The next will be the first.
And if there is indeed to be a first, the Celtics aim to make it the last.
The law of averages seems to suggest that the see-saw should come slowly back toward earth one of these (late) nights. After all, the last time the Celtics swept an NBA Finals, it was 49 years ago, in 1959 when they beat the Lakers, who then happened to call Minneapolis home.
There have only been four sweeps in the past 23 years, most recently the Spursí four-game demolition of the Cavaliers last June, and with Bostonís 2-7 playoff mark away from the Garden this spring, reality seems to suggest the Lakers are going to take either Game 3 or 4. Maybe both.
Still, if Los Angeles is going to hop back in this thing, it is going to have to do something it has now failed to do both in the playoffs and the regular season: Beat Boston.
The Lakersí last win over the Celtics came on Feb. 23, 2007, when Bostonís basketball team still had aspirations of a No. 1 draft pick and an NBA title five or six years down the road. Boston handled the pre-Pau Gasol Lakers handily in their two regular season meetings, which had everybody eager to witness what sort of difference the discount pickup meant head-to-head in the Finals.
While Gasol has been his teamís most consistent shooter from the floor (.609 field goal percentage), heís hardly been a difference-maker, something the Lakers desperately need and will turn to Kobe Bryant for this evening. After a 10-point win in Game 1, and a shoulda-been-a-lot-more-comfy 6-point victory in Game 2, the Celtics hope to survive a Game 3 tonight, when a growing number assume the Lakers will get the hometown calls, if only to shut up their coach, players, and adoring media over the discrepancy of foul shots.
The fact that Bryant has the lowest percentage from the field of LAís starting five wouldnít have anything to do with it. Itís the refs, right?
For the Lakers to deny Boston its first NBA title in 22 years, they will have to beat the Celtics four times over the next five games. For a team that has lost all four meetings against the East Coast rivals by a total of 48 points, an aggregate that could be far worse had LA not made its nearly-historic comeback Sunday night, it seems a monumental hurdle. Then, we recall the 2004 ALCS in these parts, and have no choice but to tell the duck boats to leave the keys out of the ignition. For now.
Worst-case, the Celtics morph back into the team that looked helpless on the road in the first two rounds of these playoffs and drop all three at the Staples Center. Best-case, they wrap it all up on Thursday.
That would make it the sixth straight title won on turf away from Boston. The 1986 Celtics were the last team to light up cigars in our backyard. The Patriots, obviously, have never done it. The Bruins last paraded Lord Stanley around the old Garden ice in 1970. The Red Sox have swept in Denver and St. Louis, but have yet to give Fenway Park a World Series celebration, something the place hasnít seen since 1918 before 15,238(!).
Obviously, Celtics fans (not to mention the Boston police) would put off another hometown celebration in lieu of banner No. 17. But how do we look at this thing now in order to uselessly make adjusted series predictions? Do we have confidence in a Celtics team that has beaten the Lakers four straight times since the 2007-08 season tipped off, or general fear in the team that started the 2008 playoffs 0-6 on the road? Do we point to the 2-1 road mark against Detroit as a beacon that those concerns are long past, way back when we were all concerned about Ray Allen?
Was Sundayís fourth quarter possibly the best thing to happen to these Celtics? Will it serve as Exhibit A as to why the team canít rest until the job is completed, two-game or 24-point lead be damned?
The last team to come back from an 0-2 hole in the playoffs was the Miami Heat in 2006. The 1969 Celtics and 1977 Portland Trail Blazers are the only other teams in NBA history to overcome a two-game deficit. Find confidence in that if you will, but again, 0-3, 19-8, Tom Gordon, etc.
Still, until the Lakers prove they can beat the Celtics, which they have yet to do convincingly yet this series aside from a late-game stretch on Sunday, Thursday night remains a reality for Boston. Unless LA finally breaks the streak tonight.
If they do, can they then do it three more times over four games, two of them at home, two of them back in Boston?
With all due respect to 2004 and Cinderella stories everywhere, you might want to set aside one of your lunch hours next week. Boylston St. could be busy.