Twelve reasons you've got to love the 12th installment of Boston-L.A. in the NBA Finals:
1. Because there's no better chant in all of sports than "Beat L.A!'' And there's no collection of fans that does it louder and with more hatred in their souls than a sold-out, beer-fueled Celtics crowd. Two years ago, they weren't just satisfied with their team's 39-point humiliation of the purple and gold in the close-out game that brought Boston its 17th championship. Afterward, they dutifully assembled outside TD Garden and rocked the Lakers' team bus.
2. Because it's the best rivalry in all of sports, period. You say Yankees-Red Sox? OK, when was the last time Bombers and Sawx played in the World Series?
When the Celtics and Lakers get together in the Finals, you get: The Memorial Day Massacre; Kevin McHale clotheslining Kurt Rambis; the Junior Skyhook Game; Magic and Larry; The Balloon Game.
To name only a few classic moments.
3. Because it's all we've had to look forward to since LeBron James showed he's incapable of getting to the Finals, killing the first-ever LeBron-Kobe showdown in June in back-to-back seasons.
"It's like when me and Magic got together in the Finals in 1984 for the first time. Everybody wanted to see that. And now they want to see Kobe and LeBron play,'' Larry Bird told me back in April. "It would be great because the country is really split on who the best player is in the league right now: It's either Kobe or LeBron. And the other thing is, there hasn't been a rivalry in the Finals since me and Magic.''
Sadly, that's still true. But you think David Stern is complaining?
4. Because the Celtics are better than they were in 2008. Thanks to Doc Rivers' strategy of using April to mend the injured and get rest for his aging Big Three, the Celtics have won 12 of 17 playoff games, killing off Dwyane Wade, King James and Dwight Howard in the process. The Celtics are not just The Big Three anymore. Rajon Rondo has turned into a force in the postseason. With five days off, he should have enough time to recover from back issues that slowed him vs. Orlando.
5. Because the Lakers are better than they were in 2008. Coming off last year's conquest of Orlando, they know what it takes to win a title. Ron Artest gives them a top-flight defender they didn't have two years ago when Pierce ran roughshod over them en route to his Finals MVP.
6. Because the Lakers should be able to match Boston's physical play after getting manhandled in the '08 Finals. Two years ago they did not have Andrew Bynum. He's got a bad knee now so he's nowhere near being 100%. But at least he'll give the Lakers the size they need to battle Kevin Garnett, Kendrick Perkins, Rasheed Wallace and Big Baby Davis.
7. Because Bryant is out to settle a score. Boston assistant coach Tom Thibodeau's collapsing defensive strategies threw Kobe for a loop in '08, including his woeful 7-for-22 shooting effort in Game 6. Like all the great ones, Kobe keeps a mental list of who he owes, and Boston tops that list.
8. Because we'll get to see some bona fide stars off the court, too. The Celtics in June in L.A. brings out the best of Hollywood. And there's never a dull moment in a Boston-L.A. Finals when Jack Nicholson is around.
9. Because when the series shifts to Boston, there's a pretty good chance that we'll get to see some living legends. When Bill Russell, Bob Cousy, Tommy Heinsohn, Sam Jones, John Havlicek, K.C. Jones, Jo Jo White and Dave Cowens come strolling in together to take their seats in TD Garden, it really is a Walk of Fame.
10. Because Red Auerbach will be there, if only in spirit, to root for Boston's 10th Finals win against L.A. These days, his name is written on the parquet, where he's still a presence.
"When I first got here, I was in my office one day and I was going to get something to eat,'' said Doc Rivers. "I passed Red's office and I said, "Can I get you something?''
He said, "Yeah, another championship.''
11. Because the stakes are higher than ever. This could be Phil Jackson's 11th title and last Finals. A Laker victory would give Kobe his fifth ring, one more than Shaq, and one shy of Michael Jordan. A Celtics victory would cement the legacy of Boston's Big Three. If you want to be considered a special team in Boston, with as many as they've had, starting with the Russell dynasty and continuing with the '86 Celtics of the Bird era, one ring doesn't get you entry into "the club,'' as River called it. As he said: "We'd love to join that club.'' If they can go 2-0 vs. L.A., they'll gain admittance.
12. Because Lakers vs. Celtics in June give us the second-best chant in all of sports: