One of the greatest rivalries in NBA history is the Boston Celtics and the Philadelphia 76ers, and these two teams could be on another collision course to face off again in the first round of the NBA Playoffs. The rivalry dates way back before the most recent years of trash talk and headline match ups. It is built on a competitive history and numerous All-Stars that have battled each other in almost every generation of the NBA.
The first major battles between these two teams were back in the mid to late ‘60s when Bill Russell faced off against Wilt Chamberlain in numerous playoff match ups. It was these two superstars that dominated the Eastern Conference for much of this era.
Fast forwarding a bit to the early ‘80s, it was the contests between Larry Bird and “Dr.” Julius Erving that stole the show in the Eastern Conference. Before getting to the Lakers in many of these playoffs, the Celtics had to first take down their divisional neighbors, the 76ers. There were a few more recent playoff moments that divided these two teams and fan bases even more with the Big 3 getting tested by the Andre Igudola and Jrue Holiday-led roster. All these years of history have built to the present day match up between these two teams. Both teams are young and hungry to dominate a conference that is up for the taking.
Over the past few seasons, the groundwork was laid for these two teams to go back and forth, however, the team’s head-to-head record was just not there. Before this season, the Celtics were 21-4 in their last 25 games against the 76ers, including the playoffs. No matter how you look at it (or what people say on Twitter), that is just not enough for a heated rivalry. Even Joel Embiid himself was quoted after the 2018 opener saying, “it’s not a rivalry. ... they always kick our ass.”
Then, in the off-season of 2019, Al Horford chose to sign with the 76ers over the Celtics which was a tough blow to Boston after his great four years with the team. With this move and other complimentary transactions, the head-to-head record this season swung back in Philadelphia’s direction. The 76ers won three of the four regular season games. It will bring some juice back to this series especially if these two teams look to have a seven-game series in the near future. The big question going into these playoffs is how Boston will look to turn around their season outcomes if they do in fact meet the Sixers in the playoffs.
Many articles have been written about these games this season, but the biggest takeaway from each of them has been the dominance of Joel Embiid. He lives for a match up against the Celtics, especially in Boston. Embiid knows he is a huge thorn in the side of the Celtics and will be a staple of this rivalry over the next few years. Brad Stevens has yet to find a consistent plan for Embiid outside of some instances with Aron Baynes from last season. Embiid is such a force on the court that is very hard to match in today’s NBA.
Putting his play on the court aside, Embiid also is the type to ignite a rivalry back up. He knows how to get under the skin of a fan base to make him a hated figure in Boston. He is young and there to stay which will pair perfectly next to the Celtics’ young core of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. The development of these three players, plus Ben Simmons for Philly, will be a cornerstone of this league.
At the end of the day, the NBA needs this rivalry to evolve back into something substantial. The Boston and Philadelphia markets are two of the largest markets for the league and also two of the most passionate. With the Sixers finally competing again in the series, the Celtics will have to find a way to thwart this new look team and especially Joel Embiid. The Celtics and 76ers are here to stay and it will be fascinating to see if anyone can rise up to another level in the Eastern Conference over the next few years.