BOSTON - Paul Pierce grew up in Los Angeles watching the Lakers play the Celtics for NBA titles. Now he's the captain of the Boston team that is back in the NBA Finals for the first time since losing to the Lakers in 1987.
"As a kid, I hated the Celtics," Pierce said Friday night after Boston eliminated Detroit, 89-81, to advance to a matchup with the Lakers.
"I'm going back home to play against my team that I grew up watching. It's a dream come true, man, just thinking about it. I think that rivalry really revolutionized the game of basketball, and now I'm a part of it."
The Celtics have won an NBA-record 16 championships, the last of them over Houston in 1986 to interrupt a stretch in which Larry Bird and Magic Johnson faced each other in the Finals three times in four years.
"I think that's what pretty much got me started in basketball, growing up in Los Angeles, watching the Lakers and the Celtics," he said. "It's ironic, just being a Celtic, growing up, now you're playing against the Lakers in the Finals."
For the last two decades, though, the NBA's most decorated franchise hasn't been good enough to keep the rivalry's intensity going.
While the Lakers beat the Celtics in 1987, won again against Detroit in '88, and then added three more trophies in the Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal era, the Celtics missed the playoffs nine times from 1994 to 2007. Then, last summer, they traded for Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, and took a giant leap forward.
"This is my first Finals, my second or third Lakers-Celtics game," Garnett said.
"I'm looking forward to it - all the things I used to watch on Sunday, that big plate of food in front of me watching the Lakers and Celtics play on Sunday, Hubie Brown and Dick Stockton doing the game. I remember that like it was yesterday."
Boston defeated the Lakers both times they met this season, winning by 107-94 at home Nov. 23, and by 110-91 in Los Angeles on Dec. 30.