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11.23.2009

Celtics-Sixers is NBA's Premier Rivalry

1983-84 Boston Celtics
Sixers 92, Celtics 91
Record: 9-4
11/20/1983

We've got rivalries on the mind. Yesterday was Harvard vs. Yale, Boston College vs. Holy Cross, Michigan vs. Ohio State, Pittsburgh vs. Penn State, Washington vs. Washington State and UCLA vs. USC. The NBA did its best to compete. The Boston Celtics played the Philadelphia 76ers in the Spectrum. Pro basketball has nothing better to offer.

"It's the one great rivalry in all of sport," says 76ers general manager Pat Williams. "It's a privilege to be associated with it. It's hard to find a good hatred pattern in any sport, but we've got one. It is something to be savored, valued and enjoyed." Ancient history isn't needed to establish the validity of this holy war. One needn't look back any further than Oct. 16, when three fights, three ejections and Red Auerbach's divine intervention highlighted a Celtics-Sixers exhibition game in the Garden.

Auerbach didn't go to Philadelphia last night. "I don't want to go down there," he says. "The fans give me too hard of a time, you know what I mean?" In addition to mutual disdain, the Celtics and 76ers present uncommon excellence and parity. Over the last four years, the Celtics and Sixers have compiled the top two NBA regular-season winning percentages, reached the finals four times and won two NBA championships.

When it comes to parity, it is impossible to top Philly-Boston. Going into last night's game, the 76ers and Celtics had met 43 times (regular season and playoff) since Larry Bird joined the Celtics in 1979. Philadelphia had won 22 games, Boston 21. They even compete in the offseason. Every move the Sixers make, every breath they take, is monitored by the Celtics, and vice versa. Would anyone deny that the presence of Andrew Toney in a Sixers uniform has forced the Celtics to spend the past two summers searching for a standout defensive guard? Quinn Buckner and Dennis Johnson were acquired to stop Toney.

"Let's put it this way," admits a Celtics official. "We're certainly not putting our ballclub together with the Utah Jazz in mind."

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