The 1983 NBA Champion 76ers: The Last Time The Sixers Were First

The Sixers will begin the 2017-18 season this fall, marking the 35th anniversary of the franchise’s last title winning season. Their 1982-83 season concluded with superstars Julius Erving and Moses Malone, alongside a tremendous supporting cast of Andrew Toney, Maurice Cheeks, and Bobby Jones receiving their first championship rings. Since then, the Sixers have suffered a prolonged championship drought, appearing in the Finals only once in 2001.

This championship journey was not easy for the Sixers. It began with the acquisition of “The Doctor” Julius Erving from the New York Nets in 1976. Dr. J made an immediate impact on the team, leading them past the Celtics and Rockets to the 1977 finals against the Portland Trail Blazers. The Sixers won the first two games of the series at the Spectrum, but center Bill Walton proved to be too much for the Philadelphia frontcourt, and the Blazers won the next four games to take the title. This stunning turnaround compelled the team’s motto “We owe you one.” They would nevertheless lose in the ’78 Eastern Conference Finals to Elvin Hayes and Wes Unseld of the Washington Bullets

Erving’s quest for a ring continued in 1980 as the Sixers battled the Los Angeles Lakers. Rookie Magic Johnson shined in his first Finals series. In one of the greatest games of his career, game 6, he played center in place of an injured Jabbar and scored 42 points, grabbed 15 rebounds, and dished out 7 assists. The Lakers won the series 4 games to 2. In 1981, the Sixers would blow a 3-1 series lead in the Eastern Conference Finals against Larry Bird, Cedric Maxwell, and the Boston Celtics. The ’80 and ’81 playoffs proved that Philadelphia’s road to the title would have to go through Boston and Los Angeles. This would be a theme for the rest of the ’80s, as Bird and Magic dominated the league and TV Ratings.

Just like the previous year, in 1982 the Sixers finished second in the Atlantic division and took a 3-1 series lead against the Celtics. The Celtics won games 5 and 6, forcing a game 7 in the Boston Garden with all the momentum in their favor. The Sixers weren’t given a fighting chance, but prevailed on the road thanks to a brilliant shooting performance by the “Boston Strangler,” Andrew Toney. At the end of the fourth quarter, Boston fans chanted “Beat LA! Beat LA!” to the Sixers, wishing their Eastern Conference counterparts good luck against their hated Western Conference rivals. However, the Sixers would lose in 6 games yet again to Magic, Kareem, and the Showtime Lakers. So far during the Erving era (’77-’82), the Sixers had lost twice in the conference finals and three times in the Finals. Down but far from out, the Sixers needed one final piece to get over the BOS/LA hump.

That piece came in the form of a 6’10 260lb center from Virginia, Moses Malone. The Sixers fleeced Big Mo from the Houston Rockets, giving up only a draft pick and an aging role player for the perennial all star. Malone was the league rebounding champion, a powerful force which enabled the Sixers to compete with the Lakers and Celtics in the low post. As the season began, Malone and Erving ended all rumors about team chemistry by winning 10 out of their first 11 games. The Sixers would stay hot throughout the regular season, going on multiple double digit winning streaks. Four Sixers (Malone, Erving, Cheeks, & Toney) represented the team at the 1983 All Star Game at the LA Forum, with Dr. J winning the game’s MVP award. Three Sixers (Malone, Jones, & Cheeks) would be named to the all-defensive first team, with Jones also winning the 6th man of the year award thanks to his excellent energy and length off the bench. Philadelphia would finish the season with a record of 65-17, their best regular season record since Coach Cunningham and Wilt Chamberlain’s 1966-67 championship season. Fan support was at a high, as the city united around their beloved Sixers.

As they approached the playoffs, a reporter prompted Malone about Philadelphia’s chances – to which he replied “Fo, Fo, Fo” – declaring that the Sixers would win 4 games in each of the 3 rounds to win the title. The Chairman of the Board’s prediction came true in the first round, as the Sixers swiftly eliminated the Knicks in 4 games. In the next series against the Bucks, the Sixers took a 3-0 series lead, but the Bucks would not be swept, taking game 4 in Milwaukee. This would prove to be the Sixers only loss in the 1983 postseason. Returning to the Spectrum for game 5, the Sixers were victorious and celebrated their 3rd Finals appearance in the past 4 years.

Sixers celebrating the 1983 Championship

In the Finals, the Sixers once again faced Jabbar, Johnson, and the Los Angeles Lakers. However, the Lakers had bad fortune in terms of injuries, with Bob McAdoo, rookie James Worthy, and Norm Nixon all hurting. The Lakers held a halftime lead in each game, but were outscored down the stretch in each second half. Role players Clint Richardson and Earl Cureton also made useful contributions in the Finals, proving that even the best teams need solid bench support to win. In game 4, Moses Malone delivered an all-time performance, scoring 24 points and pulling down 23 boards as Julius Erving made multiple clutch plays in the 4th quarter to clinch the title for the 76ers. Erving’s quest for an NBA ring was complete, and the 1982-83 Sixers were cemented as one of the greatest basketball teams of all time. Laker coach Pat Riley and owner Jerry Buss showed tremendous respect postgame, joining the Sixers locker room to congratulate them. Riley stated that Dr. J deserved this one, and that Moses Malone was the key difference in making the Sixers so dominant.

On June 2, the Sixers paraded down Broad Street with the Championship trophy before a crowd of over 1.2 million fans. Once they reached Veterans Stadium, owner Harold Katz, coach Billy Cunningham, and the stars of the team addressed a sell-out crowd. The Doctor basked in the championship glory, iterating that the team had been trying for 7 years to get to this point. He and Coach Cunningham thanked the fans for their support, including them as a major reason for their success. This was the city’s 4th parade in the past 9 years, with the Flyers winning the Stanley Cup in 1974, and 1975, and the Phillies winning the World Series in 1980. However, Philadelphia would not celebrate another championship parade for another quarter-century, when the Phillies won in 2008.

The legacy of the 1983 Sixers will never be erased. They were the first NBA team to lose only 1 game in the postseason – a feat that has been done only twice since, by the 2001 Lakers and the 2017 Warriors. The big four of Erving, Malone, Cheeks, and Jones, along with Coach Cunningham, have all since had their jersey numbers retired by the 76ers. Although they would not win the Finals again, the Dr. J era Sixers can be considered an Eastern Conference dynasty of the late ’70s and early ’80s. The team holds a special place in the hearts of Philly fans, who long for the Sixers to one day return to their former glory as the best team in the association.


A History of Thanksgiving Pro Football in Philadelphia

Quick note before you begin reading: Shibe Sports at 13th and Walnut will be having a blowout sale all weekend. 30% off everything between 9-12 on Friday, and 20% off everything for the remainder of the weekend! If you’re a fan of the history of Philadelphia sports, you’ll love the store. In addition to running this site, I’m also one of the owners.

This year will mark the 7th time the Eagles have done battle on Thanksgiving Day. Before them the Yellow Jackets actually had a Thanksgiving Day rivalry. Here’s a brief synopsis of every Thanksgiving Day NFL game played involving one of the two Philly teams.

1924-The Frankford Yellow Jackets defeated the Dayton Triangles, 32-7. In the pick below player/coach Guy Chamberlin and Johnny Budd chase down the Triangles Faye Abbot.

dayton

1926– The Yellow Jackets knocked off the Packers, 20-14, in front of a packed stadium of 12,000 people. The Jackets would go to on to finish the season 14-1-2 and win the NFL championship. They’re the last team to win an NFL title and later fold. The game also marked the start of a Thanksgiving Day rivalry with the Packers that would last until 1930. Here’s a great pic of that 1926 championship team.

1927-The Packers returned the favor, winning 17-9. You can read more about the Packers-Yellow Jackets Thanksgiving rivalry here. (The games were all played in Frankford. Once November hit, the Packers would play most of their games on the road.)

1928-The Yellow Jackets edged the Packers 2-0, the only score coming on a bad snap during a botched punt attempt by the Packers.

1929– Hard to believe that the 1929 game could be lower scoring than the 1928 affair, but it was. 0-0 was the final. The Yellow Jackets got the ball down to the 2-yard line at one point, but couldn’t punch it in. The tie would be the only blemish on the Packers 12-0-1 championship season.

1930– The Yellow Jackets franchise was starting to fall apart, and the Packers were on their way to a 2nd straight NFL title. The result of this game was never in doubt. The Packers, led by QB Red Dunn, won 25-7.

A fire to their stadium right before the 1931 season forced the Yellow Jackets to scramble to find places to play. Playing outside of Frankford meant that their fans couldn’t make it to the games, and fans in other parts of town didn’t come out to support a team from Frankford. The team folded midway through the 1931 season. Two years later the lesson was learned…don’t just represent a small section of the city, represent the whole city. The Philadelphia Eagles were born. They would play on Thanksgiving far less frequently than the Frankford Yellow Jackets did.

1939– The Eagles defeated the Pittsburgh Pirates, 17-14, on Thanksgiving Day. It would be the Eagles only win all season. Their young QB Davey O’Brien led the way with 208 yards passing.

1940– The Steelers (having changed their name from the Pirates) got their revenge, knocking off the Eagles 7-0. The Birds would finish the season 1-10. Of course, these two teams would join forces a few years later.

mud

1968– The Eagles would finally play on Thanksgiving 28 years later. Once again they were one of the worst teams in the league, heading into their Thanksgiving Day tilt with an 0-11 record. A torrential downpour over the previous 36-hours turned the field into a swamp. The Eagles won the game 12-0 on four Sam Hall field goals, a rare bright spot in a disastrous season, one best remembered for the “Santa game”.

1989– This one is deserving of it’s own post, which I may do later in the week. The Bounty Bowl ended with the Eagles winning 27-0, the team trying to injure Luis Zendejas, and Jimmie Johnson screaming about Buddy Ryan’s big fat rear end. Here is Jimmie Johnson talking about that game a few years ago.

2008– The Eagles entered this game against the Cardinals with some quarterback controversy. The week before Andy Reid had benched a struggling Donovan McNabb against the Ravens and played Kevin Kolb. He didn’t announce McNabb as his starter until late in the week. McNabb seemed rejuvenated, and his 4 TD passes led the Eagles to a 48-20 win. Of course, these same two teams would meet in the NFC championship game later that season, and the Cardinals would knock off the Eagles 32-25.

2014- The Eagles both came into this game 8-3, with first place in the NFC East on the line. The Eagles, led by backup QB Mark Sanchez, dominated from the outset. Tony Romo, meanwhile, floundered against the Eagles defensive line which dominated the game. The 33-10 win established the Eagles as the class of the NFC East. It also marked the high water mark for the Chip Kellie regime. At that point, the Eagles had gone 19-9 under his tutelage, and the local press was singing his praises. Then the wheels came off. The Eagles would lose to the Seahawks a week later, then fall to the Cowboys in a rematch, before finally falling to the 3-11 Redskins and being eliminated from playoff contention. Since that Cowboys win, the Eagles have gone 5-9 and now the local media is calling for Kellie’s head.

And so the Eagles head to Detroit for only their 7th Thanksgiving Day game in 82 years. The same number that the Yellow Jackets played over a 7-year stretch. Let’s hope the Eagles improve upon their 5-1 Thanksgiving Day record.


The Stars Win the 1984 USFL Championship

On July 15th, 1984, the Philadelphia Stars met the Arizona Wranglers in Tampa, with the USFL Championship on the line. The Stars had lost the championship game the year before, 24-22, in a thriller against the Michigan Panthers, and they did not want to get denied again. They stormed through the regular season, finishing a league best 16-2, then easily dispatched of Brian Sipe, Herschel Walker, and the New Jersey Generals in the first round of the playoffs, 28-7. In the Eastern Conference Finals, they cruised past the Birmingham Stallions, 20-10.

The Wranglers had a tougher road into the finals, finishing the season 10-8, then knocking off two future Hall of Fame QBs in the playoffs, Jim Kelly of the Houston Gamblers and Steve Young of the LA Express.

The Stars were led by their superstar running back, Kelvin Bryant, who had outgained Herschel Walker that season, running for 1406 yards and 13 TDs. At QB, they had the solid if unspectacular Chuck Fusina, who looked for receivers Scott Fitzkee and Willie Collier. The Stars had a terrific O-line, anchored by Irv Eatman and Brat Oates. Their defense, known as the Doghouse Defense, had allowed a stingy 12.5 ppg in the regular season.

Tampa Stadium was packed, and the 52,662 fans on hand were about to be treated to a clinic. On their first possession, the Stars methodically moved downfield, grinding up 66 yards on 10 plays before little used Bryan Thomas scored on a draw from 4 yards out to make it 7-0. After their defense shut down Greg Landry and the Wranglers offense, the offense went back to work, moving 54 yards in 9 plays before a Fusina QB sneak made in 13-0. The 2nd quarter was more of the same, but two Stars fumbles and a missed FG meant that Arizona was only down 13-3 at the half, despite being outgained, 249 yards to 49.

allen_harvin_1984_07_15The second half saw more of the same, with the Stars dominating in every phase of the game, and when the final gun sounded, the Stars were USFL champions, having won by a score of 23-3. The Doghouse Defense had allowed Arizona a mere 119 yards of total offense and less than 17 minutes Time of Possession. Kelvin Bryant had rushed for 115 yards despite a bad toe, and Chuck Fusina was named MVP after a methodical game at QB.

The team would have a parade at LOVE Park the following week. It would be their last game as the Philadelphia Stars. The owners, spurred on by Donald Trump, made the fatal error of voting to move to the fall in 1986. KNowing he couldn’t compete with the Eagles, owner Myles Tanebaum moved the team to Baltimore that offseason. They would win a title as the Baltimore Stars in 1985 (despite practicing and maintaining their headquarters in Philly), but the league would fold before the 1986 season.

The Stars would finish as the best team in USFL history with a 48-13-1 record, and there were some who thought they could have competed in the NFL. In fact, legend has it that Tanenbaum and Tose once ran into each other at Old Original Bookbinders. Tanenbaum challenged Tose to a game between the Eagles and Stars. Tose wanted to bet $1 million on his Eagles. Tanenbaum replied, “Leonard, if I thought you were good for the money I’d do it in a heartbeat.” The two men had to be seperated, and sadly, the two teams never played. Sadder still, the most succesful pro sports team in Philadelphia history only called Philly home for two years.

If you want to learn more about the Stars, I highly recommend this piece in Jerseyman Magazine.  


Behind the Scenes of the Worst Trade in Phillies History, and How Larry Bowa Got Back at the Phils

sandberg1In 1980, the fiery Dallas Green led the Philadelphia Phillies to their first ever World Series title. Just over a year later, Green was taken from the Phils, as the Chicago Cubs hired him to be their GM. He immediately went to work, firing Chicago fan favorites and bringing in Phillies players such as Keith Moreland, Dickie Noles, and Dan Larsen. But it was on January 27th, 1982, that the most memorable trade between the Phillies and the Cubs took place. The end result was the worst trade ever in a long Phillies history of terrible trades.

As soon as he ascended to the GM position, Green recognized that the Cubs needed some veteran leadership, and called his old friend Bill Giles in the Phillies front office. Phillies President Giles and Bowa were locked in a tense contract dispute, with Bowa wanting a 3-year extension and Giles (and GM Paul Owen) loathe to give so many years to a shortstop who was already 36-years old. Furthermore, the Phillies had two young shortstops waiting in the wings who were expected to take over at short in the near future. They were Luis Aguayo and Ryne Sandberg (above left).


By early January, rumors of an impending deal began to appear in the papers. In an interview on Philadelphia radio on January 7th, an angry Bowa said that the trade with the Cubs then being discussed by the two front offices would send him, Dick Davis, and Luis Aguayo to the Cubs for the all-glove no-bat Ivan DeJesus and a pitcher named Bill Caudill. DeJesus would essentially be a cheaper and slightly younger placeholder than Bowa until Sandberg came up, while also shoring up the defense.

But though the trade seemed imminent at that time, it wouldn’t be completed for another three weeks. Why? Because Dallas Green didn’t want Aguayo. He wanted the other young Phillies shortstop. The following comes from an interview with Green in the book Almost a Dynasty: The Rise and Fall of the 1980 Phillies:

“Ivan DeJesus was a proven-and marketable-shortstop. At first the Phillies tried to keep Ryne Sandberg from us. But I insisted on him if I was to make the deal. I think the Phillies knew Ryne was a good athlete. They just had no place to play him for two or three years. They were going for a pennant and there was some skepticism that he could play shortstop in the majors. Schmidt was at third. I always thought Ryne could play center field, but Maddox was there. The Phillies never really thought of him as a second baseman and besides Trillo was already there.”

On January 27th, Green finally convinced the Phillies to part with Sandberg instead of Aguayo, and the trade went through. The papers paid little attention to Sandberg. After all, the young shortstop had hit a paltry .167 in 1981 in 13 games played for the Phils. He was good, but most people saw him as a throw in on the deal. Bowa (right) realized his potential, however. When told that the “throw-in” was Sandberg, Bowa responded, “Well then, I was the guy they threw in because Sandberg is going to be a great player.” Those were the only kind words Bowa had to say about the deal, as he lashed out at the Phillies front office, telling the Daily News that the Phillies had once been like a family, but “That all changed when Giles took over. It’s all corporate now. No more family.”

Furious at the Phils, Bowa decided to get back at them by helping to groom Sandberg into a star. Again from the excellent book above, Cubs teammate Dickie Noles talks about Bowa and Sandberg.

“Ryne and Bowa were inseperable. They were at the ballpark before anyone else, working their tails off, taking ground balls, hitting, working the double play. I think Bowa also loosened him up a bit. Ryne was a real quiet guy. But Bowa got him to come out of his shell, to talk a little trash. He gave him a little cockiness, but in a good way.” 

By 1984, Ryne Sandberg was the best 2nd baseman in baseball, and was named NL MVP that year. He would go to the All-Star game 10 times and win the Gold Glove 9 times. His career .989 fielding percentage is the best ever for an MLB 2nd baseman. He is universally acknowledged as one of the best 10 2nd baseman in MLB history.

Ivan DeJesus turned out to be OK. He played for the Phils for three years, and it must be noted that his excellent defense did help the team make the 1983 World Series. And Luis Aguayo, the shortstop the Cubs didn’t want? He turned out to be…adequate is perhaps the kindest term, a utility player for the Phils for 9 years. As Whitey succinctly put it during one game during Aguayo’s tenure in Philadelphia: “Luis Aguayo is on deck. Aguayo hasn’t exactly been reminding anybody of Rogers Hornsby lately.”

Remarkably, most of these men’s futures would all also be tied in somehow to the Phillies. Sandberg has of course become manager of the team. Bowa was their manager from 2001-2004, and was just named bench coach. Green would later return to the Phils’ front office as a senior advisor. And Luis Aguayo was the New York Mets third base coach in 2008, the year they collapsed in September and blew it against the Philadelphia Phillies.

PREVIOUSLY: The Phillies trade Ferguson Jenkins to the Cubs for Larry Jackson and Bob Buhl.


The Real Miracle at the Meadowlands 2

A couple of years ago, when the Eagles pulled off their miraculous comeback win over the Giants, culminated by a DeSean Jackson TD with no time left, people called it the Miracle at the Meadowlands 2. In fact, it was Miracle at the Meadowlands 3. Some people seem to have forgotten the 2nd one. Which is too bad, because it’s just as crazy as the other two.

The Eagles had stumbled out of the gate in 1988, going 1-3 in the mont of September. They finally started to right the ship in late October, and by November 20th, they were riding a 3 game winning streak into the Meadowlands. The Giants, meanwhile, were 7-4 and tied with the Cardinals atop the division.

It was 48 degrees and pouring rain at kickoff, and it never let up. Randall Cunningham was rendered rather ineffective (14-36, 224 yards) by the rain and the Giants D, and the running backs combined for a mere 43 yards (Randall put up another 64 on the ground.) But the Birds caught a couple of breaks, and also knocked Giants QB Phil Simms out of the game with a bruised shoulder in the 3rd quarter. His replacement, Jeff Hostetler, was completely ineffective, but the Giants still clung to a 17-10 lead with less than 5 minutes left. That’s when Cunningham connected with Keith Jackson over the middle. Jackson was hit by Terry Kinard at the 2 yard line, and coughed it up. It tumbled into the end zone where Cris “All He Does is Catch Touchdwon Passes” Carter proved that he could also recover touchdown fumbles. The game went into overtime.

In overtime, Jeff Hostetler threw a pass into the arms of Eagles defensive back Terry Hoage, and the Birds took over on the Giants 41. They marched the ball down the field to the 13, then Luis Zendejas lined up for the winning field goal. The snap was good, the hold was good, and…”I didn’t see anything,” said Clyde Simmons. ”I just heard a thud.”

Lawrence Taylor had ripped through the middle and blocked the kick. Defensive end Clyde Simmons scooped the ball up at the 15 (there was no lateral as Merrill Reese states in the video) and started running it in. It was a heads up play, as a lot of guys didn’t realize that was he was doing was legal.

”We chased him,” said Leonard Marshall, the Giant defensive end. ”But I think a lot of us thought they couldn’t do that.”

It was legal, since Simmons had picked it up behind the line of scrimmage. And it got the Eagles into the playoffs. Both the Giants and the Eagles finished the season with 10-6 records, but the Eagles went to the playoffs on account of the fact they had beaten the Giants twice that season. To think, if Clyde Simmons hadn’t picked up that fumble…it might have been the Giants playing in that absurd game at Soldier Field in the playoffs. And another interesting note: this game took place 10 years and 1 day after the original Miracle in the Meadowlands.

Quotes and the storyline came from the boxscore of the game and this 1988 NY Times piece.


What in the Hell is John Smallwood Talking About?

Interesting column by John Smallwood this past week in the Daily News about the 1982 Phils, and comparing them to the 2012 team.

I WONDER IF this is what Philadelphia was like in 1982.

Were disgruntled Phillie fans storming Veteran Stadium with pitchforks and torches in hand demanding the head of new manager Pat Corrales?

Did they want to trade superstars like Mike Schmidt, Steve Carlton, Pete Rose and Gary Matthews for prospects to protect the future?

After all, just two seasons before, in 1980, the Phillies won the first World Series championship in franchise history.

But in 1981, they lost to the Montreal Expos in the National League Divisional Series during a strike year.

Now, in ’82, management was clearly guilty of trying to stretch out a great run instead of building for the future.

From World Series champs to 81-81 in two short seasons — convincing evidence that this franchise stunk once again and was heading down the toilet.

A pretty interesting comparison of the 1982 Phillies to the 2012 Phillies. Except that the 1982 he describes didn’t happen. Not even close. The Phillies did not go 81-81 in 1982. They went 89-73 and missed the pennant by a mere 3 games. There was no outrage in Philadelphia because the team was still pretty damn good, winning only two less games than they did in the World Champion year of 1980. Why would people bring pitchforks to the Vet when the team led the NL East as late as September 13th?

It’s understandable when writers make minor mistakes. I do it all the time. (See that alert reader corrected an error in the comments of the Frank Baker story below.) But geez, when the mistake forms the entire premise of the column, you’d think there would be perhaps a quick Google search of “1982 Phillies”, either by Smallwood or an editor.

Smallwood says that the 1982 Phillies and the 2012 Phillies are quite similar. They couldn’t be more different. The Phillies made a serious run at the pennant in 1982. The 2012 Phillies won’t come anywhere the pennant. The 1982 Phillies won 89 games.  The 2012 team has a better chance of losing 89.

I find it amusing that the opening line is, “I wonder if this is what Philadelphia was like in 1982.” The answer is No. Not even close.


Badass Poster of Schmidt and Steve

This poster was released after the 1980 season. Any of you guys have it hanging on your wall when you were kids?


This Date in Phillies History: Mike Schmidt Says Goodbye

On May 29, 1989, Michael Jack Schmidt announced his retirement from Major League Baseball.

Schmidt played out 42 games of the 1989 season, but stepped away from the game just prior to his 43rd.  He announced his retirement at Jack Murphy Stadium before the Phillies took the field against the Padres.

Nagging injuries and age had caught up with the 39-year-old infielder.  He missed the last two months of the ’88 season after undergoing shoulder surgery.  His struggles to open the ’89 season led him to admit that he simply couldn’t do it anymore.  He was hitting only .203 with 6 HR at the time of his retirement.  He was mired in a 2-41 slump at the plate and was leading the Phillies with 8 errors. In his tearful speech, the opening of which is below, he said: “Over the years, I’ve set high standards for myself as a player, and I always said that when I couldn’t live up to those standards I would retire. I no longer have the skills needed to make adjustments at the plate to hit or to make some plays in the field and run the bases.”

Schmidt retired with 548 career home runs, 3 NL MVP Awards, a World Series MVP Award, 10 Golden Gloves, 6 Silver Slugger Awards, and 12 All-Star Game appearances.  He led the National League in home runs 8 times and in RBI 4 times.  In 1995, he was inducted as a first ballot Hall of Famer.


A Timeline of Sixers vs Celtics Rivalry

It’s been great to see this Sixers-Celtics series get off to such an exciting start. In the late 60s and again in the early 80s, this was one of the premiere rivalries in basketball, but both teams have been extremely inconsistent since and the rivalry fizzled. Here is a look at all of their playoff meetings (not including times they met when 76ers were the Syracuse Nationals).

1965, when Havlicek stole the damn ball. The Celtics would go on to crush LA in the Finals.

1966– Celtics win 4-1. Would beat LA in 7 games in the Finals.

1967-Sixers win 4-1, go on to win title over San Fran Warriors.

1968-Sixers took a 3-1 lead in the Eastern Conference Finals, but lost the last three games to Russell and the Celtics, who went on to win the title. Chamberlain took a ton of criticism for the loss from fans and the media, and demanded a trade to LA.

1969- Celtics win 4-1. Would beat Chamberlain and Lakers in Finals, 4 games to 3.

1977- The Sixers won 4-3. Went on to lose to Trail Blazers in Finals.

In the 80s, the rivalry reached its burning point. Philly and Boston were undoubtedly the best two teams in the East, and met each other in the Eastern Conference Finals four times between 1980 and 1985, with each team taking two.

1980- Sixers cruised to a 4-1 Series lead. After knocking off rookie sensation Larry Bird, they would lose to another incredible rookie, Magic Johnson, and the Lakers in Six.

1981- That year’s Conference Final was one of the most exciting playoff series in sports history (John Hollinger of ESPN ranked it the #1 greatest playoff series in NBA history). 5 of the 7 games were determined by 2 points or less, including the last 4 games. Furthermore, the two teams had finished the regular season 62-20. They may have been the two most evenly matched teams in NBA history. The Sixers blew a 3-1 lead in the Series, lost Game 7 by one point at the Garden, and the Celtics went on to cruise to an NBA title over the Rockets. This may have been the most devastating loss in Sixer history.

1982- The Sixers and Celtics met again in the Conference Finals. Once again the Sixers took a 3-1 Series lead. Once again, the Celtics won Game 5 in Boston and Game 6 at the Spectrum to force a game 7. Were the Sixers going to blow it again?

No. The Sixers stormed the Garden, blowing out the Celtics. With just a couple of minutes remaining, and a Sixers win assured, a most remarkable thing happened. The Celtic fans started chanting, “Beat LA! Beat LA!”. You have to think that it inspired the USA! USA! chants in Rocky IV. Right?

Anyway, an incredible moment, but it was not to be. The Lakers would beat the Sixers in 6 games. The Sixers would have to wait until they got a player named Moses to get tho the promised land.

1985- Celtics win 4-1. Lose to Lakers in Finals.

2002-Celtics win 3-2 in the first round. This series is best remembered for “Practice?”

 


When Lefty Lost a 10-Inning Shutout

On Wednesday, April 18th, Cliff Lee threw a remarkable 10 inning shutout. He was the first Phillie to throw a 10 inning shutout in over 30 years, since Lefty did it in a game against the Expos in 1981. The Phillies also lost that game, 1-0. Here’s the story of that loss.

It’s impossible to overstate Steve Carlton’s greatness. His 1972 season is mentioned in the same breath as Bob Gibson’s 1968 and Doc Gooden’s 1985. He won 329 games and has the 4th most strikeouts in MLB history. He won 4 Cy Young’s and played in 10 All-Star games. Another testament to his greatness? The game he threw on September 21st, 1981, that was strikingly similar to Cliff Lee’s on Wednesday night, with perhaps an even crueler ending.

The 1981 season was cut in half by a contentious strike, and when play resumed the owners decided to split it into halves and declare winners from the first and second halves. (The result was disastrous, with Cincy and St. Louis sporting the two best records in the NL, but neither making the playoffs). The Phillies had won the first half, and thus had nothing to play for in the 2nd half. Therefore, it was no surprise that they went 34-21 in the first half, then went 25-27 in the 2nd half. One of those 27 losses was more painful than the others, however.

Carlton faced off against journeyman pitcher Ray Burris, who would throw for 6 teams over 15 season, winning more games than he lost only four times in his career. But on this day, he was unhittable, shutting down the Phillies frame after frame. Carlton was even more dominant. While Burris only recorded one K, Carlton, put up 12. After 9 innings, the two teams were tied at zero, and they went into extra frames. Burris came out for the 10th and sent the Phils down 1-2-3. Carlton came out in the bottom of the 10th and did the same. And so, after 10 innings, each pitcher had given up 3 hits and had nothing to show for it. They were both pulled for pinch hitters in the 11th.

The game went into the 17th inning, still scoreless. With two outs in the top of the 17th, the Expos sent in a young man named Bryn Smith who had pitched all of 8.2 innings in his career. After giving up a single to Manny Trillo, he induced Len Matuszek to fly out to left and end the inning. In the bottom of the 17th, Andre Dawson singled home Rodney Scott, and the Expos got the win. Bryn Smith faced two batters, retired one and got the win. Steve Carlton faced 35 batters, retired 29, struck out 12, and got an ND. Baseball can be a funny game.

Smith went on to have a very nice career, winning 108 games and finishing with a very respectable 3.53 ERA. But his first one came fairly cheap. Here’s the box score to that game. A very fun box score to look at, as both team had some all-time greats on their roster.

RELATED STORY: Former Phillies pitcher Joe Oeschger throws 20 innings and gets a no-decision.