the Finals, it has to be special,’’ Havlicek said before Game 3 last night. “And it was.’’

The rivalry’s meaning is evident with those who played in it, but Havlicek said the implications extend beyond the participants. Both franchises are symbols of success, and Havlicek said that after a year away, this year’s fight for a title has returned to the cities where it belongs.

“I think that when people watch the Finals, they probably wouldn’t want to watch any other teams,’’ Havlicek said. “With the Celtics and the Lakers, it’s the history of the games that have been played over the last 30 years.

“I think that everyone realizes both organizations carry themselves a little differently than everyone else because of the success that they’ve had.’’

Of all the moments Havlicek experienced in the rivalry during his career, it’s a season that resembled the playoff run of this current group of Celtics that sticks with him. After winning a championship in 1968, Boston was a pedestrian 48-34 heading into the 1969 playoffs, and championship expectations were all but gone.

“No one expected us to get out of the first round, and we made it all the way to the Finals and ended up winning the seventh game on [the Lakers’] floor,’’ Havlicek said. “That was pretty special.’’

There are plenty of other similarities Havlicek sees with this Celtics team and his championship teams of the ’60s. Havlicek earned first- or second-team All-Defensive honors for eight straight seasons, and he thinks that the defensive foundations of Boston’s recent championship-caliber teams will determine how the series plays out.

“It’s through defense that you win games,’’ Havlicek said. “Offensively, you’re going to have nights where you’re off and you’re not going to be able to put the ball in the hole. But defensively, if you have a system and a desire with the players to play defense, then that becomes a real staple for you.’’

Other elements of Havlicek’s admiration stray from the style of play in his era. Havlicek said Paul Pierce’s offensive game exemplifies the modern game, and it also makes him the best one-on-one player in franchise history.

“We didn’t play that type of game,’’ Havlicek said. “It wasn’t one that Red [Auerbach] probably would have been able to teach or anything like that, but players have become so good that they can create their own things.’’

The pleasure Havlicek took in defeating the Lakers hasn’t prevented him from appreciating the play of those in purple and gold during these playoffs. Havlicek said for all the praise LeBron James receives, the best the NBA has to offer will be on display this week in Boston.

“[Kobe Bryant] doesn’t have any weaknesses,’’ Havlicek said. “ He’s probably the best player in the league.’’

With the series returning to Boston for three games, Havlicek predicts the same sort of passion and atmosphere that filled the old Boston Garden. And with a fiery crowd and a fiery Celtics team, this series has a chance to be special.

“I think it’s going seven,’’ Havlicek said. “Each team is going to have their ups and downs and spirals. It’s a matter of lasting longer than the other guy.’’

And even with all the Celtics-Lakers Finals worth remembering, does this have a chance to be one of the greats?

“I think so,’’ Havlicek said. “I think so.’’

Robert Mays can be reached at rmays@globe.com.

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