One more day. In under 24 hours, the Philadelphia 76ers will square off against the Boston Celtics at the 02 Arena in London. A rivalry that spans decades and has seen more rollercoaster moments than a theme park, the heat has been somewhat lacking from the matchup in recent years. Expect that to change. Fast.
Once the NBA’s most intense rivalry now sits as a mere grudge match. The two teams have the most clashes in the NBA playoffs with 19 total showdowns between the two. There will be many more in the years to come. Gone are the days of Dr.J vs. Larry Bird, or Wilt Chamberlin and Bill Russell. A new rivalry beckons.
No more process. No more Isaiah Thomas running rampant while the Sixers are left scratching their heads. These two teams have the potential to become the Kings of the Eastern Conference in just a matter of season’s. Boston may not have gone through a complete rebuild, but some interior decorating sees a team that has won both matchups against Philly so far this year, look more dangerous than ever. Celtics Head Coach Brad Stevens talked openly about the Sixers and the similarities between the two budding powerhouses.
“When you get experience from those guys, they’re gonna get better and better.” Stevens responded when asked about what he’s seen from the Sixers this season. “Simmons looks more and more comfortable every time he plays. I think his ability to put pressure on the defense, scoring the ball, is going to get better and better. Obviously Embiid didn’t play against us the second time, played against us the first but he’s just had games that make you shake your head.”
Stars. That’s the difference. The Sixers are now loaded with young, generational talent who have been surrounded by veterans. Something Coach Stevens was quick to point out.
“One of the best things they did was surround those guys with really good veteran players. When you look at what Redick’s doing, Amir’s positive impact and how Covington’s growing into his role and Bayless and how he’s playing, these guys are good players. Like in our situation, those guys alleviate some of the pressure off of the younger guys so they can just be them.”
One of those stars for Boston, just so happens to be Kyrie Irving. There’s an old adage in sports, ‘real recognize real’. Irving was smothered by the media earlier today, but when I asked him what has changed in this Sixers team, his response was surprising.
“I would just say the flow. Of course Brett Brown does a great job of getting those guys ready.” Irving said. “Their pieces are coming back and they’re really forming a team that they want to have for the future. I’m pretty sure the guys behind the scenes are trying to make moves at the trade deadline or free agency. Going against a young team like this that’s developing and will be great for years to come? We’re just excited to go up against a team like that.”
Great for years to come.
This rivalry will also be something that’s great for years to come. The Sixers have a score to settle in London. With Embiid back healthy, it’s a level playing field on a neutral court. A win against the current Eastern Conference kingpins would go a long way in igniting a playoff push of their own…and fueling a rivalry that has been waiting to be re-awoken with some more magical moments.
. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports