The 1984 Celtics and 76ers were NBA goliaths that boasted rosters packed with legendary players. Nearly 34 years ago, on November 9, the two teams held undefeated records for the season and clashed in Boston. The matchup between Larry Bird and Julius Erving was highly anticipated and anything but ordinary. The basketball court turned into a boxing ring in the game’s third quarter, when Bird and Erving began to brawl. Fists flew and necks were grabbed.
Powerhouse opponents characterize Boston and Philly’s history. Before Bird and Erving, it was Wilt Chamberlain against Bill Russell and Hal Greer against Sam Jones.
Today’s Celtics and 76ers rivalry is comparable to its predecessors, and the 2018-2019 NBA season will kick off Tuesday, October 16, with a tribute to their age-old rivalry, when the 76ers visit TD Garden. Their stacked rosters balance the skills of upcoming young talent with those of established NBA veterans, making both favorites to play in the 2019 Eastern Conference Finals.
The 76ers have Joel Embiid, whose notorious defensive skills, post finishes, and size grant him a dominant presence. However, the Celtics have ultimate ball-handler Kyrie Irving, an expert at poking holes in impressive defensive lineups. While Irving is arguably one of the best players in the League, the Celtics defeated the 76ers in the playoffs without him, and fellow All-Star Gordon Hayward. Welcoming Irving and Hayward back is a recipe for amazing back-and-forth action.
Embiid’s teammate, Ben Simmons, is commonly critiqued for lacking a jumpshot, but his ability to make it to the rim and secure post finishes offsets his developing shot. Simmons is coming back to the regular season after earning the Rookie of the Year title, which Boston’s Jayson Tatum was also a contender to win.
Statistically speaking, Simmons is better than Tatum, with a greater average of points (15.8-13.9), rebounds (8.1-5.0), and assists (8.2-1.6) per game. Yet, Tatum better flaunted his skills during the playoffs and his scoring abilities were crucial in pushing the Cavs to Game 7 in the Eastern Finals. The Celtics ultimately lost, but Tatum lead his team in scoring with 24 points and unforgettably dunked on LeBron James.
Al Horford, Terry Rozier and Jaylen Brown will also contribute to the Celtics’ hopeful claim to a championship, while JJ Redick and Markelle Fultz are expected to do the same for the 76ers. Fultz struggled to prove himself last season, but he demonstrated notable improvement this preseason.
Speaking of preseasons, the Celtics only won one of their four games. Their defense was uncharacteristically disappointing, and they struggled offensively with their fast breaks and three-pointers. On the other hand, the 76ers only lost one of four games. Philly spent half of its preseason in China, where they won one game against the Dallas Mavericks and lost the other.
When the Celtics and 76ers enter TD Garden, they will be facing perhaps their fiercest competitors of the season. Both teams have the necessary talent to win, but need to figure out how to best access their rosters’ depths. No shortage of passion is expected at Tuesday’s game, which may foreshadow which team is on its way to becoming the beast of the East.