The Boston Celtics will engage in a rare occasion in today’s NBA; playing a home-and-away series this weekend. In years past, such occurrences happened more often as travel was less common and regional rivalries dominated the league.
Looking back at the Celtics – 76ers rivalry there have been many great moments that come to mind as this weekend’s series approaches. At one time, these two teams were bitter and heated rivals; with each team standing in the way of the other of a championship. Throughout their history, Boston and Philadelphia have planed 413 times in the regular season; with the Celtics possess a 237-176 record against their rival. In the postseason, the Celtics own a 51-41 playoff record against the 76ers; winning 12 of the 19 series they played against each other.
Beginning in 1964; when the Syracuse Nationals became the Philadelphia 76ers until today, there have been many great moments between these two teams.
1965 Eastern Conference Finals
The series that will forever be known for the Game 7 heroics of John Havlicek; stealing the inbound pass from Hal Greer to secure the victory, what is lost in the highlights is the fact that this seven-game series resulted in six of those games decided by less than 10 points; including a thrilling 134-131 overtime victory by the 76ers.
1967 Eastern Conference Finals
After suffering defeat to the Celtics in consecutive years the playoffs, the 76ers ended Boston’s eight straight NBA title reign; handing the Celtics a rare playoff exit. The 76ers were a true juggernaut that season; starting their campaign winning 46 out of their first 50 games en route to a 68-13 record. The 68 wins would set a league record that would last until 1996 when the Michael Jordan led Bulls won a now record 72 games.
Unlike the year prior, the 76ers were led by the multi-faceted game of Wilt Chamberlain, who sacrificed scoring for the ultimate team goal.
The 1966-67 season would be the last true competitive contests between these two rivalries; with the teams failing to meet in the playoffs from 1970-1977. While the Celtics would win titles in 1974 and 1976, the 76ers would defeat Boston in 1977 in another seven game series before falling to the eventual NBA champion Portland Trailblazers.
The 1976-77 season would see the introduction of Julius Erving from the then defunct ABA. His arrival and the transition of Boston’s basketball eras from Dave Cowens to Larry Bird in 1979 would signal the reigniting of the rivalry for several more years.
1981 Eastern Conference Finals
In what is considered by many to be the best playoff series ever played, the Boston Celtics overcame a 3-1 series deficit to defeat the 76ers in seven games.
With the exception of a rout in Game 2, every game of this series was a tight affair that would ultimately be decided in the waning minutes of play. While Julius Erving was the team’s leader, it would be the performance of Andrew Toney, soon to be named “The Boston Strangler” because of his elevated performance against the Celtics.
Unfortunately for the 76ers, the Celtics rode the efforts of Larry Bird, Robert Parish, Tiny Archibald and Cedric Maxwell on their way to the team’s 14th NBA title.
1982 Eastern Conference Finals
The rematch between these two conference powers would begin much like the season before; with the 76ers getting out to a 3-1 series lead. Unlike the year prior when the Celtics proved capable of overcoming the 76ers; in this event, the Celtics ran out of steam and fell to the Sixers in Game 7.
The quintessential moment of this series was the surprising behavior of Celtics’ fans; who echoed the chant “Beat LA” referring to the Celtics west coast rival Los Angeles Lakers. Much to both Philadelphia and Boston fans, the 76ers proved to be unable to overcome the Lakers.
1983 Exhibition Season
How could an exhibition game be considered a quintessential moment in the rivalry? Well, after years of battling each other for conference supremacy, the 76ers made a wholesale change to their roster; adding Moses Malone in a successful effort to take the final step in their long-desired title quest.
In a preseason game between the two teams, three separate fights broke out between Moses Malone and Cedric Maxwell, Larry Bird and Marc Iavaroni, and Gerald Henderson and Sedale Threatt. The fights reached such a fever pitch that 76ers coach Billy Cunningham had his jacket torn and Celtics general manager Red Aurebach would charge the floor to confront the 76ers.
In addition to the memorable “choking match” fight between Larry Bird and Julius Erving, the season would result in the final playoff matchup between the two teams for 17 years. The defending champion Celtics would win this series in five games on their way to an unsuccessful finals rematch against the Lakers.
In 2002 and again in 2012, the Celtics and 76ers would meet in the playoffs, with the Celtics victorious in both instances. In last season’s seven game series, the Celtics and 76ers would alternate victories much like they had in seasons’ past; with the Celtics leveraging home court advantage and securing the series win.
While the past 30 years have not generated the high intensity confrontations between these long-standing division foes, last season’s playoff matchup and both teams maintaining a level of conference competitiveness makes this weekend’s series a must watch; to see whether the glimmer of the old rivalry spark from last year can once again ignite into a raging inferno. As a long-time fan of great NBA rivalries, I am hopeful that the prior fire still burns.
Scott Duhaime is a passionate fan of the Boston Celtics and avid follower of the NBA for over 30 years; witnessing five of Boston’s 17 championships. His professional career includes a solid foundation of analytics that contributes to a better appreciation of player and team contributions.
Follow Scott on Twitter: @scott_duhaime
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