It really feels like it was yesterday. Watching Ray Allen drain a corner-three to put the Celtics ahead 20 in Game Six of the 2008 NBA Finals and feeling my stomach drop. The production crew over at ESPN knew that even though the game was barely through the second quarter, the upstart Lakers had hit the wall. The series was over. The cameras managed to find every one of the dejected Lakers in that moment, slumping their heads into their hands, trying to prolong the inevitable pain of watching the hated Boston Celtics celebrate their NBA-record 17th championship. Game Six wasn’t so much a contest pitting the leagues two premier franchises against one another for a battle of greatness, it was a coronation, a playground beatdown. When the buzzer finally rang out in the Boston Garden, the Lakers had lost Game Six by a staggering 39-points, a Finals record. The Celtic green and white confetti poured from the rafters as everyone of the 2008 Lakers walked to the locker room, a magical season finished with so many hopes and expectations extinguished along with it.
For Sasha Vujacic, the pain of June 17, 2008 lingered far beyond the sojourn out of the Boston Garden. Vujacic publicly declared at the beginning of the 2009 season that he would not wear the color green until the Lakers won the NBA Finals. Unfortunately, he assumed that the Celtics were just as destined for the NBA Finals as the Lakers were and, while this group of Lakers did ultimately achieve their goal and capture an NBA Championship, it was at the hands of an unfamiliar foe, the Orlando Magic. Although they would likely never say it, they still hungered for the Celtics. They still dreamed of stepping on the parquet floor and avenging their most egregious of losses, to overcome the follies of their youth. Now seasoned and championship hardened, this Laker team finally gets their opportunity.
Rejuvenated and revitalized, the Celtics marched through the Eastern Conference, beating a Dwyane Wade-led Miami Heat team in five games, a shocking defeat of a LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers team in six games, and a throttling of last years East Champs, the Orlando Magic in six games. With Rajon Rondo now the undisputed leader of this team, the Celtics spent most of their time in the Eastern Conference Finals seemingly posturing and challenging the Lakers from across the country. Every win for both the Celtics and the Lakers seemed like something out of the East Coat/West Coast Hip-Hop Battles of the mid-1990s. They were sending messages to one another. Toying with each other. The Celtics refused to touch their Eastern Conference Championship trophy. The Lakers refused to show emotion during their Western Conference Championship trophy presentation, standing stoically, not a congratulatory t-shirt or hat in sight. These two teams want at each other BAD. They are frothing at the mouth. The scene is set. The yellowed newspaper clippings have been unearthed, the grainy footage from the 60′s and the over saturated video from the 80′s revisited.
I could write about the X’s and O’s of the series; the stats and numbers, but none of that matters. Not this time. For these Lakers, this series isn’t as much about the trophy at the end, it is about beating the CELTICS. It is about walking into the Boston Garden and showing those angry Bostonians how much they have grown as a team. It is about matching physicality, something they could not do in 2008. It is about Sasha taking it his unlikely aggressor Ray Allen (which he did a couple of time during the Feb. 18 contest at Staples Center. I nearly jumped out of my seat when Sasha took Ray off the dribble and whirled in for a lay-up). It is about righting wrongs. It is about revenge.