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The Celtics–76ers rivalry is a rivalry between the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers. The two teams have the most meetings in the NBA Playoffs, playing each other in 19 series with the Celtics winning 12 of them. The Sixers are considered to be the Celtics' second greatest rival to the Los Angeles Lakers.
Before the Celtics–76ers rivalry, the Celtics were rivals with the Philadelphia Warriors when both teams were in the Eastern Division. The Warriors drafted Wilt Chamberlain in 1959 and shortly thereafter was considered one of the best inside scorers in the NBA. The main storyline of the Celtics-Warriors matchups centered around Chamberlain versus Bill Russell, who was one of the most dominant defensive forces in the NBA at the time. Even when Chamberlain had statistically imposing games, Russell's Celtics beat the Warriors in the Eastern Division Finals in 1960 and 1962 in 6 and 7 respectively. After the 1962 season, the Warriors moved to San Francisco, but the rivalry stayed alive as both teams met in the 1964 NBA Finals. The Celtics won the series in 5, and the rivalry died soon after.
In the 1964 season, the Syracuse Nationals moved and became the Philadelphia 76ers. Shortly after the All-Star break in 1965, the Sixers acquired Chamberlain from the Warriors, which sparked the old rivalry between Boston and Philadelphia. That post season, the Celtics and Sixers met in the Eastern Division Finals with a trip to the NBA Finals on the line. The series went the distance, with Game 7 being held at Boston Garden. With 5 seconds left and Boston leading 110-109, Russell tried to inbound the ball when it hit a guy wire that supported the backboard, which resulted in a turnover. However, the Sixers failed to capitalize when Celtics forward John Havlicek deflected the inbound pass to Sam Jones, who ran out the clock. The Celtics advanced to the NBA Finals and defeated the Los Angeles Lakers in 5 for their seventh straight title.
In the 1967 season, the Sixers won a then NBA record 68 games to go along with only 13 losses. The Sixers met the Celtics, who were 60-21, in the Eastern Division Finals. However this time around, the Sixers overpowered Boston, beating them in 5 and advancing to the NBA Finals. They won the NBA Championship by beating the San Francisco Warriors in 6, giving the Sixers and Chamberlain their first title.
The Sixers slumped until acquiring Julius Erving before the 1977 season. They became a contender in the East, but Boston shortly joined them. In 1978, they drafted Indiana State forward Larry Bird. Bird joined the team for the 1980 season and the Celtics took off, advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals that season to face the Sixers. The Sixers beat Boston in 5, but failed to win the title against the Lakers.
The Celtics beat the 76ers in 1981 4-3 while on the way to their first title in 5 years. It wasn't easy, as they were down 3-1 to the Sixers before winning the last 3, similar to their 1968 comeback. Boston attempted to come back from a similar predicament in 1982; however, Philadelphia had the last laugh, winning Game 7. In that finale, as Boston fans saw their team losing, they congratulated the Sixers by shouting the now-famous "Beat L.A." chant as the Sixers were about to face the well-rested Lakers. Sixers star Darryl Dawkins told a reporter, "Man, when I heard that, my dick got stiff." In the end, however, the weary Sixers couldn't keep up, losing to the Lakers in the Finals.
The next season, the Sixers picked up MVP Moses Malone from the Houston Rockets. Malone repeated as the MVP and lead the 76ers to an NBA Championship in a 4-game sweep against the Lakers. With the Bucks sweeping Boston, it made the Sixers' title run much easier. However, it was the last title for Philadelphia until the Phillies won the 2008 World Series.
The "highlight" of this era of the rivalry was a 1983 exhibition game that featured 3 separate fights- Moses Malone/Cedric Maxwell, Larry Bird/Marc Iavaroni, and Gerald Henderson/Sedale Threatt. During Bird/Iavaroni, Bird ripped 76ers coach Billy Cunningham's sportsjacket in half. The fight was reaching a peak when 66-year-old Red Auerbach came down from the stands to restore order. Witnesses report him calling Malone a "big schvatzer." There was also a memorable 1985 choking match between Bird and Erving.
Since 1984, the only times the two teams met in the playoffs were in 1985, 2002, and 2012. The 1985 series was the Sixers' last conference final until 2001, losing to Boston in five. Game 5 saw Larry Bird pick off Andrew Toney then dribble up court to preserve the Celtics' victory, reminiscent of John Havlicek's series-clinching steal in 1965. In 2002, the Celtics, in their first appearance since 1995, won the first round meeting 3–2. That series featured the scoring exploits of Allen Iverson and Paul Pierce.
The two teams met again in the 2012 Eastern Conference Semifinals, which the Celtics won 4-3.
The Boston Strangler
Boston sportswriters dubbed Sixers' shooting guard Andrew Toney The Boston Strangler because of his ability to take control of games against the Celtics. He is remembered for scoring 25 points against Boston in the fourth quarter on March 21, 1982, at the Philadelphia Spectrum. It is still the Sixers' team record for most points scored in a quarter.
- "NBA: Most frequent playoff matchups". McCubed.net.
- "NBA's Best Rivalries". Sports Illustrated.
- Viser, Matt (June 1, 2008). "Region revs up for an East-West rivalry reborn". Boston Globe. p. A1. Archived from the original on February 4, 2011. "The intensity of the rivalry was encapsulated in the 1982 Eastern Conference Finals. The winners were to face the Lakers, and after it became clear the Celtics were going to lose to the Philadelphia 76ers, the Garden crowd erupted into chants of, 'Beat L.A.!'"
- Kerby, Trey (June 3, 2010). "Everything you could possibly want to know about the NBA Finals". Yahoo! Sports. Archived from the original on February 4, 2011. "But that's not when the chant took off in Boston. It actually started as a chant supporting the Philadelphia 76ers."
- Sheridan, Phil (October 30, 2008). "WORLD CHAMPS!; 28 years later, Phillies again are baseball's best". Philadeplhia Inquirer. p. A1. "After 25 years of drought...Philadelphia has its championship...the Phillies really are World Series champions."
- Lazenby, Roland (2000). "18. NBA Season in Review". The Official NBA Encyclopedia.