The Philadelphia 76ers and the Boston Celtics have a rivalry that dates back to the 1960’s. These two storied franchises have met 11 times in the postseason since 1964. They last competed in the playoffs 10 long years ago in the 2002 Eastern Conference first round.
Tonight’s Game 1 of this Eastern Conference semifinal features just one player who participated in that series in 2002 – C’s captain Paul Pierce. Though the historic rivalry between these two sides isn’t all that fresh, I expect a bruising, competitive series.
Both the Celtics and 76ers finished off their first-round opponents on Thursday in front of their home fans to win their respective series 4-2 as underdogs. The Green beat back the relentless Atlanta Hawks 83-80 thanks in large part to 17th-year Kevin Garnett, who delivered in the clutch and had his best game of this season going for 28 points, 14 boards, 5 blocks and 3 steals.
KG knew going into this game that he would have to produce because the other two veteran members of the C’s Big 3 were banged up. Paul Pierce has a sprained MCL in his left knee and Ray Allen has been in and out of Doc Rivers’ rotation with stubborn bone spurs in his right ankle.
The risk GM Danny Ainge took when he decided to keep his aged core intact for another run at the ring was the possibility of injury slowing them down. The other side of that coin is that these playoff-tested veterans have the experience, wisdom and leadership to impart to the team as a whole and to utilize against their opponents.
When the 8th-seed Philadelphia Sixers upset the 1st-seed Chicago Bulls, Coach Doug Collins’ guys became just the fifth number 8-seed to knock off a number 1-seed in NBA history. Philly had not won a playoff series since 2003, but with Chicago missing 2011 NBA MVP Derrick Rose and starting center Joakim Noah, the 76ers closed it out 79-78 with the oft-maligned Andre Iguodala leading the way. The longest tenured 76er had 20 points, 7 dimes and hit the series-winning free throws with 2.2 seconds left.
The depth and balance of this Philly team has been on display all year and was a key in their first round upset. They have five guys who averaged double digit scoring and eight players who averaged at least 8.4 ppg. This makes them a formidable matchup because it’s hard for their opponent to game plan and zero in on containing any one particular player. On a given night someone different might step up on offense.
Boston and Philly played three times this shortened regular season. The 76ers beat the C’s twice in the City of Brotherly Love, 103-71 and 99-86. The blowout on March 7th was Boston’s worst defeat this season. On April 8th in Beantown, the Celts paid Philly back with a hometown beat-down of their own, winning 103-79. Tune in to TNT at 8PM ET to see if the 76ers’ athleticism and balance can overcome the Celtics’ veteran poise.