Apr 14, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA;Julius Erving
of the Philadelphia 76ers 1982-83 NBA Championship team waves to the crowd during their 30th anniversary celebration during halftime of the game between Philadelphia 76ers and Cleveland Cavaliers at the Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
By 1979, with Julius Erving leading one of the most exciting teams in the NBA, the rivalry between Philadelphia and Boston had soured for a little while.
The Celtics were coming off two losing seasons and the 76ers were just two years removed from being the runner-up in the NBA Finals. The two franchises appeared to be going in opposite directions. Until the Celtics landed Larry Bird in the 1979 draft.
Bird immediately helped turn the Celtics around, leading Boston to the best record in the Eastern Conference in 1979-80 en route to Rookie of the Year honors. They met the 76ers in the Eastern Conference Finals, which Philly won 4-1. The rivalry spawned nearly two decades earlier and since left for dead had been resuscitated.
The two teams met four times in the Eastern Conference Finals within five years, with each franchise winning two. They were on another level compared to the other teams in the Eastern Conference.
While the 1960’s version of the rivalry may have set the standard, the 1980’s version was right up there in terms of intensity, drama and intrigue. There are so many classic 76ers moments born from these matchups.
76ers guard Andrew Toney earned the nickname “Boston Strangler” from Boston sportswriters for his ability to take over games against the Celtics in the early part of the decade. In the 1982 Eastern Conference Finals, he averaged 26.4 points a game for the series, including 34 in Game 7 in the Boston Garden.
In that same game, with the starters pulled and the outcome decided, the Celtics fans started the now omnipresent “Beat L.A.!” chants which you’ll hear at pretty much any sporting event against a Los Angeles team. The Celtics, who like the 76ers, have a longstanding rivalry with the Los Angeles Lakers, were cheering on their Eastern Conference foe to take down the purple and gold. The 76ers lost in 1982, but avenged that defeat a year later with a resounding four game sweep of the Lakers.
And of course, no talk of this rivalry is complete without mentioning “the choke”, when Dr. J and Larry Bird came to blows in the Boston Garden.
Never a dull moment in this rivalry, that’s for sure.