History or redemption? That's what confronts the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers on the eve of the 1985 NBA championship series, which begins here Monday at Boston Garden.
Last season the two teams engaged in a sometimes bruising, sometimes rapid-fire seven-game series. The Celtics won, giving them their 15th league title. If the Celtics acquire No. 16, they will become the first NBA team to repeat as champions since Boston did it in 1969.
"Winning this year means an awful lot to us because we've got a chance to make history," said Boston forward Larry Bird. "I think the Lakers should allow us to do that."
Bird was kidding when he made that statement, but Los Angeles Coach Pat Riley reacted very seriously when told of Bird's remarks. "There will be no allowances made this year," he said.
Indeed, this is the Lakers' chance to atone for the assorted miscues that conspired to deprive them of victory a year ago. Most of the Lakers' errors were self-inflicted, mistakes such as Magic Johnson dribbling out the final 11 seconds of the clock in Game 2, thinking the game was tied instead of Boston leading by a point. And that was the game in which Byron Scott threw away a pass at a crucial moment to give Boston some needed momentum.
"We won't have any mental breakdowns this time," said Los Angeles captain Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Johnson agreed with him. "If it seems like we're tougher mentally, perhaps it's because we are," he said of his team's dominance in the Western Conference playoffs.
History favors the Celtics. In eight prior meetings between the two teams for the league title, Boston has won each time.
Prior to last year, there hadn't been a Boston-L.A. matchup since 1969. That year, another seven-game series was made famous when Lakers center Wilt Chamberlain pulled himself from the final game in the fourth quarter, then chafed on the bench when Coach Butch van Breda Kolff wouldn't return him to the floor as the Celtics won, 108-106.
"I don't know about those other series, they were so long ago," Johnson said. "I do know that it's time for this team to win a series against them, though."
Even some Celtics are casting a wary eye toward the Lakers, who have averaged 131 points a game in the postseason.
"They've been dismantling teams right down the line," said Boston's Cedric Maxwell. "Emotionally, the L.A. series may be even more cutthroat than the one against Philly (won by Boston, four games to one)."
Much of the Celtics' hopes in the series rest upon the physical condition of Bird, who has struggled throughout the playoffs with pain in his right elbow and index finger. The all-star has yet to use his woes as an excuse for 41 percent shooting against the 76ers, and according to Boston Coach K.C. Jones, no one truly knows how Bird feels.
"I go up to him and say, 'Larry, how's your elbow?' and he says fine. I say, 'How's your finger?' and he says fine. I could go on and on and he'd say the same thing so I really don't have a clue."
As is his custom, Bird has tried to focus some of the attention upon others, saying today that he considered the matchup between the Lakers' Scott and Danny Ainge to be the most important of the series. "If Danny can stop him from scoring, we win the series," he said.
Ainge, however, refused to be drawn into the spotlight. "That's just not true," he said. "It's all up to Larry and his chicken wing."