The table is set for the Celtics and the Lakers to duel in the Finals for the 12th time in NBA history, and for the second time in three years, Paul Pierce gets to play out his dream series.
The Los Angeles native turned Boston Celtics cornerstone won his first ring at the expense of the same Lakers he grew up idolizing. He’s carved out a career as one of the greatest ballplayers to ever come out of Los Angeles, doing so in a Celtics uniform. Now he has a chance to add more to his resume.
“It’s always special just to be a part of the Finals,” Pierce said. “To do it in the place I grew up is even more special. The only negative thing about it is tickets for me. It’s going to be pretty expensive. But it’s going to be exciting to have my family and friends in the place that it all started to watch the NBA Finals again.
Playing in front of the hometown crowd means making tickets stretch.
“I’m estimating 30 tickets,” Pierce said. “Hopefully we can get it down to five.”
As he learned the last time around, situations like these are where allegiances get murky.
“I think it’s more weird for my friends who really grew up LA fans and are only Celtics fans because of me,” Pierce said. “But for me I’ve accepted the Celtics tradition. I’m part of it, and I’m full blow Celtics. I want to be a part of history. This is something I grew up watching. This is the type of series I grew up watching – Lakers vs. Celtics.”
Need a sign of how different the Lakers are from 2008? Look no further than the starting lineup. Kobe Bryant, Derek Fisher and Pau Gasol were still the triangle. But Lamar Odom and Vladimir Radmanovic were the ones who filled out the five.
“They’re champions themselves, too," Rivers said. "So I think they have that mental focus and they know how. So, yeah, they’re a lot tougher.
“I think winning makes them tougher. You know, ’08 you had two teams that hadn’t won. Either one. No one knew, you were still trying to find your way. We found our way, and last year they found their way. Now you have two teams that know how to win a title and they’re going to play against each other.”
The matchup was highly anticipated, not just by the Staples Center and TD Garden crowds tauting each other from opposite coasts, but the inside. Pierce and Lakers coach Phil Jackson bumped into each other not long after the Lakers won last year and penciled each other in for another meeting.
"I can say we probably feel the exact same way," Rivers said. "Obviously, both teams want to win a title, but I think both teams are happy they’re playing the team they’re playing. I think it’s exactly the way we envisioned it going in training camp and it’s probably the same way they envisioned it. So that’s good."
The couple days rest after Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals, gave the Celtics' banged up bodies a chance to recover. Rajon Rondo (back) ran through a large chunk of the two-hour practice. Rasheed Wallace (back) was limited however, and Rivers sounded concerned about his status.
"Rondo felt pretty good," Rivers said. "He went 75, 80 percent of the practice. Rasheed is not right yet. He did do the skeleton offensive stuff, but other than that we didn't allow him to do any contact. So if I have a concern with anybody, he'd be the one."
Marquis Daniels, who missed Game 6 of the Orlando series after sustaining a concussion in Game 5 in Orlando, is out for the start of the Finals, Rivers said.
"I don't know if it's the whole Finals," Rivers said. "But right now he's out."