Defending champions Los Angeles Lakers and rival Boston Celtics were eliminated in the first round of the 2021 NBA Playoffs, below expectations. These two legendary teams, whose rivalry dates back to the late 1950s, are the most successful franchises in NBA history. The Lakers and Celtics are tied for most NBA championships with 17 apiece. Unfortunately, we won’t see them again until October, once the next season has started.
Both teams had to go very far in the playoffs, even the NBA Finals. For the Lakers, despite their No.7 ranking, they were identified as the big favorites to repeat and win the franchise’s 18th championship banner. However, they were knocked out by the Phoenix Suns behind the heroism of Devon Booker and point god Chris Paul. This is a historic upheaval for a team that hasn’t made the playoffs in the past 10 years.
Of course, injuries played a role in the Lakers’ loss. Anthony Davis essentially missed three games against the Suns while LeBron James was not at full strength, recovering from a sprained ankle. During the regular season, Davis missed half of the shortened 72-game schedule while James missed 27 games. This put the Lakers in a low ranking, ensuring they would face a top team in the first round.
The biggest question on everyone’s mind: is this the start of LeBron James’ demise? This playoff loss marks the first time James has come out in the first round of a series. He was also not as usual against the Suns, visibly slowed down by his injuries, unable to penetrate at will. James turns 37 in December and faces an enemy no athlete can defeat: Father Time.
James remained dominant even at this point in his career. In the regular season, he still produced All-Star numbers every game night (25 points, 7.7 assists and 7.8 rebounds). As he slows down he’s still in the elite and I plan on spending a few more All-Star years before he finally hangs up his sneakers.
The Lakers are at a crossroads. They can’t count on James much anymore and they also have to think about having Davis as a successor given his injury history. The Lakers will need to support the players around these two superstars to keep them from wear and tear so they can stay healthy going into the playoffs.
In the East, Danny Ainge’s reign came to an end after 18 years at the helm in Boston. He will be replaced by head coach Brad Stevens as president of basketball operations. Under Ainge’s tenure, he assembled teams that won two Eastern Conference titles and one NBA championship.
In recent years, there have been calls to replace the Celtics’ management team as the team couldn’t get over the bump despite collecting the talent needed for the No18 banner. The Celtics participated in the conference finals three out of the previous four playoffs but never reached the NBA Finals.
Stevens has the unenviable task of finding his own replacement. This new head coach must have the immediate respect of the team since he or she has two All-Stars who want to come back to win titles. The coach also needs to have a vision and style that closely matches Stevens for the partnership to work.
Like the Lakers, the Celtics need to reinvigorate themselves to find their way back to victory. This offseason will be really crucial for both teams as they will find ways, with their limited overhead space, to continue their rich legacy.