The long wait is almost over as the Celtics and Lakers get ready to start their best of seven NBA Championship series tonight at the Garden. The game will be on ABC at 9:00pm.

Bob Hohler has a piece on the front page of the Globe about the Celtics/Lakers rivalry through the years and how it is being stirred again with this series. Eric McHugh says that Celtics/Lakers is a championship rivalry like none other. Steve Bulpett says that this series is about validation for Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. Bill Reynolds says that Boston-Los Angeles isn’t as much of a culture clash as it used to be, but Lakers/Celtics is as timeless as ever. Paul Doyle says that Pierce and Kobe stayed put last offseason, and are now being rewarded for it.

Bob Ryan looks at how Danny Ainge built this team and instigated the single largest one-season turnaround in NBA history. Lenny Megliola has Celtic Price being resurrected. Mike Fine says that the Celtics are back where they belong. Tony Massarotti says that the Celtics individual stars have combined into a focused team. Scott Souza says that the time has come for this version of the Big Three. Tim Weisberg says that the supporting casts will also be huge in this series.

Dan Shaughnessy has a feature on Paul Pierce and how much he has grown and matured, to the point that he is the captain of a 66 win team set to play for the NBA championship. Bill Doyle says that the opportunity that he has always longed for is finally here for Pierce. Meanwhile, Steve Buckley hangs out with Sam Cassell, who already has two championship rings. Jim Fenton has the Big Three looking for four more wins. Howe has the Celtics talking highly of Rajon Rondo.

Mark Murphy says that the Celtics defense against the high scoring Lakers is the key to the series. Marc J. Spears examines how the Celtics will likely try to defend Kobe. Tim Weisberg has more on the Celtics plan to slow down Kobe. Fine says that Ray Allen will draw the first assignment against Kobe. Fenton says that the Celtics will merely being trying to throw Kobe off a little bit. Jeff Howe says that the defensive mix on Bryant will include Pierce, Posey and both Allens.

Mike Szostak says that the Celtics will beat the Lakers, and outlines how it will happen. Bill Burt gives you 10 reasons why the Celtics will win this series. Murphy goes through The Matchups in this series, and things are looking pretty even at the start. However, I don’t know if even I’m enough of a homer to call the matchup between 9-time NBA Championship coach Phil Jackson and Doc Rivers “Even”. Steve Bulpett also presents Five keys for the Celtics. In the Metro, Jeff Howe also goes through the matchups.

Over in the Metro, I’m feeling some déjà vu as this is series is Flashback 1984.

Jenn Abelson has ticket prices and sponsorships rising for the Celtics as they reap the rewards of their success this season. Curt Brown has Celtics fans ready for their time in the spotlight. Liz Hoffman says that Boston’s Irish population has long supported the Celtics.

The Globe notebook says that Kevin Garnett is likely to be pumped and jacked at the start of his first NBA finals. Murphy’s notebook has Lakers assistant Brian Shaw remembering former teammate Reggie Lewis. Doyle’s notebook has Phil Jackson seeing Red Auerbach’s hand in the building of this Celtics squad. Souza’s notebook has James Posey and Cassell counseling their teammates on NBA Finals play.

Lakers

Shira Springer has Kobe Bryant back in his comfort zone with the Lakers, seeking to lead them back to the championship. Steve Conroy says that Kobe is finally all grown up. Kevin McNamara says that this has been a season to remember for Kobe. Rich Garven looks at the transformation of Kobe into a team player. Fenton has Bryant on a solo mission, hoping to prove he can win without Shaquille O’Neal.

Ryan also looks at how Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak built his club.

Monique Walker’s notebook has former Celtic Brian Shaw, now a Lakers assistant, talking about both sides of the rivalry. Conroy’s notebook revisits the steal of a deal that brought Pau Gasol to the Lakers. McNamara’s notebook has Lamar Odom remembering his one season in Rhode Island. The Telegram notebook has the Walton family divided about this series. Burt’s notebook has Luke Walton growing up a Bird fan in the Lakers/Celtics matchups. Fine’s notebook has this series as a homecoming for Walton.

Other

The Red Sox climbed back into first place with their 5-1 win over the Tampa Bay Rays at Fenway Park last night. Check the stories at RedSoxLinks.com

In the Globe, Shelley Murphy and John R. Ellement have a follow-up to yesterday’s story on Patriots’ offensive lineman Nick Kaczur, with the defense attorney criticizing Kaczur for aiding Federal agents in turning in his client.

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