All-Time Boston Celtics vs. All-Time Los Angeles Lakers

In the end, the results were inevitable. The NBA has been dominated by two franchises since its inception. One rose to power with the greatest dynasty in professional sports history, capturing 11 championships in 13 seasons from 1957 to 1969. The other was established with a selection of the highest profile players in league history, leading to the NBA’s best franchise winning percentage, and the most Finals appearances. The greatest rivalry in NBA history is reborn in the finals of the NBA Franchise Tournament: the All-Time Boston Celtics vs. All-Time Los Angeles Lakers.

All-Time Boston Celtics Team

All-Time Los Angeles Lakers Team

Matchup Breakdown

Ball handlers: Each team is guided by the greatest point guard of his generation. The Celtics have multiple points of attack on offense, but their starting lineup will primarily be led by Bob Cousy. The Houdini of the Hardwood brings elite court vision and ample big game experience, but his slight frame will create issues on defense. The Lakers high-scoring attack will be guided by Magic Johnson, a 6’9” anomaly who can physically dominate Boston’s backcourt. Neither player was known for his outside shot; expect each team to put the ball in their playmaker’s hands and surround him with scorers.

Johnson’s size will cause Boston to cross-match defensively. When the starters are in, expect Sam Jones and Larry Bird to take turns checking Johnson. Cousy will primarily defend Jerry West, and will struggle with West’s length and athleticism advantage. Johnson will primarily guard Cousy on defense, but will also spend time on his archrival Larry Bird, due to their size similarities.

Each team will go stretches without a traditional point guard on the floor. Jo Jo White is Boston’s theoretical backup point guard, but he’ll struggle to crack this talented squad’s rotation. Bill Sharman, John Havlicek and Larry Bird will split time initiating the offense when Cousy rests. They’ll also look to get on the break whenever possible, with Bill Russell and Dave Cowens expertly throwing outlet passes to initiate this action. Jerry West and Gail Goodrich will initiate L.A.’s attack when Johnson sits. While both are capable of filling this role, expect Johnson, the only true floor leader on a team with many mouths to feed, to play heavy minutes throughout the series.

Wings: Boston has a deep collection of wing players that will present matchup problems for Los Angeles. Sam Jones was one of the great clutch players in NBA history, and his constant movement with and without the ball may tire his defenders out over the course of the series. Sixth man extraordinaire John Havlicek, who may have been the most tireless player in the NBA, will split time off the bench at shooting guard and small forward. Havlicek was one of the great all-around players in league history, and he stands as Boston’s best wing defender against L.A.’s high-powered attack. Larry Bird, the centerpiece of Boston’s offensive attack, will start each game at small forward, but will frequently play as a stretch four, especially if Los Angeles goes large stretches without a traditional power forward, as expected. Paul Pierce was another deadly scorer whose firepower will be needed in this series.

Los Angeles counters with three legendary wing scorers in their starting lineup. Jerry West will stretch the floor and serve as L.A.’s secondary ball handler on offense, while doubling as their best wing defender. Kobe Bryant will also be tasked with focusing more on defense, which he exceled at during his prime. Elgin Baylor will also start, and though he lacks great size, he’ll help the Lakers stay competitive on the glass against Boston’s bigger frontcourt. Off the bench, Jim Pollard will contribute with his athleticism and long-distance shooting ability. He’ll stretch the floor and help to guard Boston’s plethora of wing options. Like Baylor, James Worthy will primarily play at power forward, and will boost L.A.’s athleticism advantage whenever he’s on the court. Both Pollard and Worthy will balance the Lakers lineup as lower usage players who will fit in alongside any combination they’re paired with.

All-Time Boston Celtics vs. All-Time Los Angeles Lakers
The two most iconic franchises in NBA history
Copyright © Lipofsky Basketballphoto.com

Big Men: Boston will start three players who stand between 6’9” and 6’10”. The aforementioned Bird will split time between the forward positions, while Kevin McHale and Bill Russell will man the interior for the starting lineup. McHale will have a distinct advantage on offense against L.A.’s smaller forwards, and will be one of Boston’s primary options as a result. He’s also skilled and versatile enough on defense to guard Baylor and Worthy, and will be utilized in Boston’s most effective defensive lineups. Russell, the greatest defensive player in NBA history, will face the greatest challenge of his career in this series, matching up against three behemoths who are all among the greatest scorers of all time: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaquille O’Neal, and his old adversary Wilt Chamberlain. He’ll use his uncanny motor to try to beat them down the court on offense, but his effectiveness on defense will be compromised by their sheer size and talent levels. Dave Cowens, another 6’9” undersized center, will use his bulk and will to attempt to slow this trio down. Robert Parish, Boston’s only true seven-footer, will also get plenty of minutes, but does not have the bulk to stop any of L.A.’s threats. Russell and Parish will need to use their quickness and speed advantage to score easy baskets on offense, and tire their counterparts out.

Jabbar will anchor L.A.’s big man rotation, and will serve as the centerpiece of their dynamic offense. O’Neal’s brute force will provide a devastating contrast for L.A.’s second unit, which Boston will have difficulty countering. Chamberlain’s Laker years were characterized by lower usage, high efficiency, and dominating defense, and coach Pat Riley will utilize him in their best defensive lineups. Expect the legendary George Mikan to play sparingly as the fourth center, but he will provide another dominating offensive presence when called upon.

Five-man Lineups

Coach Red Auerbach will likely use a combination of the following five five-man lineups most frequently throughout series:

John Havlicek and Paul Pierce will play two of the biggest roles on the team off the bench, as swingmen who can match up with Los Angeles defensively. Late in games, Auerbach may turn to his best defensive lineup of Jones-Pierce-Havlicek-McHale-Russell for key stops.

Coach Pat Riley will be tempted to try two-center lineups, but will ultimately stay away and utilize his wing depth. Each center will be surrounded by shooting, which will force Boston to make a difficult choice – leave Russell, Cowens, and Parish alone on an island defensively, or double-team and try to recover on the perimeter. Gail Goodrich and Pollard provide elite shooting off the bench, while West, Bryant, Worthy and Baylor will be used together in their defensive lineup, with Chamberlain in the middle, to form a dominant athletic quintet.

Biggest Mismatches

The size and bulk of L.A.’s centers – Boston’s centers are all physically overmatched, and will struggle to contain the Laker big men. They’re also in danger of falling into foul trouble, and must avoid taking the easy way out early in games, especially with O’Neal and Chamberlain. Boston’s big men will not require the same level of attention on the other end of the court, and each Lakers center should be able to hold their own in their defensive matchup.

Boston’s passing offense – Boston’s offense will flow through the unselfish hands of their playmakers, Cousy and Bird. These are two of the best passers in league history, and together with Russell, a great passing big man, their offense will hum. The Lakers have Magic Johnson, so they won’t be devoid of playmaking, but their offense has a greater chance of stalling with some of the high-volume scorers on their roster.

L.A.’s athleticism advantage – Both teams boast tremendous depth and versatility, but L.A. has a greater collection of athletes on their roster. West, Bryant, Pollard, Worthy, and Baylor can disrupt Boston on both sides of the ball, and will cover ample ground on defense. Boston has Havlicek, who will see starter’s minutes in this series, but the rest of their perimeter players fall short of L.A.’s in this department.

X-Factor

History – These teams have met 12 times in the Finals, with Boston winning nine of those matchups. West and Baylor were famously never able to defeat Russell, which haunts them to this day, as West eerily described in his autobiography. However, Johnson, Jabbar, and Worthy were able to win two of their three finals matchups against Bird, McHale, and Parish, and Bryant split his two finals series against Pierce. Does any of this matter? Is Boston’s “mystique” actually something that Los Angeles fears, or does their recent success render this meaningless?

Results

Los Angeles comes out in full attack mode, and wins the first two games of the series against a shell-shocked Celtics team. Boston, however, refuses to wilt, with Bird and Russell leading the way to two close wins to tie the series up. In the critical game five, Magic Johnson orchestrates a perfect game, and Shaquille O’Neal, a destroyer of worlds in his Lakers Finals appearances, overwhelms his smaller counterparts in a comfortable victory. Los Angeles leads throughout the sixth game, but down the stretch, key plays by Jones and Havlicek save Boston and set up a winner-takes-all game seven.

In the final game, both teams play inspired basketball. Russell and Jones lead Boston to the brink of a championship, using their collective will and clutch team play. Down the stretch, however, Magic finds Jerry West repeatedly behind the arc, where he hits multiple clutch three-pointers. The curse is lifted, as West and Baylor finally get to celebrate against their tormentors.

Lakers win, four games to three.

All-Time Boston Celtics vs. All-Time Golden State Warriors

Our first semifinal matchup is a battle between the most balanced team in our tournament against arguably the most offensively explosive one. Boston has had a relatively easy path to this point, with a first-round bye and two five-game series, while Golden State shocked many with their narrow escape in the Elite Eight against the vaunted Spurs. Can the Warriors continue their magical run by outscoring the number one seed? The All-Time Boston Celtics vs. All-Time Golden State Warriors is an intriguing matchup, featuring some of the game’s greatest stars.

All-Time Boston Celtics vs. All-Time Golden State Warriors

Key Matchups

Wilt Chamberlain vs. Bill Russell – Perhaps the greatest rivalry in NBA history resurfaces in the Franchise Tournament. The greatest offensive force in league history faces the greatest defensive stopper. These two battled 57 times when Wilt was a Warrior, with Russell’s Celtics winning 41 of those encounters. Chamberlain averaged 35.4 PPG in those encounters, which, while obviously dominant, was less than the 41.5 PPG he averaged in his Warriors career. Russell’s ability to defend Chamberlain one-on-one with no help will be an essential part of Boston’s defense; they can’t afford to sag off of Golden State’s shooters if they have any chance of slowing the Warriors down.

Larry Bird vs. Rick Barry – An absolutely joyous matchup between an original (Barry) and his doppelganger (Bird). Both players were known for their transcendent shooting and passing skills, and each was the best player on a championship team (in Bird’s case, teams). Bird was a bigger player (6’9” and 220 lbs, compared to Barry’s 6’7” 205 pound frame), and can easily switch to power forward when needed. Neither player should be expected to stop the other, though Boston can switch the multitalented Kevin McHale onto Barry while Bird guards Neil Johnston. Expect John Havlicek to play heavy minutes on Barry as well, while Golden State’s best perimeter defender, Tom Gola, will often be tasked with guarding Bird and Boston’s other wings.

Bob Cousy vs. Stephen Curry – One of the first showmen in league history takes on the most recent. Cousy, one of the greatest passers in league history, led the league in assists for eight straight seasons, and was the second player in league history to win the MVP award. Curry, one of the greatest shooters ever, has led the league in made three point field goals for four years running, and has captured the last two MVP awards. Both are probably better defenders than they’re given credit for; Cousy accumulated more defensive than offensive win shares in his career, while Curry has become a solid defender over time, as detailed here. However, neither is a good bet to stop the other, but Cousy, in particular, must avoid defensive lapses against the explosive Curry, whose three-point shooting provides a unique challenge for opponents.

Biggest Mismatches

Boston’s versatility vs. Golden State’s – The Celtics have the ability to win any type of matchup with their depth and versatility. They can play big with any combination of Russell, Dave Cowens, Robert Parish, McHale, and Tom Heinsohn, or play small with Havlicek and Paul Pierce occupying the forward positions. They can also trot out a defensive lineup featuring Russell, McHale, Havlicek, and Sam Jones, and can space the floor on offense with Bird, Bill Sharman, and Pierce. They also have Red Auerbach on the sidelines, who got the most out of his players and popularized several strategic concepts, such as the sixth man. He’ll meld the extraordinary talent on the Boston roster and put them in position to succeed. Golden State has several solid wing defenders in Gola and Guy Rodgers, and two players who can protect the paint in Chamberlain and Nate Thurmond. However, their best lineup probably consists of one of Gola or Thurmond alongside Chamberlain, Barry, Paul Arizin, and Curry, which leaves them vulnerable to opposing perimeter threats. Expect Boston to hide their defensive liabilities better, and to benefit from the two-way ability of many of their stars.

Boston Celtics Big Three, Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish Copyright © Lipofsky Basketballphoto.com
Boston Celtics Big Three: Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish
Copyright © Lipofsky Basketballphoto.com

X-Factor

Wilt the Stilt – One could argue that despite his gaudy numbers as a Warrior, Wilt’s best years were with the Sixers, where he served as the centerpiece of one of the great teams in NBA history. The Warriors’ version of Wilt was accused of being a stat-monger who cared more about individual glory than team success. Is that a fair assessment? Probably not, since his teams made one NBA Finals appearance and two Eastern Division Finals appearances in his five and a half years there. However, there are concerns about how he will mesh with Barry, a notoriously difficult personality who has lambasted Chamberlain in the past, and how he will react to playing alongside so much firepower. If coach Al Attles can channel him to play like he did with the Sixers, then Golden State has a chance to win this series. If he’s not interested in letting his teammates shine, they’re in trouble.

Results

Despite the questions surrounding fit and personality, Chamberlain and Barry play brilliantly, and lead Golden State to several wins over the favored Celtics. Boston, however, has the deeper, more versatile roster, and their championship mettle comes through over the course of the series. Every single player on the Boston roster won at least one championship with the club, and the 17-time champions advance, as expected, to the Franchise Tournament finals.

Boston wins, four games to two.

Next Round

Boston faces the winner of the All-Time Lakers vs. All-Time Pistons in the finals.

All-Time Boston Celtics vs. All-Time Miami Heat

Our next matchup represents the greatest generational divide in our tournament. The Miami Heat’s first year of operation was 1989, while the Boston Celtics have been in existence since 1947. Eleven of the twelve players on Boston’s roster were either retired, or near retirement, before Miami ever existed. However, since that time, Miami has won the Eastern Conference five times, which is three more times than Boston. Miami has three titles, while Boston has one. Does this give Miami any sliver of hope in the battle between the All-Time Boston Celtics vs. All-Time Miami Heat? Here’s a breakdown of our first Elite Eight matchup.

All-Time Boston Celtics vs. All-Time Miami Heat

Key Matchups

Larry Bird vs. LeBron James: The two greatest small forwards in NBA history square off in a dream matchup. Both were elite passers who will serve as the fulcrum of their team’s offenses. James was a better defender, while Bird was a better outside shooter. James won two MVP awards in his four years in Miami, while Bird won three MVP awards in a row from 1984 to 1986. Expect LeBron to guard Bird for large stretches of each game, while Boston will make Kevin McHale their primary LeBron defender. Miami also has to deal with a couple of other Hall-of-Fame small forwards off Boston’s bench: John Havlicek, the perpetual motion machine, and LeBron’s old nemesis Paul Pierce. Miami will play James at power forward at times, meaning Dwyane Wade, Eddie Jones, and Glen Rice will be needed to slow Boston’s trio down.

Red Auerbach vs. Erik Spoelstra: Both coaches will have several matchup dilemmas to figure out.  How will Boston adjust when LeBron James moves to power forward? They can put Larry Bird at the four, and bring in one of their wings off the bench, or they can stay big and have Bird guard one of Miami’s wings (preferably Glen Rice). Who will be left out of Boston’s rotation? It’s almost impossible to play 12 players, so expect Jo Jo White and Tom Heinsohn to stay glued to the bench, and to only be used if others are in foul trouble. Expect Spoelstra to go primarily with an eight-man rotation, with his starting lineup, Jones, Rice, and Shaquille O’Neal. Spoelstra has a decision on how to use his big men in this series. Chris Bosh can play the five when they go small, but he’d be at a severe disadvantage on the boards against Bill Russell, Dave Cowens, or Robert Parish. On offense, O’Neal will give any of Boston’s big men fits, but he won’t be able to protect the paint as well as two-time Defensive Player of the Year Alonzo Mourning. Expect Spoelstra to play stretches with a deadly defensive lineup of Jones, Wade, James, Bosh, and Mourning to slow down Boston’s offense.

Biggest Mismatches

Celtics bench vs. Heat bench: Much like the real-life playoffs, expect teams to shorten their rotations to feature their best players in this tournament. Miami’s eight-man rotation should create issues for Boston. However, depth is still important, and Boston’s players should be less taxed than Miami’s as the series goes on. James and Wade may play 40 plus minutes per game, and will be working hard on both ends of the court. The fact that they have to play against two players who were known for their constant movement, Sam Jones and John Havlicek, will only exacerbate Miami’s problems.

Miami’s wing athleticism vs. Boston’s wing athleticism: While Boston has a great athlete on the wing (Havlicek), they also have several others who weren’t known for their athleticism (namely Bird and Pierce). Miami’s greatest strength is the athleticism of their dynamic duo, Wade and James. Eddie Jones is another terrific athlete for Miami off the bench, and expect him to get heavy minutes alongside Wade and James to smother Boston’s perimeter players defensively, and to create mismatches on the other end of the court.

X-Factor

Generational comparisons: One of the guiding principles of this tournament is to consider the relative dominance of players from previous generations, so the results aren’t skewed toward the bigger, more athletic players in the modern era. Bob Cousy and Bill Russell are two of the greatest players ever, and will be favored to win their matchups in this series against Tim Hardaway and Alonzo Mourning, respectively, even if the latter looks like the Incredible Hulk next to the players that Russell faced in his era. This helps to provide some context for Boston’s depth advantage, and the problems their opponents will face trying to stop them.

Results

Remember when LeBron left Bill Russell off his NBA Mount Rushmore? Bill Russell doesn’t forget these things. He leads the Celtics to victory.

Bill Russell's reaction to being omitted from LeBron's Mount Rushmore Copyright © Lipofsky Basketballphoto.com
Bill Russell’s reaction to being omitted from LeBron’s Mount Rushmore
Copyright © Lipofsky Basketballphoto.com

Boston wins, four games to one.

Next Round

Boston faces the winner of the All-Time Spurs vs. All-Time Warriors.

All-Time Boston Celtics Team

All-Time Boston Celtics Team Infographic 4

Our last profile details the top seed in our tournament, the All-Time Boston Celtics Team. Not surprisingly, every single player on this roster is either already in the Hall of Fame, or will be inducted as soon as they are eligible. They have the most combined all-star game and all-NBA appearances of any franchise team, and have some of the most recognizable names in basketball history. They also have perhaps the tournament’s most balanced roster, with a mix of offensive and defensive play makers that will confound their opposition.

Bob Cousy is the easy choice for starting lead guard. Cousy was the premier play maker of his era, capturing eight straight assist titles from 1953 to 1960. After his rookie year, he made the All-NBA first team for 10 straight years, and helped Boston capture six titles in his final seven seasons. Speaking of championships, the starting two guard, Sam Jones, helped Boston win 10 titles in his 12 seasons with the team. While he wasn’t as decorated as some of his contemporaries, he was well known for his clutch play, as his legendary teammate once described (quoted from Elliot Kalb’s entertaining book, Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Basketball?: Mr Stats Sets the Record Straight on the Top 50 NBA Players of All Time): “Whenever the pressure was greatest, Sam was eager for the ball. Sam Jones had a champion’s heart. Under pressure, we had hidden on our team a class superstar of the highest caliber…in the seventh game of a championship series, I’ll take Sam over any player who’s ever walked on a court.” Jo Jo White, the backup point guard, was a key member of the Celtics’ two championship teams in the 1970s. His long Boston career allowed him to edge out Dennis Johnson, another worthy candidate, who is among several legends to miss the cut for this stacked roster. Bill Sharman is the backup two guard, and is among several bench players who have a convincing case for inclusion in the starting lineup. He was among the greatest free throw shooters in NBA history, and may have been the best shooter of his era.

Larry Bird, the starting small forward, is among the greatest players in NBA history. He captured three straight MVP awards from 1984 through 1986, and was one of the greatest shooters and passers who ever played at his position. Kevin McHale, who earned this author’s vote as the ninth greatest power forward in history, will start at the four. McHale was a master in the low post, and doubled as a defensive stopper who could guard a range of positions effectively. Off the bench, John Havlicek was one of the greatest forwards in NBA history, and was also an overqualified sixth man at the beginning of his career, who will fill that role for this team as well. Known for his clutch play and his tireless energy on the basketball court, “Hondo” was one of the game’s greatest all-around players, and he’ll play at both shooting guard and small forward for this team. Paul Pierce was one of the best pure scorers in team history, averaging over 25.0 PPG five times in his career, during a low-scoring era. He’ll also play both two guard and small forward, and he adds another three-point shooting threat to the roster. Tommy Heinsohn is now best known for his role as a beloved homer announcer, but he was first a Hall-of-Fame player (and coach) who could play both forward positions.

Bill Russell, perhaps the greatest defensive player in NBA history, is the starting center. Russell famously won 11 championships in his 13 seasons, an unfathomable record that is likely never to be broken in any of the four major sports. His unique impact was recognized by his peers, as he was voted MVP five times in an era when players voted on this award. He was also a phenomenal passer who will combine with Cousy and Bird to give Boston arguably the best passing starting lineup in the tournament. He’s backed up by Dave Cowens, who made up for his (relatively) small stature with an unrelenting work ethic. Cowens led the team to two titles in the 1970s, and he was another excellent passer for his position. The third center, Robert Parish, was a stoic pillar of the 1980s championship teams who was remarkably consistent in his 14 years with the franchise. Ed Macauley and Kevin Garnett are notable omissions from this deep frontcourt, both of whom would warrant inclusion on almost any other franchise team.

This team should be able to wear opponents out with their great depth. With 17 championships, they are our top-seeded team, and face the All-Time Milwaukee Bucks team in the second round of our tournament.

Coach: Red Auerbach

All-Time Franchise Winning Percentage (through 2014-15): .588