The history is rich between the areas surrounding Boston and Philadelphia. Pick a sport! If you want to talk about the National Football League with the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles, we can do that. That’s been a game that every diehard in midnight green and black has circled on their schedule whenever those two teams meet. How about those Boston Bruins and the Philadelphia Flyers? Do we need to revisit coming back from a three game deficit to eliminate the Bruins with the dominate Tim Thomas in net versus the underdog Flyers? Of this topic, it’s time to center ourselves in the rebirth of the oldest rivalry between Boston and Philadelphia; The Boston Celtics versus The Philadelphia 76ers. If defense and a hard-nosed style of basketball still has its place in the National Basketball Association, then we don’t need to look any further than this rivalry between the Celtics and the Sixers. In many ways, it reminds me of the iconic rivalry in the 1990’s between the Indiana Pacers and the New York Knicks.
In the 1990’s, players like John Starks, Patrick Ewing, and Charles Oakley on the New York Knicks battled in personal, physical play versus Reggie Miller, Rik Smits, and Mark Jackson on the Indiana Pacers. The celebrities were out to party too, with Spike Lee making his own headlines to fuel Miller’s fire against the Knicks. This isn’t far off from the new era rivalry being rekindled here in 2018 and 2019 between the Boston Celtics and the Philadelphia 76ers. On the Celtics you have Kyrie Irving, Terry Rozier, Jayson Tatum, and Al Horford getting into literal shoving matches where fines are being thrown around and technical fouls are being delivered against the Sixers own Jimmy Butler, Ben Simmons, JJ Reddick, and Joel Embiid. If you need the celebrity influence as well, there’s Kylie Jenner. In this comparison, the Celtics are like the Knicks where the win-loss column shows that they have had the number of the Sixers. However, the fans that wear the blue and white are beginning to feel the momentum shift in their favor.
The first great duel in this Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers rivalry was between two NBA icons, Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain. The Celtics were the dominant force, having an eight-year reign as NBA champions during this time. On the path to the Celtics eighth straight NBA championship win, Chamberlain did win the Most Valuable Player award over Russell. The year after the Celtics won their eighth straight NBA championship win, the Sixers had the honor of eliminating the Celtics in the NBA playoffs en route to their first NBA championship. During this time, Chamberlain won three MVP awards, but the Celtics were the dominant team is this era, winning eleven NBA championships out of thirteen straight seasons. Looking at present day with the current win-loss record between the Celtics and the Sixers, it’s clear that the Celtics still know how to play the Sixers. The Sixers seems to show that when healthy, they can beat anyone in the league present day, but the Celtics, even since this Russell and Chamberlain duel, are Philadelphia’s biggest threat.
Another rivalry that truly defines another era in history between the Boston Celtics and the Philadelphia 76ers is the rivalry between Larry Bird and Julius Erving. Larry “Legend” would break the hearts of Sixers fans in true comeback fashion en route to winning yet another NBA championship for the Celtics. It wasn’t until the Sixers also acquired Moses Malone that they would win another NBA championship during this era of the Celtics and Sixers rivalry, sweeping the Los Angeles Lakers for the championship. In this rivalry, there were truly no holds barred. Legitimately, Erving and Bird had a choking match in 1985. The saying goes “more things change, the more they say the same.” I’m talking about you, Marcus Smart.
This now sets the tone. Present day between the Boston Celtics and the Philadelphia 76ers. Most recently, the Sixers got the win by a score of 118-115. That game has been an anxiety attack waiting to happen just like the 2018 playoffs. The only difference between that playoff series and that one game on Wednesday night is that the Sixers were victorious. Joel Embiid has his confidence at an all-time high, stating “I’m the most unstoppable player in the league.” It could be hard to disagree with the center, considering his stat line against a team that the Sixers couldn’t seem to figure out (37 points and 22 rebounds). With the ejection of Marcus Smart, I’m sure some Boston fans are going to say that impacted the loss. My response: that’s on you. We play physical and Smart was dumb, trying to think he could get under Embiid’s skin. Embiid has mind control right now, which is a dangerous weapon.
When it comes down to the playoffs, I hope both teams are healthy and ready to go. I want the Boston Celtics versus the Philadelphia 76ers headline at the TD Garden as well as the Wells Fargo Center. This is the hottest rivalry in the NBA. This is prime-time. The Celtics have depth, sure. The Sixers showed on Wednesday night that they had more heart and more fight. A major difference between the 2018 Sixers and the 2019 Sixers is the addition of Jimmy Butler, who shook Kyrie Irving off in double coverage for the game finishing jumper. You hold that pose, Jimmy “Buckets!” The deciding factor to finally surpass the Celtics is going to come down to the consistency of role players. Joel Embiid needs to consistently win the battle against Al Horford in rebounds. Butler has shown he can be just as clutch as Terry Rozier was in 2018. Philadelphia fans have a case to argue that the Sixers should have beaten the Celtics in the 2018 playoffs, but Ben Simmons had costly turnovers. A year under his belt more secure and wiser, I think the Sixers turn the corner and this 2019 playoffs will be downright entertaining and absolutely more interesting should the Celtics and Sixers meet again in a playoff series.
One of the things that I have missed the most about the NBA is the physical battles between every player, not just superstars, on the court. This makes or breaks what a championship team is. It’s the recipe as to why the Boston Celtics have a legacy of being so dominant. It’s a new era. The rivalry is back on.
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports