BOSTON — Julius Erving strolled through the 76ers locker room as Philadelphia celebrated beating the Celtics to set up another Game 7 in Boston.
“It brings back all the memories,” the Hall of Famer said after the Sixers forced the first seventh game between the old rivals since he teamed with Andrew Toney to lead Philadelphia past Boston and into the 1982 NBA finals. “It seemed like it always came down to them. … Coming out of the East, (it) was always Boston or Philly.”
Jrue Holiday scored 20 points and Elton Brand had 13 points and 10 rebounds on Wednesday night to lead the 76ers to an 82-75 victory over the Celtics on Wednesday night that left the Eastern Conference semifinals tied 3-3. Both teams took the day off on Thursday to rest up for Game 7 in Boston on Saturday.
“That’s all we wanted was to win … and give ourselves a chance to go into Boston and see what happens on Saturday in Game 7,” Sixers coach Doug Collins said after his team stayed alive. “I want more. I want more. We’re going to get greedy, and we want more. We’ve fought, we’ve worked, and we’ve gone through a lot as a team.”
The Sixers and Celtics met 12 times in the playoffs from 1953-69 and five more from 1977-85, fomenting an animosity that stretched from Bob Cousy and the Syracuse Nationals through Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain and into the era of Dr. J and Boston’s original Big Three of Kevin McHale, Robert Parish and Larry Bird.
Collins played for the 76ers for eight years, retiring in 1981 due to a knee injury that limited him to just 48 games over the previous two seasons. He was hurt when the Sixers took a 3-1 lead in the ’81 conference finals before Boston came back, winning Game 7 when Bird banked in the winner for a spot in the finals en route to the Celtics’ 14th NBA title.
The teams met again in the conference finals the next year, and again Philadelphia opened a 3-1 lead before the Celtics came back to force a seventh game.
“It was here we go again. They talked a lot about the psyche of how the Philly fans thought the team had let them down once again, the disappointment,” said Collins, who was working the radio broadcasts when the Sixers held on to win in Boston. “They won that game. We have that same opportunity. Let’s give ourselves that chance. Let’s get ourselves back to Boston with a Game 7 and see what we can do.”
Before Game 6, Collins showed his team the video from the ’82 series to psych the players up.
“Sometimes, I think it’s good to go back and let guys see the history of the franchise with Boston and Philly,” he said. “Watching Julius and Maurice Cheeks, and Bobby Jones and Andrew Toney and these guys. Seeing McHale and Bird and Parish and that group of guys. It was good for our guys to see.”
It will be a new Boston Garden and new Big Three for this Game 7, and the rivalry isn’t what it once was, either.
Boston is just four years removed from its unprecedented 17th NBA title — and two years away from its last trip to the finals. But the Sixers barely made the playoffs this year and advanced past the top-seeded Bulls thanks at least in part to an injury to Chicago’s Derrick Rose.
The teams have met just once in the postseason since 1985, in the first round of the 2002 playoffs.
“It’s different,” Erving said. “They’re probably not the two best teams in the NBA right now. But of the six teams that are left, they’re still here, they’re still competing, they still want it.
“Their goal is to try and win the championship.”