Coming off their 2009 NBA championship, the Lakers were determined to defend their title in 2010 and acquired former Defensive Player of the Year Ron Artest to start at small forward. The team raced out to a conference-best 57 wins in the regular season–helped in large part to several game-winning shots by Kobe Bryant. The Lakers started the playoffs with a six-game victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder, featuring a game-winner in the last by Pau Gasol to advance to the next round. In the conference semifinals, Los Angeles easily swept the Utah Jazz to set up a Western Conference Finals match-up with the Phoenix Suns. The Lakers won the first two games but dropped two on the road as the Suns tied the series. Artest made a game-winning lay-up in game five and an eight-point victory in the sixth sent Los Angeles to their third straight NBA Finals.
The Celtics looked well on their way to defending their title in 2009 before an injury to Kevin Garnett and a loss in the playoffs to Orlando derailed their championship hopes. In 2010 the team struggled at times in the regular season en route to 50 wins and the number four seed. After a five-game victory over the Miami Heat in the first round, Boston found themselves in a 2-1 series hole against league MVP LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. They proceeded to win three straight games to eliminate Cleveland and move on to the Eastern Conference Finals against the Orlando Magic. Seeking revenge, the Celtics jumped out to a 3-0 series lead before losing consecutive games to send the series back to Boston. A game six victory at home clinched a second appearance in the NBA Finals in three years for the Celtics.
The Lakers starting back court was still comprised of the duo that had won four titles together with Derek Fisher at point guard and reigning Finals MVP Kobe Bryant at shooting guard. Newly acquired small forward Ron Artest started in the front court alongside All-Star Pau Gasol at power forward and Andrew Bynum at center.
Off the bench, Los Angeles utilized Jordan Farmar as the backup point guard and high-flying Shannon Brown as the first wing off the bench. Lamar Odom continued to serve as the leader off the bench as Gasol’s backup at power forward. Sasha Vujacic played sparingly on the wing off the bench, as did Luke Walton at forward. Didier Ilunga-Mbenga and Josh Powell rarely played in the NBA Finals.
The Celtics “Big Three” had become a “Big Four” with the starting lineup from the 2008 championship intact, as first-time All-Star Rajon Rondo started at point guard alongside Ray Allen at shooting guard. Team captain Paul Pierce remained the starting small forward alongside Kevin Garnett at power forward and Kendrick Perkins at center.
Nate Robinson served as Rondo’s backup at point guard, and defensive-minded wing Tony Allen provided depth on the perimeter. Glen Davis functioned as Garnett’s backup at center, and newcomer Rasheed Wallace spelled Perkins at center. Players to see few minutes in the NBA Finals include Marquis Daniels, Michael Finley, Brian Scalabrine, and Shelden Williams.
Game One: Celtics 89, Lakers 102
Although Boston hung close in the first half, the Lakers’ size proved to be too much as they out-rebounded the Celtics 42-31 over the course of the game. In the second half, Los Angeles stepped up the defensive pressure and opened up their fastbreak offense to win comfortably in the opener. Kobe led the team with 30 points to go along with 7 rebounds and 6 assists, Gasol was a monster inside with 23 points, 14 rebounds, and 3 blocks, and Bynum and Artest combined for 25 points of their own. Pierce led Boston with 24 points, but the Celtics struggled to shoot from outside and now faced a 1-0 series deficit.
Game Two: Celtics 103, Lakers 94
Ray Allen carried his team offensively in the first half, en route to setting an NBA Finals record with eight made three’s in the game, and the Celtics held a six-point lead at the half. The Lakers kept it close and held narrow leads multiple times in the second half, but Rondo came alive in the fourth quarter to put the game away for good. Allen finished with a game-high 32 points and Rondo recorded a triple-double with 19/12/10. Los Angeles was dominant inside as Gasol and Bynum combined for 46 points, 14 rebounds, and 13 blocks, but Kobe struggled from the field on 8/20 shooting and the series was now tied heading back to Boston.
Game Three: Lakers 91, Celtics 84
After falling into an early 12-5 hole, the Lakers answered back with a 13-0 run to tie the game and eventually take the lead after the first quarter. An extended 32-8 run allowed Los Angeles to claim a 12 point lead at the break. The Celtics, behind Kevin Garnett, came back in the second half and narrowed the gap to four with under a minute to play in the fourth. Off a defensive rebound, Derek Fisher went coast-to-coast and converted a tough lay-up plus the foul to seal the victory for the Lakers. Kobe finished with 29 points to lead all scorers despite taking 29 shots, and Fisher contributed a clutch 16 points to go along with Gasol’s double-double. Garnett led Boston with 25 points, but Ray Allen was ice cold, going 0/13 from the field a game after his record-breaking performance, and the Celtics now trailed the series again 2-1.
Game Four: Lakers 89, Celtics 96
Game four was close early, but the Lakers used a 15-6 run late in the second quarter to take an eight-point advantage, their biggest of the first half. A buzzer-beater from Garnett closed out the second quarter and trimmed the lead to three. The Celtics found big contributions off their bench from Nate Robinson and Glen Davis, as the duo combined for 30 points and outscored Los Angeles’ bench on their own. Boston reclaimed the lead in the second half and never looked back, and a late charge by the Lakers was not enough to stop the Celtics from evening the series again. Pierce led the team with 19 points, offsetting a combined 54 points from Bryant and Gasol.
Game Five: Lakers 86, Celtics 92
The Celtics jumped out early and held a six-point lead at the break thanks to Pierce’s 15 first-half points. Kobe proceeded to score the Lakers’ first 19 points of the third quarter to keep the game close as Pierce and Garnett started to heat up and extend the lead. Boston had an answer for every run, however, as Los Angeles failed to climb any closer than within five points. Pierce, Rondo, and Garnett combined to score 63 points as the Celtics held their first lead of the series and were within one win of the championship. Kobe’s game-high 38 points fell by the wayside as the Lakers headed back home facing elimination.
Game Six: Celtics 67, Lakers 89
After Kendrick Perkins left in the first quarter with a serious knee injury, the Lakers blew out the Celtics in a game in which they led by as many as 27 points. Kobe tallied 26 points, 11 rebounds, and 4 steals in the victory to go along with Gasol and Artest’s combined 32 points. Boston struggled mightily on offense, with Allen scoring a team-high 19 points, and the Celtics suffered an even bigger setback as Perkins was diagnosed with a torn PCL and MCL and would not play in the decisive seventh game.
Game Seven: Celtics 79, Lakers 83
The first quarter ended with the Celtics going on a 13-3 run to establish a nine-point lead, but the Lakers used an 11-0 run early in the second to reclaim the advantage. Both teams struggled offensively, but Boston ended the first half with a six-point lead on the road. To start the second half, the Celtics ended a 7-2 run with a steal and lay-up from Rondo to claim the biggest lead of the night at 13. Los Angeles responded with a 9-2 run of their own to trim the deficit, and the Lakers’ defense stepped up to stifle Boston throughout the fourth quarter. Midway through the final period, Artest converted a lay-up plus the foul to tie the game. After Allen made three straight foul shots, Fisher nailed a clutch three of his own to knot the game at 64, and two free throws from Kobe gave the Lakers the lead for good. The Celtics hung close in the final minutes, but key plays like a hanging jumper from Gasol, a desperation three from Artest, and foul shots from Bryant and Vujacic helped Los Angeles hold on for the victory and their second straight NBA championships. With his fifth NBA title, Kobe was named Finals MVP for the second straight year despite an off shooting night. Artest and Gasol came up huge with a combined 39 points and 23 rebounds to offset Boston’s “Big Four” combining for 62.
The Lakers cherished their first game seven victory over the Celtics, but their quest to “Three-Peat” was ruined when they were swept by the Dallas Mavericks in the second round of the 2011 playoffs. Los Angeles remained contenders with the acquisitions of Steve Nash and Dwight Howard in 2012, but the team never synced and was swept again in the first round by the San Antonio Spurs after Bryant tore his ACL. After departures of key players, the Lakers began to rebuild in the twilight of Kobe’s career.
Boston would remain contenders in the coming seasons, but the age of their superstars would limit their future. The team made it to the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals and held a 3-2 series lead before losing consecutive games to the Miami Heat. Ray Allen would leave in free agency following the loss, and the Celtics traded away Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce after the 2013 season, effectively ending the “Big Three” era. The team has yet to win a playoff series since the superstars’ departures.