RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
The NBA finals get underway tonight in Boston with the league's most storied teams meeting for the championship for the first time since 1987. The Boston Celtics take on the Los Angeles Lakers, and it's a dream match up for the league, for the TV networks and for the fans. Commentator John Feinstein joins us now. Good morning, John.
JOHN FEINSTEIN: Good morning, Renee.
MONTAGNE: Let's start with the 2008 teams. A year ago, Kobe Bryant was demanding that the Lakers trade him. Now he's the league MVP, and the Lakers are in the finals. What happened?
FEINSTEIN: Well, basically, Kobe grew up a little bit and the Lakers made a couple of key moves that improved the team, specifically when they acquired center Pau Gasol in a steal of a trade from Memphis at mid-season. Also, a couple of their younger players matured and Kobe felt more comfortable around them, and they really became a good defensive team during the course of this season. You ultimately win in the NBA with defense, even though offense gets the headlines. And Kobe, in addition to all the points he scores, is a very good defender. And his match up with Boston's Paul Pierce will be one of the keys to the whole series.
MONTAGNE: Now talk to us about the Celtics' story, which is they're pretty remarkable.
FEINSTEIN: Yeah, it really is. When you look back a year ago, they were pathetic. They had an 18-game losing streak at one point. They were one of the two or three worst teams in the league without question, and general manager Danny Ainge made two huge moves last summer. He acquired Ray Allen from Seattle, and he brought in Kevin Garnett from the Minnesota Timberwolves, a five-for-one trade, and the two of them, along with Pierce, have become one of the best trios basketball has seen in a long time and turned the Celtics completely around. They had the best record in the league this year, won 66 games, and they're in the finals for the first time in 21 years.
MONTAGNE: If the Lakers win, Phil Jackson will win his 10th title as coach, and that would surpass the Celtics' Red Auerbach. John, you were very close to Auerbach. How would he have felt about this match up?
FEINSTEIN: Well, first of all, he would be thrilled that the Celtics are back in the finals after a 21-year absence, and he'd want the focus to be Celtics-Lakers, not Auerbach-Jackson. But he would understand people were bound to ask about that because of the rivalry and because he and Phil Jackson never got along very well. Red always thought that Phil Jackson took too much credit and didn't get enough credit to the players. So there'd be a little extra incentive for him to make sure that the Celtics weren't the team Jackson beat to break his record.
MONTAGNE: Look back and tell us what makes the Celtics versus the Lakers so special - aside, of course, from all the titles they've won.
FEINSTEIN: I think it's all the great players who have been involved in the rivalry, you know, Bob Cousy and Bill Russell and Bill Sharman and Tom Heinson and Wilt Chamberlain and Jerry West and Elgin Baylor back in the '60s, and then in the '80s, those classic Larry Bird versus Magic Johnson finals. So many Hall-of-Famers, so many great names have participated in these series. Most of them seem to go seven games and end dramatically, and people have so many memories of great players on both these teams.
MONTAGNE: And a lot of people seem to be favoring the Lakers. Your thoughts on who's going to win?
FEINSTEIN: Well, I'm going to show a little bias here because of Red and the Celtics. The Celtics have home-court advantage. I think that's a big deal. I think if they can get it to a seventh game, they can win that seventh game in Boston. They've got to make sure, though, to be up 2-0 because the next three games are in Los Angeles after these first two in Boston.
MONTAGNE: John, thanks.
FEINSTEIN: Thanks, Renee.
MONTAGNE: John Feinstein's new book is "Living on the Black: Two Pitchers, Two Teams, One Unforgettable Season."
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