The rivalry is renewed.
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In 2012, the Celtics ousted the Sixers in a hard-fought seven-game series. But that series didn’t capture the true measure of this bitter rivalry.
On Monday night in Boston, the Celtics will host the Sixers in the first game of what could be a seven-game series in the Eastern Conference semifinals. The depleted Celtics outlasted the Milwaukee Bucks in seven games while the Sixers finished off the Miami Heat in five games.
The Celtics advanced without stars such as Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. Jaylen Brown even went down with a sore hamstring and the Celtics still defeated the Bucks. It’s going to be a difficult regardless of who’s out for the Celtics.
Boston won three of the four regular season matchups this season against the Sixers.
“It only gets harder,” Sixers head coach Brett Brown told reporters of the playoff schedule. “The longer you play, the more difficult it is.”
The Sixers-Heat series was bloody and fierce. There were double technicals whistled on a regular basis. Goran Dragic slapped Ben Simmons’ head. Miami’s Justise Winslow had blood dripping down his face.
This next step promises to be uglier because of the bitterness between the Celtics and Sixers.
Through the years, Larry Bird and Julius Erving became locked in a nasty fight. Sixers guard Sedale Threatt clocked Boston’s Danny Ainge on his face. Moses Malone once described Kevin McHale as one of the dirtiest players he had ever faced.
Fast forward to 2018 and the names and faces have changed. Look for the rivalry to be renewed in a big way.
At this stage, it’s about execution when you’re facing the same team over and over and over again.
“At the end of the day, I think that whatever comes up, it’s up to us,” Sixers forward Ersan Ilyasova told reporters. “Recently, the way we’ve played, we have to focus on ourselves. If we do all those things we’ve done before, it’s going to be in our favor.”
The Sixers’ dynamic duo of Joel Embiid and Simmons were scintillating in the first round. Even with a heavy mask protecting his injured orbital bone under his eye, Embiid played at an All-Star level.
Simmons was a triple-double machine and showed maturity beyond his years as the series with the Heat became bitter.
This duo doesn’t seem fazed by the spotlight of the playoffs. And veterans such as Ilyasova, Marco Belinelli and JJ Redick are there to provide support.
“Those veterans are great people, and they understand there’s a level of responsibility that they have to to help nurture those young guys,” Brown said. “Ultimately, it’s going to be Joel and Ben’s program. They’re going to be here a lot longer than all of us.”
The rivalry is sure to be entertaining and exciting. There will be drama. There could be skirmishes. More technicals. Possibly blood.
Hey, it’s the Celtics and Sixers.