The Boston Celtics continue one of sports' greatest rivalries Sunday afternoon when they pay a visit to Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers. It will be the first meeting between the Celtics and Lakers since Game 7 of last season's NBA Finals, where Los Angeles took home its 16th championship (they now trail only the Celtics' 17 titles).
Boston will debut Shaquille O'Neal in front of his former team, and also have Kendrick Perkins back in the rotation (he was missed Game 7 after injuring his knee in Game 6). Though the return of Shaq is not too important, says his former teammate, Kobe Bryant: "I don't think it's too weird. I don't really hold too much significance to the fact that he's playing with the Celtics. I don't think Lakers fans as a whole are. I don't think its that big of a deal."
Similarly, the Celtics' Rajon Rondo is doing his part to downplay Sunday's meeting, saying, "It's just another game." But CelticsBlog knows better:
[The Celtics] remember the pain better than anyone. They're the ones who will revisit the Staples Center locker room today, the same locker room where tears poured down their faces and thoughts of "what if?" raced through their heads. They're the ones who will step onto the Staples Center court, where, the last time the Celtics played there, Bill Russell handed Kobe Bryant the Finals MVP Award while confetti rained down from the rafters.
A quick look at the Celtics' roster and their offseason moves would indicate they have one goal this season: Beat L.A.
The Celtics are already different than last season, in so many ways. Kevin Garnett regained the full use of his leg. Paul Pierce, the same ... Glen Davis has become a more consistent force on both ends of the court, and Kendrick Perkins returned (quite quickly, I might add) with a healthy gait, not to mention a chip on his shoulder as big as a brick or a boulder. Add 21 feet of centers ... and the Celtics, though possessing the same nucleus as last season, have taken on an entirely different look. An improved look, I'd say. The look of a team designed almost solely to beat the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Celtics, on top of the Eastern Conference at 35-11, and the Lakers, second seed in the West at 33-14, tip at 3:30 p.m. EST, on ABC.