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Lakers, Celtics hold NBA Finals reunion

BOSTON - They're like long, lost fraternity brothers who left college with bad haircuts and wearing those thigh-hugging short shorts that were fashionable during the Reagan years. They drifted to opposite coasts and barely kept in touch.

Well, they've reconnected and are getting back together.

The Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers are going to a reunion in a place they both know so well - the NBA finals.

It's about time, huh?

'I feel like a little kid,' said Celtics forward Paul Pierce, who grew up in L.A. and used to sneak into the Lakers' home arena. 'Now I understand that, hey, I'm going to be a part of history. This is something I grew up watching, the Laker-Celtics rivalries.'

Following a separation of 21 years, pro basketball's pillars of power will revive their bitter rivalry starting tonight at TD Banknorth Garden for Game 1 of a best-of-seven series drenched in nostalgia and stuffed with enough history to fill every playground hoop from Springfield to Southern California.

The famed franchises, who have combined to win 30 of 61 championships, are squaring off in the finals for the 11th time and first since 1987. These finals figure to deliver a needed jolt of excitement to the league, which began the 2007-08 season entangled in a gambling probe involving one of its referees and whose signature event has strained to recapture the sporting spotlight since the '80s, when Celtics vs. Lakers, Bird vs. Magic was a rite of spring.

Television ratings are expected to jump dramatically thanks to a finals loaded with juicy storylines: Kobe Bryant's run toward a fourth championship ring - and first without Shaquille O'Neal; Boston's Big Three of Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen shooting for their first ones; and Lakers coach Phil Jackson trying to win his record 10th title, one more than Red Auerbach, the Celtics' late legend whose presence hovers over the team like smoke from one of his victory cigars.

SideBar: NBA Finals

Celtics vs. Lakers

(Best-of-7)

· Today: L.A. Lakers at Boston, 9 p.m.

· Sunday, June 8: L.A. Lakers at Boston, 9 p.m.

· Tuesday, June 10: Boston at L.A. Lakers, 9 p.m.

· Thursday, June 12: Boston at L.A. Lakers, 9 p.m.

· Sunday, June 15: Boston at L.A. Lakers, 9 p.m., if necessary

· Tuesday, June 17: L.A. Lakers at Boston, 9 p.m., if necessary

· Thursday, June 19: L.A. Lakers at Boston, 9 p.m., if necessary