The Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics are about to step onto the hardwood for the 19th time in NBA playoff history. That’s more than any other two teams have met in the postseason, for a rivalry that once stood on par with the Los Angeles Lakers vs. Celtics.
Here's a quick history lesson, in 1963 the Syracuse Nationals moved into town and became the Philadelphia 76ers after the Philadelphia Warriors had moved to San Francisco the year before. In 1965, they acquired Wilt Chamberlain from those same Warriors and over the next five seasons they would end up playing the Celtics in the playoffs every year. The Sixers were only victorious in one of those series, but the foundation for a classic rivalry had been laid.
The '70s brought on a bit of a lull in the matchup, aside from 1977 when the Sixers landed Julius Erving and beat the Celtics on the way to an NBA Finals appearance, but things heated up again in the '80s after Boston drafted Larry Bird.
The two squads would meet up four times over the next six years with each team winning two series. The rivalry had been taken to the next level, with a number of fantastic games and even several fights between Dr. J, Bird and others.
But following that great run of series that really cemented the Sixers vs. Celtics rivalry, the postseason matchup has all but disappeared. Sure, Allen Iverson and Paul Pierce did meet up once in the 2002 playoffs, but beyond that, this once great series is in need of a serious reboot.
This brings us to 2012, where the two teams are set to add another chapter to their storied rivalry. While the matchup might not be as marquee as it once was, I still think there is some real intrigue to the series.
The young Sixers, who started out the season on a tear and with a record of 20-9, had people talking about them being a real contender. However, they followed that up by going 9-18, a streak that included 20-point loses to the Washington Wizards and Toronto Raptors.
On the verge of somehow missing the playoffs, Philadelphia managed to win four of their last five games and sneak in as the eighth seed. The prospects of making any sort of postseason run were slim, but injuries to both Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, gave them an opportunity and to their credit, they’ve taken advantage of it.
Then there is the veteran Celtics, who found themselves with a 15-17 record early in the season and on the verge of breaking up the Big Four of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo. But the team found its stride and went on a 20-8 run to capture the Atlantic Division and put them in a position to possibly make one last run at another championship.
As a 76ers fan, I’m looking for this team to get out in transition and try to run the Celtics into exhaustion. Create turnovers, make quick outlet passes and push the ball up the floor to try to take advantage of the young legs that they have. It’s a tough thing to get done in the playoffs and Boston will do everything it can to slow things down and make this a half-court game, which is where they really excel.
On the defensive end, I know the Sixers often struggle against premier point guards and Rondo is one of the best in the league, but he’s not a good jump-shooter so whether it’s Jrue Holiday or Evan Turner guarding him, they need to stop him from driving to the hoop first and foremost.
Both Andre Iguodala and Thaddeus Young defend Pierce pretty well, so the Sixers' biggest concern will probably be stopping Garnett, which won’t be easy. Look for Boston to run pick-and-rolls all day with Rondo and Garnett. Philly will need the likes of Elton Brand and Spencer Hawes to step out and get a hand in Garnett’s face or he’ll mid-range jumper them to death.
As far as predictions go—D’oh!!! You can call me a homer, I’ve got the Sixers winning in six.