Sixers Vs. Celtics: Top 10 Memorable Moments In A Storied NBA Rivalry

Let’s salute a legendary NBA rivalry, Sixers vs. Celtics.

The Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics launch a league-record 21st postseason set on Monday night. Game 1 of the series at Walt Disney World in Florida tips off at 6:30 p.m.

Boston holds a 13-7 lead, with wins in the last four head-to-head battles.

Current odds at NJ online sportsbooks put the Sixers as dogs for Game 1. Here are the Sixers vs. Celtics Game 1 lines (odds as of 1 p.m. EST Aug. 17):

76ers vs. Celtics Game 1:
Aug. 17 at 6:30 p.m.
DraftKingsFanDuelFox Bet
Moneyline+225 Sixers
-278 Celtics
+225 Sixers
-275 Celtics
+220 Sixers
-275 Celtics
Total PointsO 218 (-112)
U 218 (-109)
O 218 (-110)
U 218 (-110)
O 218 (-110)
U 218 (-105)
Point Spread+6.5 (-110)
-6.5 (-110)
+6.5 (-110)
-6.5 (-110)
+6.5 (-110)
-6.5 (-110)

What are some of the epic moments between these storied franchises?

In selecting a personal favorites list, I considered historical context, gut-wrenching finishes and the matchups of superstars — Wilt Chamberlain versus Bill Russell in the 1960s, Julius Erving versus Larry Bird in the 1980s, etc.

These clashes were memorable because the Sixers and Celtics were often the best teams in the entire NBA when they met. And back then, the NBA playoffs were nothing without a Sixers-Celtics battle.

The two teams have faced each other less often in recent years, only twice in the past decade, making these memories more vintage.

And so, here are my top 10 memorable moments in the Sixers vs. Celtics rivalry.

1. Sixers end Celtics’ reign: April 10, 1967

The Celtics had won a historic eight consecutive NBA championships, a record that still stands, until the night the Sixers put them to sleep.

This was that game.

The Sixers pounded Boston 140-116, wrapping up the Eastern Conference championship in five games. Chamberlain had 29 points and an eye-popping 36 rebounds. Hal Greer threw in 32 points.

The Sixers would go on to beat the Los Angeles Lakers and win the NBA title. The Celtics would win the next two NBA championships for an unprecedented 10 titles in 11 years. The only interruption? This series.

2. Celtics get payback: April 19, 1968

The Sixers had a 3-1 lead and were one win away from defending their title with a return to the NBA finals in 1968. But … oops.

The Celtics stormed back to win three straight, including a 100-96 triumph in Philadelphia to seal the deal.

Chamberlain was less involved with the offense in this game. The Celtics had six players in double figures, offsetting Chamberlain’s 14 points and 34 rebounds.

It was the first time an NBA team ever coughed up a 3-1 series lead and lost. This was also the last game for Chamberlain as a Sixer. He was soon traded to the Los Angeles Lakers.

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3. ‘No comment, baby’: May 23, 1982

The Sixers had a theme of losing 3-1 series leads against the Celtics. It happened in 1982 too, but there was redemption.

The Sixers bounced back to win Game 7, 120-106, becoming only the second team (after the 1973 New York Knicks) to beat the Celtics in a deciding game at Boston Garden.

The Sixers were serenaded by “Beat LA” chants from the Celtics faithful (they would go on to be swept in the finals by the Lakers), and the postgame scene was fiery.

Sixers coach Billy Cunningham, upset that Philadelphia newspapers had pronounced the team dead before Game 7, walked into the postgame media room, said “No comment, baby,” and left.

It is one of the rare times a winning coach refused to address the news media. Side note: This is the last time the Sixers beat the Celtics in the postseason.

4. ‘Havlicek stole the ball’: April 14, 1976

The Celtics beat the Sixers 110-109 to win Game 7 of the conference finals in 1976 despite Chamberlain getting 30 points and 32 rebounds.

The Sixers had the ball with time for a potential winning shot but did not get it off as Celtic John Havlicek stole the inbound pass.

“Havlicek Stole the Ball” became a famous call by Celtics announcer Johnny Most, and it remains one of the most iconic defensive plays in NBA history.

Boston went on to win the NBA title. Havlicek’s play STILL ranks on NBA lists for greatest defensive plays 55 years after it happened.

5. Sixers reach NBA Finals: April 27, 1980

Say hello to the most one-sided series win for the Sixers.

In April 1980, the team closed out the Celtics 105-94 in Boston Garden to capture the conference championship in five games.

Lionel Hollins led the way with 24 points. Darryl Dawkins tossed in 18. But the Sixers would fall to the Lakers in six games in the NBA Finals. In the 1980s, the Sixers would reach the NBA Finals in three of four seasons.

On two occasions, this one included, they beat the Celtics along the way.

6. A Sixers heartbreak: May 3, 1981

In the Larry Bird-Julius Erving era, the 62-win Sixers led the series 3-1. But they lost the final three games by a total of five points.

The last was a 91-90 nail biter. In fact, the last four games in this 1981 series were determined by a total of seven points. Another was by one point. Five of the seven games were decided by all of eight points.

This may have been the best-matched series in the rivalry.

7. Tempers erupt in preseason bout: 1983

These heated NBA rivals had a brawl, in a 1983 exhibition game, that featured three separate fights.

That included Moses Malone vs. Cedric Maxwell, Bird vs. Marc Iavaroni and Gerald Henderson vs. Sedale Threatt.

During the melee, Bird ripped Cunningham’s sports jacket in half. “Honorable” mention: 1985 featured a choking match between Bird and Erving.

8. Bird and the Doc: Nov. 9, 1984

As they jostled for position going down the floor, Bird and Erving collided. Words and then fists broke out. Erving threw the first punches.

It was an ungracious moment between two otherwise classy but intense performers. The battle in November 1984 was a metaphor for the rivalry, as both teams had become solid and jostled for every possible edge.

In later years, Erving said he didn’t like Bird because the teams were so competitive to begin with.

9. Sixers extend season: May 1, 1977

In a year in which they would reach the NBA Finals and lose to the Portland Trail Blazers, the Sixers earned a taut 83-77 Game 7 thriller at home to open the playoff road.

World B Free led the way with 27 points. Dr. J added 14. This was a conference semifinal. The Sixers then had to beat the Houston Rockets before losing in the NBA Finals.

10. Celtics stage a comeback vs. Sixers: May 3, 2018

En route to winning the last playoff set in five games, the Celtics stole this Game 2 bout in 2018.

They were down 23 points in the second quarter but stormed back to take the game and drive an emotional dagger though the Sixers, who never recovered. The final was 108-103.

It’s 2020, and here we go again. I hope this list of top 10 Celtics vs. Sixers memories has you pumped for Game 1 tonight. Enjoy the series.

About the Author

Dave Bontempo

Dave Bontempo, a multiple national award-winning boxing commentator and writer, authors NFL betting columns for the Press of Atlantic City and IGaming Player, among others.