The Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics both have rich histories. The two franchises are set to collide in the Eastern Conference semifinals of the NBA playoffs beginning tonight.
It’s the first playoff matchup since 2018, when the Celtics beat the Sixers, 4-1, in the conference semifinals.
The Sixers and Celtics have had some iconic playoff moments over the course of history. Most of the moments date back to the 1970s and 1980s when Julius Erving and Larry Bird headlined the rivalry. The 1960s also featured heated battles between Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell.
PlayPennsylvania counts down the best Sixers-Celtics playoff moments.
Sixers-Celtics 2023 playoff schedule
Before we get into the best Sixers-Celtics playoff history, here is the schedule for the upcoming series:
- Monday, May 1: Sixers at Celtics, 7:30 p.m.
- Wednesday, May 3: Sixers at Celtics, 8 p.m.
- Friday, May 5: Celtics at Sixers, 7:30 p.m.
- Sunday, May 7: Celtics at Sixers, 3:30 p.m.
- Tuesday, May 9: Sixers at Celtics, TBD
- Thursday, May 11: Celtics at Sixers, TBD
- Sunday, May 14: Sixers at Celtics, TBD
Top Sixers-Celtics playoff moments
No. 5 – Premature confetti celebration in Philadelphia
The last time the Sixers and Celtics faced each other in the playoffs in 2018, there seemed to be a confetti malfunction at the Wells Fargo Center. Marco Belinelli laced a game-winning three to win 90-89. It brought the Sixers to a 2-1 series deficit as confetti fell on the Wells Fargo Center floor.
After further review, Belinelli’s toe was on the line, and the Sixers and Celtics needed overtime.
Following a brief delay to clean up the confetti, the Celtics finished off the Sixers 101-98. The Celtics went up 3-0 in the series, after the Sixers thought they came close to evening it.
Rookie Jayson Tatum led all scorers with 24 points. Joel Embiid led the Sixers with 22 points. After the Sixers won Game 4 to avoid the sweep, the Celtics won Game 5, and the series, 4-1.
No. 4 – Russell overcomes 3-1 series deficit
En route to one of Bill Russell’s 11 championships as a player, the legend got the better of his counterpart Wilt Chamberlain. Russell overcame a 3-1 deficit to put the Celtics in the NBA Finals in 1968.
Russell had 12 points and 26 rebounds in the 100-96 Game 7 victory over the Sixers. Chamberlain only had 14 points, but grabbed 34 rebounds.
The Celtics won Game 5, 122-104, and Game 6, 114-106.
No. 3 – ‘Havlicek stole the ball!’
In one of the most iconic plays in NBA history, John Havlicek stole a Sixers inbounds pass in Game 7 of the NBA Eastern Division Finals in 1965.
Havlicek took the ball and dribbled out the clock for a 110-109 Celtics win. The Celtics wound up beating the Lakers 4-1 to win the NBA title.
The Celtics and Sixers played an even seven-game series. The Sixers won Game 6 at home, 112-106, to force Game 7. In Game 7, Chamberlain had 30 points and 32 rebounds. Russell scored 15 points and had 29 rebounds.
No. 2 – Sixers blow another 3-1 series lead
The Sixers were on the brink of the NBA Finals in 1981. After building a 3-1 series lead, history repeated itself and the Celtics came all the way back to win the series in seven games.
The Sixers lost Games 5, 6 and 7 by a combined five points:
- 5: Celtics 111, Sixers 109
- 6: Celtics 100, Sixers 98
- 7: Celtics 91, Sixers 90
The Sixers had the lead entering the fourth quarter in both Games 6 and 7.
Larry Bird led the Celtics in scoring in those three contests, averaging 26.7 points per outing.
The Celtics would beat the Rockets, 4-2, in the NBA Finals.
What could have been for the Sixers.
No. 1 – ‘Boston Strangler’ takes out Celtics
It couldn’t happen a third time, right? The Sixers built another 3-1 series lead in 1982 and proceeded to lose the next two games. The Sixers had to win another Game 7 in Boston to punch a ticket for the NBA Finals.
Led by Andrew Toney, the Sixers dominated the Celtics for a 120-106 victory. Toney scored a game-high 34 points and later became known as the ‘Boston Strangler’ for his heroics.
Former Celtics guard and General Manager Danny Ainge made this statement following the game:
“He just was hitting some shots with two or three guys in his face. And he was hitting some shots over the big people inside. He just gets that way sometimes. I don’t know what we can do differently to stop him, except maybe knock him unconscious.”
Hall of Famer Julius Erving added 29 points for the Sixers.
Philadelphia got the proverbial monkey off its back after losing Game 5, 114-85, and Game 6, 88-75.
The Sixers would lose to the Lakers in the NBA Finals, 4-2.