Arriving on the coattails of one of the more contentious playoff series in recent memory, the Boston Celtics will start a best of 7 with the Philadelphia 76ers, tomorrow night at the Garden. And if you thought that Celtics-Bucks series was “chippy” - you ain't seen nothin’ yet. There's history here, folks. History that should materialize as entertaining scuffles and boiling bad blood on the court. So grab your popcorn. This Eastern Conference Semifinals should be a doozy.
It’s the “Dirty Water” way, the Green Teamer’s psychology. The Celtics cultivate a hard-nosed gamer’s approach. The mantra: Play tough and work hard. The winning formula is as simple as that. As we all know, in any series involving Boston, there’s going to be a certain friction begotten of the underdog taking on the world.
The Celtics eternally carry with them a chip on their shoulder, like they always have something to prove.
But with the 2017-18 Boston Celtics and the 2017-18 Philadelphia 76ers there’s a singular friction at play. It is a product of the dichotomy between these two teams’ respective approaches to becoming successful in today’s NBA, and the fact that they’ve both finally arrived.
For many years, the 76ers outright and deliberately sucked for high draft picks - shameful, I know. Where, during the Celtics’ recent (now long-forgotten) rebuilding period, Boston honorably tried to remain competitive, making a couple of playoff appearances to pacify the relentlessly demanding, if not spoiled fan-base.
But here’s the thing - now both of these teams are good. Sure, their trajectories were wildly different, but come Monday night two top-tier Eastern Conference teams will take the court. And with injuries rendering two of Boston’s stars decommissioned, fans are going to witness future versus future, rebuild versus rebuild and the representatives thereof.
The last time these two teams saw each other was in London, on January 11. The Celtics entered that matinee comfortably at 33-10. At that point in the season, the 76ers hadn’t quite found their way yet. Philly was sitting at 19-19, a substantial underperformance for a team that would eventually secure the 3rd seed in the Eastern Conference, finishing 52-30.
In London, tension percolated as expected, while fans watched the Celtics gradually run away with a decisive 114-103 victory. Let’s revisit the 4th quarter of that game, because there are certainly some abstractions to be made, in regards to how these two teams feel about each other.
If you’re a dedicated C’s fan, you probably remember the “altercation”. With just about 5 minutes left in the 4th quarter and Boston up 105-90, 76ers rookie Ben Simmons met a deliberate Marcus Morris screen with lowered shoulder at the top of the 3-point line, knocking Morris flat onto his rump. A shoving-match ensued, inflammatory words were exchanged and surprisingly this skirmish ended with no hands being thrown.
After the game, Marcus Morris had some carefully thought out words for Philly’s crown jewel, warning Ben Simmons and the basketball world that such a cheap shot “won’t happen again”.
Well, this journalist thinks it probably might just definitely happen again - or at least something chippy to the same effect. Look, these two cities simply do not like each other. Take the narrative leading up to the 2018 Super Bowl for example.
Perhaps it’s cabin fever engendered by geographical closeness; perhaps it’s the slight, yet apparent difference in cultural philosophies. Or maybe Boston just likes to believe that their water is dirtier, no matter who they’re up against. In any event, when you pit one inveterate underdog against another inveterate underdog, you get a heated rivalry.
They both want to be the most underdog-ish of the two.
Without question, the heated series that this one promises to be is great for the NBA. As I said before, you’re watching the future of these two historically successful franchises - they’re not going anywhere, which means said rivalry should remain intact. And as Boston is 3-1 in the 4 games that they’ve played against Philadelphia this year, it seems that the surface-level friction is working heavily in their favor.
Let’s just hope that the next shoving-match evolves into a full-blown fight. C’mon guys defend your honor, for crying out loud!
Photo: (Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports)(Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)