Over the course of their successful five year stretch from 2008-2012 the Boston Celtics generated new rivalries while also rekindling old ones. The two NBA Finals with the Los Angeles Lakers, the multiple battles with LeBron James with the Cleveland Caveliers and the Miami Heat. The tough heavy-weight matches with the New York Knicks. The awesome playoff series with the Chicago Bulls.
Rivalries bring new fans to the games. They drive interest. Fans check out what's going on with the teams that the Celtics were competing with for the top spot. It was fun, it was real, and now it's probably over.
So what happens to rivalries when one team becomes superior to another? Sometimes the rivalry simmers, like embers in a fire, ready to be sparked at any minute. Other times, they die out with a splash of water.
Which rivalries will survive this latest Celtics rebuild? Will this feisty team develop a Napoleon complex and take every game seriously, wanting to prove they belong, or wanting to prove they will not be down for too long? Sometimes rivalries take on the narrative of a big brother-little brother story. The Boston Red Sox were the little brother for so long, swinging at the New York Yankees as they stood with their hand on the Red Sox forehead, laughing as the Sox swung in vain to punch them.
All fans have been there. Let's take a look at some of the Celtics rivalries and see if they might last.
1) Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers.
This one is going to be around forever. There is not much debate. The great thing about this rivalry right now is that both teams are seemingly on a downward slide (even if Kobe Bryant disagrees). ESPN forecasted them to both finish 12th in their respective conferences.
So there could be a new element to this rivalry. Who gets back to the top first? When these two teams were great in the 1980's the Lakers won the race to the summit when they only struggled for a small amount of time in the 1990's. Whereas it took the Celtics 22 years between championships. Now, the race might be on again.
A new chapter to this rivalry could be written in the next five years.
With Rajon Rondo still in tow, this seems like it might still exist. But let's be honest. The Heat no longer care about the Celtics. They stopped caring when they beat them in game five of the 2011 playoffs, and then cared a little bit the next year until LeBron transformed his entire career, in Boston, during Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals when the Celtics led 3-2 in the series.
The interesting thing about this rivalry, is it will go with Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to the Brooklyn Nets. Now the Nets are firmly on the Heat radar. The Heat, after two longs seasons, could be ripe for the picking. Wouldn't it be something if the Nets were the ones to take them down?
Would that be a nice moment for Celtics fans? Watching Pierce and Garnett step over the Heat again in the playoffs? It would be fun, but also sad.
This is a funny rivalry because the Celtics and Knicks never reached their peaks as teams in the same era. The Knicks were good in the 70's as the Celtics faltered a bit, then the Celtics were good in the 80's and the Knicks were bad. The past few years have seen some great games between these two teams, both in the regular season and the playoffs.
The Knicks series last year marked the end of this Celtics era, which could lead to some bad blood. There is also the natural New York and Boston hatred that is also festering below any event between the two cities.
This rivalry might be simply gone for a while. Considering the two cities involved, the ember is always there to be sparked again. But for now, this one might need to be put to sleep.
4) Boston Celtics and Chicago Bulls
This one was at it's finest in the playoffs. A series for the ages occurred when these two teams played a 7 game series that had enough basketball for 8 games due to the overtimes that were played. It was a masterpiece of basketball.
This rivalry was fueled by Joakim Noah and Kevin Garnett. Noah had some nasty things to say about Garnett, on multiple occasions. Now with Garnett gone, and Derrick Rose making this team a top team in the east, Celtics fans will have to lay this one to rest for a while.
At least Tom Thibideau is easy to root for, right?
It's safe to say that those teams are the ones that developed the most meaningful rivalries with the Celtics over the past 5 years. The 76ers had a good playoff series, but never really bothered the Celtics all that much. The Hawks were a frequent playoff foe, but were pretty boring opponents.
However, the Celtics may have generated one new rivalry, at least a small one, with the Brooklyn Nets. It will be a rivalry for the fans because no doubt there will be animosity if the Nets break through with Garnett and Pierce playing large roles. There will also be some desire to beat the Nets with this group of cast-offs, some of which come from the Nets (including Courtney Lee from a few years ago).
So while some of the rivalries will not be as strong, and the Celtics will play the annoying little brother that might be a thorn in the side of the bigger teams in the east. The Nets and Celtics will no doubt have some animated games this year.
Maybe the Celtics can create some new rivalries, use their youth and defiance to anger some of the better teams in the east. Maybe the role of spoiler will suit this team nicely as the months of March and April prove possibly meaningless for them, but meaningful for their opponents.
Sometimes, fans and teams just have to make up rivalries in order to continue to care. This team seems capable of that, and that's a good thing.
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