All-Time Boston Celtics vs. the All-Time Los Angeles Lakers: Who Wins?
During the slow NBA days of summer, it's fun to ponder about history and "what if" scenarios. Which got me thinking about a dream matchup regarding the league's two most storied franchises: the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Celtics have won 17 championships, and the Lakers have won 16. Both franchises have boasted some of the greatest players and coaches in NBA history.
What if all-time teams from these two clubs were to meet in a series? Who would come out the victor in a seven-game series?
In order to put together such a scenario, I have laid a few ground rules.
First, since playoff series often come down to players matching up with each other, I will break down each position.
Second, each player considered would play at the highest level they played with their respective franchises (with best season stats highlighted).
Third, all-time greats that have played with either team but did not play at All-Star caliber levels would not qualify (for example, Karl Malone and Bob McAdoo with the Lakers, Gary Payton and Bill Walton with the Celtics).
Lastly, I included a comparison of the teams' best coaches since they are essential to winning.
If I got the matchup picks wrong or left out any players or coaches who deserved to be included in the discussion, please let me know in the comments.
Bill Russell - 18.9 ppg, 23.6 rpg, 4.5 apg, 46% FG, 60% FT
Dave Cowens - 20.5 ppg, 16.2 rpg, 4.1 apg, 45% FG, 78% FT
Robert Parish - 19.9 ppg, 10.8 rpg, 1.8 apg, 2.4 bpg, 0.9 spg, 54% FG, 71% FT
Los Angeles Lakers:
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar - 27.7 ppg, 16.9 rpg, 5 apg, 4.1 bpg, 1.5 spg, 53% FG, 70% FT
Wilt Chamberlain - 20.5 ppg, 21.1 rpg, 4.5 apg, 58% FG, 45% FT
Shaquille O'Neal - 29.7 ppg, 13.6 rpg, 3.8 apg, 3.0 bpg, 0.5 spg, 57% FG, 52% FT
George Mikan - 28.4 ppg, 14.1 rpg, 3.1 apg, 43% FG, 80% FT
The set of centers between the two teams has some of the greatest players in the history of the game, including perhaps the four best centers by many people's accounts. Kareem, Wilt, and Shaq may be the three best offensive centers ever while Bill Russell may be the greatest defensive center of all-time.
All were supreme rebounders and defenders in their own right as well. With the exception of Parish, all were known as decent playmakers as focals of offensive plays.
The center position may be the strongest of any on the all-time Lakers squad. The team would boast the most unstoppable accurate shot in the game's history (Kareem's sky hook).
While the hardest decision to make for the Lakers' coaches might be who gets to have the playing time, LA could use two of its centers in a twin-towers combination with one sliding to the power forward spot. Kareem could probably play the four position quite well, and paired with Wilt or Shaq would make a lethal combination.
Shaq playing at his peak level would be the most dominant force. Boston would have no one that could effectively stop him one-on-one, as the Celtics' best defender in Russell would give up four inches and 100 pounds. If Boston double-teamed Shaq, that would leave other players wide open for shots.
While Shaq and Wilt were poor free throw shooters, they would likely get the Boston centers in foul trouble. If Russell and Parish get into foul trouble, Boston's interior defense would struggle.
Kevin McHale - 26.1 ppg, 9.9 rpg, 2.6 apg, 2.2 bpg, 0.5 spg, 60% FG, 84% FT
Kevin Garnett - 18.8 ppg, 9.2 rpg, 3.4 apg, 1.3 bpg, 1.4 spg, 54% FG, 80% FT
Los Angeles Lakers:
Pau Gasol - 18.3 ppg, 11.3 rpg, 3.4 apg, 1.7 bpg, 0.6 spg, 54% FG, 79% FT
Kevin McHale was a dominant force who had just about every post move in his repertoire. He was a very efficient scorer with high field goal and free throw shooting rates, as well as a decent defender.
Kevin Garnett played his best career days with the Minnesota Timberwolves, but he still has a solid all-around game playing for the Celtics. He acts like the defensive catalyst, as he can lead the Celtics to play as a dominant defensive force.
The power forward position is one of the weaker areas on the all-time Lakers team. By default, Pau Gasol is the best pure power forward in the team's history, as he is regarded by many to be the best all-around big man in today's game.
Although the Lakers could pull a twin-towers combination by using one of their centers at this position, the pure power forwards for the Celtics clearly outweigh LA's sole pure power forward. Additionally, both McHale and Garnett are tall and long and can give Boston its own version of twin towers to bolster the team's interior defense.
Larry Bird - 29.9 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 7.8 apg, 0.8 bpg, 1.6 spg, 53% FG, 41% 3FG, 92% FT
Paul Pierce - 26.1 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 3.2 apg, 1.0 bpg, 1.9 spg, 44% FG, 40% 3FG, 81% FT
Los Angeles Lakers:
Elgin Baylor - 38.3 ppg, 18.6 rpg, 4.6 apg, 43% FG, 75% FT
James Worthy - 21.1 ppg, 6 rpg, 3.6 apg, 0.6 bpg, 1.2 spg, 55% FG, 31% 3FG, 78% FT
At first glance, it may seem like LA has Boston's number at the three spot. Elgin Baylor's high flying act led to monster scoring and rebounding numbers. He may be the greatest player to never win a championship in the NBA.
No one has been better at finishing fast breaks than James Worthy. Additionally, he was quite effective at posting up other players and scoring on high-percentage shots.
Although the talent on the Lakers' side is impressive, Boston has a better counter punch. Larry Bird may be the best premier shooter in NBA history. He was one of just a handful of players to shoot over 50 percet from the field, 40 percent from 3-point territory, and 90 percent of his free throws in his career. He was also one of the best playmakers of his era.
Paul Pierce is another excellent all-around player for the Celtics. He can play shutdown defense on other players and can also stretch out defenses to the 3-point line, giving the Boston Celtics' big men more room to work in the post.
Finally, Pierce and Bird have proven themselves to be excellent in clutch situations. Although there's great talent on both teams, Bird, considered by many to be the greatest small forward of all-time, puts the Celtics on top at this position.
Ray Allen - 18.2 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 2.8 apg, 0.2 bpg, 0.9 spg, 48% FG, 41% 3FG, 95% FT
Sam Jones - 25.9 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 2.8 apg, 45% FG, 82% FT
Bill Sharman - 22.3 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 2.7 apg, 42% FG, 89% FT
Los Angeles Lakers:
Kobe Bryant - 35.4 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 4.5 apg, 0.4 bpg, 1.8 spg, 45% FG, 35% 3FG, 85% FT
Jerry West - 31.3 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 6.1 apg, 47% FG, 86% FT
Michael Cooper - 10.5 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 4.5 apg, 0.5 bpg, 1.0 spg, 44% FG, 39% 3FG, 85% FT
Ray Allen provides the Celtics with one of the best pure shooters of all-time, who is likely to become the NBA's leader in career 3-pointers made. He proves to be a tough cover for defenders as he constantly moves around the court, looking to catch the ball and shoot with one of the quickest releases.
Sam Jones was a part of 10 championship teams so he knows how to play in big games. He was one of the pioneers to use the bank shot in order to create a softer rim effect on the ball. He could serve as a consistent scorer and a decent defender.
Bill Sharman was a pure shooter who like Allen could stretch LA's defenses. He had a strong competitive edge and desire to win. Sharman would be sure to make a solid contribution to Boston's team.
As with the center position, the Lakers are stacked at the shooting guard position. Behind Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and Jerry West are the best shooting guards in the league's history. Not to mention that West is the NBA's logo.
Bryant and West are among the best scorers of all-time, and had excellent all-around games. For guards, they are both effective on the glass. They also handle playmaking duties well and have served as two of the best all-time at clutch play.
In addition, both Bryant and West can play tenacious defense, capable of shutting down the best perimeter players on opposing teams.
Speaking of defense, there's a reason why Michael Cooper is included on this team. Although he was never an All-Star, he beats out other candidates such as Jamaal Wilkes and Byron Scott because he proved to be one of the best defensive guards in the game's history, capable of defending the one, two, and three positions.
He would serve as another option LA could throw at Bird, Pierce, and Boston's guards to slow them down. Similar to Bryant and West, Cooper was a great outside shooter that would stretch Boston's defense out to the perimeter.
As an added bonus, Bryant is quite capable of playing the small forward position so the Lakers could essentially play with West and Bryant at the same time on the perimeter.
Bob Cousy - 21.2 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 7.8 apg, 40% FG, 81% FT
John Havlicek - 28.9 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 7.5 apg, 45% FG, 82% FT
Los Angeles Lakers:
Magic Johnson - 22.5 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 12.8 apg, 0.3 apg, 1.8 spg, 51% FG, 31% 3FG, 91% FT
Gail Goodrich - 25.9 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 4.5 apg, 49% FG, 85% FT
Bob Cousy, the "Houdini of the Hardwood," was a wizard at ball-handling and playmaking skills who helped define the point guard position in the NBA. Cousy would serve as the primary catalyst at setting up Boston's offensive plays, along with Larry Bird.
John Havlicek (known affectionately as Hondo to Celtics fans) would provide a strong boost to the Boston team with his all-around play. Really a guard/forward combo, Havlicek was able to run the Boston offensive schemes as smooth as a point guard. He was very capable of making key offensive and defensive plays in pressure situations.
For many Lakers' fans, Magic Johnson remains as the face of the franchise, as he is universally regarded as the best point guard in NBA history. He would serve as a constant triple-double threat with his all-around play.
He may be the greatest rebounding guard ever and would use rebounds to start the Lakers' fast break offense known as Showtime. With this team, Magic would use familiar fast break finishers in Cooper and Worthy but would team with a new elite force in Kobe Bryant.
Gail Goodrich was the leading scorer on LA's best team in 1972 and would serve as a valuable extra option for playmaking duties. Goodrich was great at getting high percentage shots against tough opposing defenses.
A great aspect of the Lakers' backcourt is its versatility. Besides Goodrich and Magic, Kobe and West would be perfectly adept at running the point. With Kobe, Magic, and West all in most people's top 10 list of NBA players, this Lakers team would boast the greatest back court ever.
Red Auerbach - 938 W, 479 L (.662); Playoffs: 99 W, 69 L (.589); 9 titles, 1 Coach of the Year Award
KC Jones - 552 W, 306 L (.643); Playoffs: 81 W, 61 L (.570); 2 titles
Doc Rivers - 451 W, 380 L (.543); Playoffs: 46 W, 40 L (.535); 1 title, 1 Coach of the Year Award
Los Angeles Lakers:
Phil Jackson - 1098 W, 460 L (.705); Playoffs: 225 W, 98 L (.697); 11 titles, 1 Coach of the Year Award
Pat Riley - 1210 W, 694 L (.636); Playoffs: 171-111 (.606); 5 titles, 3 Coach of the Year Awards
John Kundla - 423 W, 302 L (.583); Playoffs: 60 W, 35 L (.632); 5 titles
Red Auerbach is the only US professional coach that has won 8 championships in a row. He was the mastermind behind the Boston Celtics, so it is only fitting that he serves on the coaching staff for this all-time team.
Along with Auerbach, KC Jones and Doc Rivers would emphasize strong team defense. Jones proved particularly adept at coaching a talented front court. Rivers would also be a valuable addition to this team and barely beats out the great Celtics coach Tom Heinsohn since he has shown an ability to manage a collection of All-Stars and egos well. This would be crucial for this Boston Celtics team to do well against LA.
While Auerbach is one of the greatest coaches in NBA history, Phil Jackson is arguably the best. Like Auerbach, Jackson has been able to get his star players to perform at the highest levels where previous coaches had failed before. Like Rivers, Phil Jackson is a master at managing super egos and colorful characters.
Perhaps right behind Jackson and Auerbach in the annals of NBA coaching greats is Pat Riley. He has proven to be a successful coach by stressing defense and rebounding which leads to easy scoring opportunities.
John Kundla was the coach of the great Minneapolis Lakers team. Sometimes forgotten about during discussion of the greatest coaches, Kundla was an expert at getting his teams to play well at the fundamentals of the game, which would prove valuable to LA's ball-handling ability.
Both teams present an amazing group of coaches, but Los Angeles would boast two of the three greatest coaches in history.
If the all-time Celtics and Lakers teams were to meet in a seven-game series, this hypothetical situation would be a treat for all NBA fans.
In the end, the interior presence of the Lakers' bigs, as well as the team's superior back court would prove to be the difference, as LA would prevail over the Celtics.
Lakers win 4-2