NBA Playoffs: History of the Philly vs. Boston Rivalry

Professor BushCorrespondent IIIMay 12, 2012

NBA Playoffs: History of the Philly vs. Boston Rivalry

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    The Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics will resume one of sports' long-standing rivalries when they start their playoff series this weekend.

    When the Celtics were winning their eight straight titles in the 1960s, they defeated Philly in the playoffs in six of those years. Those losses were made worse for Sixers' fans when they had to watch Red Auerbach light up his cigar after the Celtics had secured a key victory.

    Despite his scoring records, dominance of the game and rule-changes made to equalize his power and size, Wilt Chamberlain toiled for years in the shadow of Bill Russell when it came to this team rivalry.

    And it was only fitting that it was the Sixers who eventually ended the Celtics' string of championships.

    Let's take a look back at some of the memorable moments of this rivalry.

1965: Havlicek Stole the Ball !

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    In 1965 it looked like the Sixers would finally end the Celtics' string of titles. Their playoff series came down to Game 7 in the Boston Garden. The Sixers had cut the Celtics' lead to a point with five seconds left in the game. When Russell went to inbound the ball, he hit one of the wires that were used back then to hold the baskets in place. This was a violation, so the Sixers got the ball under their own basket with just enough time to score and win the game. 

    Hal Greer would throw the ball in. His first target was Chamberlain for a lob and dunk. But Russell, as he always seemed to do, thwarted Chamberlain by getting himself between Greer and Chamberlain and cut off that option. Then Greer saw Chet Walker break open just above the key. Or at least he thought he did.

    John Havlicek let Walker get open momentarily and then just as Greer went to throw the ball, he stepped in front of Walker and stole the ball. He knocked the ball to K. C. Jones, who dribbled away the remaining time. And the Sixers had lost to the Celtics again.

    The call "Havlicek Stole the Ball" by Johnny Most haunted Philly fans for years, maybe even more than the Bill Buckner call haunted Boston fans. 

1967: The Sixers End the Celtics String of Titles

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    Finally in 1967, it was the Sixers' turn. They assembled the team that has been called the best NBA championship team of all times. 

    With Chamberlain at center, flanked by Chet Walker and Luke Jackson, the Sixers had the best frontcourt the league had ever seen. Wali Jones and Hall Greer were the guards. Billy Cunningham was the sixth man.

    The team stormed out to a 41-4 record in the regular season and finished at 68-13. But, of course, they lost five of the nine games against the Celtics. Chamberlain gave up his offensive dominance to give the team a more balance approach.

    The Sixers met the Celtics in the Eastern Finals, and finished them off in Game 5 with a convincing 140-116 victory in Philly. The string had been broken. 

    The Sixers went on to defeat the Warriors and win the NBA championship.

1968: Celtics Come Back from 3-1 Deficit

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    On the way to winning their second consecutive NBA championship, the Sixers were stymied by the Celtics. In the Eastern finals, the Sixers won three of the first four games.

    But the Celtics came back to become the first NBA team to recover from a 3-1 game deficit to win a playoff series. Auerbach had retired and Russell was the team's player-coach.

1981: Another Comeback from 3-1

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    While the players had changed, the results were the same. 

    The Sixers had Darryl Dawkins and Julius Erving. The Celtics had Larry Bird and rookie Kevin McHale.

    Again the Sixers won three of the first four games. But the Celtics won the sixth game in Philly by two points and the seventh game in Boston by one point. 

1982: Beat LA

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    In the 1982 playoffs the Sixers and Celtics met again in the Eastern Finals. 

    In the deciding Game 7 in the Boston Garden, when it became clear that the Sixers would win the game and advance to the finals, the Celtics fans started a classy chant: "Beat-L-A, Beat L-A."

    You can be certain that if the situation had been reversed, no such encouraging chant would have been heard in Philadelphia. 

    The Sixers lost to the Lakers in six games in the championship series.

1983: Fo-Fo-Fo

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    While the Sixers did not meet the Celtics in the playoffs in 1983, we need to include this year for completeness.

    Moses Malone boldly predicted that the Sixers would sweep each of the three playoff series in four games and coined his famous, "Fo-fo-fo" prediction. He was pretty close, as they lost only one game out of the 13 they played, ending with a sweep of the Lakers in the finals.

    While this year's Sixers' team is much less talented, and certainly not capable of sweeping anyone, maybe with a little luck the younger legs can prevail over the experienced but older Celtics star players.