Celtics-76ers: Something old, something new

Dan Feldman
NBC Sports

Players fought on the court. Police intervened. Another player fought the police. The teams combined for 107 fouls. Twelve players committed enough fouls to foul out, but some got to stay on the court anyway so there’d be enough to each side. Two players reached seven fouls. Bob Cousy scored 50 points, shooting 30-of-32 on free throws. The Boston Celtics eliminated the Syracuse Nationals with a 111-105 quadruple-overtime win in Game 2 of the 1953 Eastern Division semifinals.

And thus concluded the first playoff series between the longtime franchises.

The Celtics and 76ers, who moved to Philadelphia from Syracuse and changed their name, will meet again in the postseason tonight. The second-round series will be the record 20th playoff-series matchup between the franchises.

It also could be just the start of a renewed rivalry.

LeBron James has run the Eastern Conference for the better part of a decade with the Heat and Cavaliers, but his control appears to be slipping. Boston and Philadelphia look ready to take the throne, both teams set up to compete with each other for a long time.

The 76ers are led by 24-year-old Joel Embiid and 21-year-old Ben Simmons. They have an impressive and well-fitting supporting cast, and – especially 24-year-old Dario Saric – some of those secondary players are also still young. Philadelphia also has enough cap space to add another impact player this summer – maybe even LeBron.

The Celtics already acquired their stars, signing Gordon Hayward and trading for Kyrie Irving last summer and signing Al Horford the year before. Twenty-year-old Jayson Tatum and 21-year-old Jaylen Brown are so promising. Twenty-four-year-old Terry Rozier has gone from a joke topic to good player. Not that Brett Brown is a slouch, but Boston coach Brad Stevens is one of the NBA’s most-respected coaches.

And both teams have extra draft picks, some very valuable. (The Celtics acquired one from the 76ers, who traded up to draft Markelle Fultz No. 1 last year.)

This arms race started years ago in both Boston and Philadelphia.

Celtics president Danny Ainge traded Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to the Nets while those two were still leading teams to the playoffs and got a boatload of picks. Ainge kept flipping veterans – Rajon Rondo, Jeff Green and even Coach Doc Rivers for more draft picks.

Sam Hinkie’s Process gave Philadelphia a wealth of assets. Not only did they tank their way to several high picks (drafting Embiid and Simmons), the 76ers cleverly extracted extra selections from win-now teams looking to shed salary.

Now, Philadelphia is ready to win and still, like Boston, has extra picks still coming (unlike the Raptors, who had the East’s best record this season but also have older stars and are out this year’s first-rounder). The 76ers and Celtics can use those extra picks to infuse their teams with young talent or trade them for immediate upgrades. The luxury is in the choice.

This won’t be the marquee matchup that awaits in years to come. Irving and Hayward (and Daniel Theis) are out for Boston. Philadelphia is the big favorite.

But even in a rivalry more than six decades old, this feels like just the start of something.

What to Read Next