Philadelphia 76ers fans like myself wished that the Sixers would have faced the Miami Heat in last year's Eastern Conference Finals. But we're the only ones who did, given how the Boston Celtics and the Heat staged a classic series and furthered a bitter rivalry. As such, there was no other way for this season to start than with the Celtics and Heat meeting again - especially after this offseason.
Keeping Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen ensured the Celtics would stay close to the Heat. Yet when Miami took Ray Allen away and turned their Big Three into their own Big Four, it made this rivalry even more personal. Therefore, it could be a bloodbath when the Heat and Celtics clash on NBA opening night on Oct. 30 -and so could the rest of their meetings down the line.
Of course, the Celtics and Heat are dreaming of facing each other in May, not in October. Most neutral NBA fans - and TV networks - would probably like to see it as well, given these teams' history and star power. And with Boston mostly together for one more season, it makes it and Miami the class of the Eastern Conference by far.
Therefore, everything the Celtics do will be measured by what the Heat do, and vice versa. Meanwhile, the likes of the Sixers, Brooklyn Nets, Chicago Bulls, Indiana Pacers and more can do whatever they want, but they'll be living in the shadows for the most part. When it comes to the East, it is the Boston and Miami show, whether they actually live up to the hype or not.
With one more heated playoff battle, the current Celtics-Heat rivalry will be paired alongside the classic ones of the 80s and 90s. Back in the day, the East was defined by rivals like the Celtics and Detroit Pistons, the Pistons and the Chicago Bulls, the Knicks and Bulls, the Knicks and Indiana Pacers, and the Knicks and Heat from over 10 years ago. Now it is the modern day Celtics and Heat making their own personal history.
The Celtics should enjoy this while we can, since they are running out of time despite their ageless nature. But once they finally slip up, the Heat may not have any legitimate rivals from an otherwise overmatched East for some time - unless the Sixers, Nets, Bulls, Knicks or someone else puts something together. Until then, Boston looks like the only legitimate threat to derail Miami's dynasty - at least outside of Los Angeles, Oklahoma City and San Antonio.
Opening night is the first chance for the Celtics to prove they are still on the Heat's level - and can stay there even with Allen in Miami. All the rest of the East can do is watch, wait and see how much higher Boston and Miami can set the bar for them.
Robert Dougherty is a life-long Philadelphia resident and 76ers fan - who has become quite familiar with the rival Celtics in that time.
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- Sports & Recreation
- Philadelphia 76ers
- Miami Heat
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