The rivalry between the 76ers and Boston Celtics used to be among the best in all of sports. Russell vs. Chamberlain. Bird vs. Erving. Malone vs. Parrish.
Times have certainly changed but many remember how riveting the games between the green and white and the red, white and blue used to be.
“I grew up and the Sunday afternoon game we used to get when I was a kid was the Sixers and the Celtics, either from Boston Garden or from Philadelphia,” said Sixers coach Doug Collins. “I remember the parquet floor and I remember how I couldn’t wait to go to the Garden and see the parquet and it wasn’t what I thought it would be. I thought it was going to be this beautifully polished parquet floor that you could eat off of and I realized that wasn’t the case.
“The first NBA game I ever saw I was visiting Lehigh University to see if I wanted to go to school there and my cousin took me to a Sixers-Celtics playoff game. I remember coming in here as a player and playing them in the playoffs. We played them a Game 3 in Boston and it was so hot in the Garden. And then I remember as a coach going into the Garden with the Bulls and my first playoff experience and they had (Larry) Bird, (Kevin) McHale, (Robert) Parrish, D.J. (Dennis Johnson), Danny Ainge and that group of guys. It goes back a long time for me. I remember the locker rooms if you won, if the game before it was hot the next night it was cold or one night it would be cold and the next night it would be red-hot. I remember the early morning wake-up calls at the hotel where people would just so happen to call you and wake you up in the middle of the night. All those wonderful things. I remember going back to watch the tape of a game, they gave me a tape to watch when I was coaching Chicago and the tape was blank. Good rivalry.”
Few people could have been happier when the Sixers polished off the Chicago Bulls in the first round than Sixers forward Thaddeus Young. In the six games, Young produced only 7.2 points and 5.3 rebounds in just under 22 minutes. He was basically swallowed up on both ends of the court by Chicago’s Taj Gibson. Now facing a Celtics team in the second round would seem to bring a huge sigh of relief for Young, though he was wary as the Celtics were the No. 1 defensive team during the regular season.
“They (Chicago and Boston) are two tough teams with some of the better defenders in the league,” said Young. “As far as playing against them you just have to take it game by game and just play. Whatever matchup is fine with me. I’m just going to go out there and play regardless. That’s pretty much what I’ve been doing (in the playoffs), try to go out there and not get frustrated and remain focused. I think I’ve done a good job of that. The last game (against Chicago) I think I played with a lot more energy and intensity than I played in the games before that and we got the win. I’m happy about moving to the next series and next round and just ready to play.
“They usually try to match up (Greg) Stiemsma and (Brandon) Bass. Those guys try to be physical with me and take me out of my game a little bit. But I pretty much just use my quickness and athletic ability to try and get around them and get a few shots off. But that’s not the key. The key is us going out there and playing as a team together.”
Had the Chicago Bulls beaten the Sixers in the first round, Boston coach Doc Rivers would have been squaring off against his former assistant in Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau. As it is he’s going against Doug Collins, a longtime friend whose son, Chris, recruited Rivers’ son, Austin, to play at Duke University where the younger Collins is an assistant coach.
“We’re very, very close,” said Rivers. “We talk a lot during the season. For me I don’t enjoy that part of it. I was talking to Thibs and I said that I was screwed either way, having to play either him or Doug. In this case it’s just what it is.”
“I think Chris sort of played a big-brother role for Austin at Duke,” said Collins. “Our families are close. When Doc and his family decided that Austin was going to go there I think they felt it was a place where he was going to get nurtured and grow not only on but off the court. Doc reached out to Chris after the season was over and thanked him for what he did for Austin this year. I have great respect for Doc.”
Both the Sixers and the Celtics started their series Saturday less than 48 hours after having clinched the first round. It didn’t go unnoticed by Celtics coach Doc Rivers, whose older team is dealing with injuries to Paul Pierce (sprained kneed ligaments) and Ray Allen (foot injury).
“I was surprised and I’m sure Doug (Collins) was surprised as well,” Rivers said. “Miami and Indiana have been off and they’re playing on Sunday. What surprised me more was the first four games (being played) every other day. I couldn’t have prescribed a worse solution for us. I was very surprised by that. But like I told our guys, nobody cares. You have to go play. That’s just the way it is.”