Fantasy matchup would be unreal
In the golden era of fantasy sports, when all-time teams can be pitted against each other via video screens, the Globe decided to match the 15 top Celtics and Lakers from those 11 Finals to see who would win a seven-game series.
That’s Bob Cousy vs. Magic Johnson. Bill Russell vs. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Paul Pierce vs. Elgin Baylor. And before we begin, this is just players who faced the Lakers or Celtics in a Finals, so that leaves out Dave Cowens for the Celtics and Shaquille O’Neal for the Lakers.
And these are the best 15 overall players from those 11 series, meaning position was ignored. The “rosters’’ are mostly made up of guards and forwards, given the lack of great centers besides Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Abdul-Jabbar, and Robert Parish.
Here are the starting fives for each team:
Celtics: Cousy, John Havlicek, Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Russell.
Lakers: Magic, Jerry West, Kobe Bryant, Baylor, and Abdul-Jabbar.
For the Celtics, there could be some debate as to whether Pierce could replace Havlicek or Kevin Garnett could step in for McHale. Havlicek was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1984, scored more than 26,000 points, and won all five Finals against the Lakers. While Pierce is a Celtics great and has one Finals victory over the Lakers, Havlicek has better credentials at this point.
McHale and Garnett are closer. They were equally talented in their prime and McHale actually traded Garnett to the Celtics as a general manager, so maybe he should get the nod on that alone. Since McHale was a lifelong Celtic and helped win three titles, we gave the nod to him.
The most pressing question about the Lakers was Abdul-Jabbar or Chamberlain, and Kareem won for two reasons: he beat the Celtics in two Finals and was a more productive player during those Finals. Chamberlain infamously asked out of Game 7 of the 1969 championship series against the Celtics and an angry Butch Van Breda Kolff did not put the big man back in the game. So on this team, he is relegated to the bench.
After further examination, the Celtics’ bench on this fantasy Finals team is a lot deeper than the Lakers’. Not only would you have several members from those storied Celtics teams of the ’60s, the Big Three also could come off the bench, as well as Dennis Johnson and Parish.
There would be little drop-off when Cousy got tired because DJ could spell him. Garnett could be teamed with Russell and nobody would score inside. Pierce and Bird could be an unstoppable 3-4 scoring tandem, and Parish could come off the bench to give Russell a breather.
The Lakers would have to depend on their amazing starting five. The Celtics would be hard-pressed to stop West, Bryant, and Baylor at the same time. In fact, no NBA defense would be capable of containing those three. And Magic Johnson would have little trouble seeing over the defense for entry passes or running the break to give the ball to Bryant for a streaking layup or Baylor for one of his spinning jumpers.
And Russell retired a year before fans could determine whether he could block the sky hook. In the short time an aging Chamberlain played against Abdul-Jabbar, he was unable to do anything besides swipe in vain. While Russell would control the paint, block shots, and get rebounds, Abdul-Jabbar’s size (7 feet 2 inches) and the sky hook would prove to be major issues.
The Lakers would have a thin bench, but Michael Cooper would be an X-factor against Bird or Pierce. At 6-6, he would have the height and length to check Bird, who is two inches taller than Pierce. So both Celtics would have their troubles with Cooper.
The Celtics could go to their ’60s lineup off the bench with Tom Heinsohn and Don Nelson, along with Sam Jones and K.C. Jones to join Cousy, or 1981 Finals MVP Cedric Maxwell could come off the pine to spell Pierce or either Jones.
As for the Lakers, an aging but still effective Bob McAdoo could spell Bryant without a drop in scoring, but he might have trouble on defense, and Jamaal Wilkes could hit long-range jumpers while brushing his teeth, but by the time the Lakers faced the Celtics, he was more of a role player.
Current Lakers Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol would give the older Celtics some trouble with their athleticism and Derek Fisher could spell Magic. DJ’s defense could prevent Fisher from distributing but Fisher’s guile would make the matchup even.
Kurt Rambis and A.C. Green would give the Lakers toughness, but that would be offset by Garnett and Maxwell.
The Lakers likely would win the series if they only needed to play with their starting five. It’s hard to argue against a team of Magic, Kobe, Baylor, West, and Kareem.
But the Celtics would have more depth. Garnett off the bench is a menacing thought and Parish would flourish in limited playing time. Maxwell, the Joneses, Pierce, Ray Allen, Heinsohn, Nelson, and Johnson would be just too tough in a seven-game series.
The series would be close because Bryant and Baylor would have the ability to win games on their own, as would Magic.
But in a Game 7, with both teams exhausted, the Celtics would win with their talented reserves.
Celtics, four games to three.
Gary Washburn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.