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Last stand for Lakers-Celtics?

BOSTON — It's the best of times and the worst of times, one more time.

If the Lakers-Celtics wars of the 1980s seem as far removed as the Pleistocene Era, the teams are once more at each others' throats as if it's the last time, which it may be.

In the salary cap era, it's hard to get any two teams to the NBA Finals.

It does help if one has Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum.

It's not clear what the odds are with Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce, ages 34, 34 and 32, respectively.

Before this spring's miracle, it didn't look like they'd get another chance. If the Warriors had felt like moving problematic Monta Ellis at the trade deadline, Allen already would be gone.

Of all the feats in the Celtics' storied history, putting Humpty Dumpty back together in mid-May ranks with the greatest of all — their last title with Bill Russell in 1969.

The Celtics had just finished No. 4 in the East, which had only seven teams.

They were nine games behind Baltimore with MVP and Rookie of the Year Wes Unseld, seven behind Philadelphia, six behind New York with young Willis Reed and Walt Frazier (and, further down the roster, Phil Jackson.)

In a much-derided survival mechanism, eight of the 14 NBA's teams made the playoffs — the only reason the Celtics were even in.

Russell and Sam Jones were 35, Bailey Howell 32 and Satch Sanders 30. Point guard Emmett Bryant, 30, played 13 minutes a game the season before in New York.

They then went all the way, beating the Wilt Chamberlain-Jerry West-Elgin Baylor Lakers in Game 7 at the Forum.

If no one mentions it now, two more Celtics wins and Lakers fans will have to go into hiding to stop hearing about Jack Kent Cooke's balloons, Don Nelson's shot, Wilt taking himself out and Butch van Breda Kolff refusing to put him back in.

Just in case you Lakers fans want to know what's riding on this.

By 1987, the last of the teams' three Finals in the decade, the Lakers were the better team.

This is more like 1984 and 1985, when the Celtics kept it dead even by outsmarting or outgutting the Lakers.

Cut to Thursday's Game 4, which was like a wildcat jumping into a chicken coop, with feathers flying everywhere.

With the 2008 Big Three that averaged 60 points in the Finals but is now at 46, the Celtics would be better.

With the Andrew Bynum of March, 2010, the Lakers would be better.

Since the 2008 Big Three or March 2010 Bynum aren't available, whoever gets closest to what they were wins.

Intense as this series has been with elbows coming up and officials back to letting them play, with two fan bases that live to hate each other, it has been veritably amiable.

Phil Jackson, who figured to have fans in the streets with torches and pitchforks by now, sat through Doc Rivers' complaints about the referees and Game 4's Rasheed Wallace-Nate Robinson-Glen Davis circus and emerged for Friday's media session smiling beatifically.

Jackson zinged some players, but they were his, like Lamar Odom, who, he said, looked like he was going to "sit out" Game 4.

Asked about how to fire Lamar up, Jackson said, "I was thinking of an electrode."

Then there was the possibility of using physical D.J. Mbenga.

"Sure, if his head's into it," Jackson said.

You mean, it isn't always?

"Sometimes a guy hasn't played in a while and you'll look in there and it may be kind of vacant in there," Jackson said.

Not that any force on Earth could keep everyone else from losing their heads.

For a fan's perspective, we have ESPN's Bill Simmons, who predicted the first-round demise of his Celtics ("a decrepit, non-rebounding, poorly coached, dispirited, excuse-making, washed-up sham.")

Three rounds later, born again as a die-hard fan, Simmons big-footed himself a second-row seat with the press corps 20 rows back, insisting he needed it to do his job, which consisted entirely of posting precious comments during games.

Maybe the Wi-Fi reception is better in the second row.

With his great view, Simmons railed about the Celtics' Game 3 loss, citing fixer Tim Donaghy's warning that games could be fixed and ripping (heavenly music) Patriots quarterback Tom Brady for joking with Kobe Bryant afterward.

It's not just Simmons or Boston fans, but all fans.

It's why they — OK, we — are fans: to express emotions you'd be ashamed of in any other context.

Our little surrogate wars rarely get any better than this, so enjoy.

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