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Larry Bird vs. Dr. J this is not; Celtics-76ers rivalry is now one-sided

Joel Embiid powered his way to a dunk, and 35 points, against helpless Celtic defenders such as Luke Kornet.
Joel Embiid powered his way to a dunk, and 35 points, against helpless Celtic defenders such as Luke Kornet.Matthew J Lee/Globe staff

Boston vs. Philadelphia has given us Bill Russell vs. Wilt Chamberlain and Larry Bird vs. Julius Erving. Tuesday at the Garden we got Tacko Fall vs. Joel Embiid. Yikes.

Embiid (35 points) and the conference-leading Sixers beat the Fool’s Gold Celtics, 106-96, at the Garden Tuesday to sweep the season series from the overrated, back-under-.500 Green Team. There was talk of a Celtic “winning streak” after victories over horrible Houston and depleted Charlotte, but we should all know not to take the cheese on the Brad Stevens Five.

Robert Williams got the start vs. Embiid (115 points in three games vs. Boston this year) and his foul trouble led to Celtic trouble in the first half. With Williams on the pine and poor Luke Kornet getting rag-dolled by Embiid, Philly went on a 21-2 run and Stevens called for Tacko to guard Philadelphia’s behemoth center. It’s never a good sign when it’s Tacko Time in the first half against a team with a 35-16 record. The Sixers are legit now that Doc Rivers is calling the shots from the bench. And Embiid is Philly’s new Chamberlain. Boston’s Time Lord scored 4 points and fouled out in 14 minutes.

“My biggest concern coming into the game was Rob staying on the court,” said Stevens. " …Embiid is a handful on the block.”


Late in the fourth, former Celtic big man Kendrick Perkins, watching from his home in Houston, tweeted, “Joel Embiid is PUNISHING the Celtics right now and I mean Straight Daddy Ball . . . ’'

Note to Celtic fans who like to blame the officials: when the other team takes 21 more free throws, it does not mean you are getting jobbed by the refs; it means you are slow and lazy and they are working harder than you.


Joel Embiid dunks as Luke Kornet watches during the fourth quarter Tuesday night.
Joel Embiid dunks as Luke Kornet watches during the fourth quarter Tuesday night.Matthew J Lee/Globe staff

I’d be happy if the Celtics played the 76ers 82 times every year. It goes back to my childhood when Red Auerbach’s C’s were champions every year.

Celtics-Sixers gave us Havlicek Stole The Ball in the final moment of the 1965 Eastern Conference finals. Those Sixers had Chamberlain, Hal Greer and Chet Walker. In 1966, Red’s final season on the bench, Bill Russell overcame Wilt once again in the conference finals, beating the Sixers, 4 games to 1, setting up Red’s last cigar on the bench. A year later, with Russell taking over as Boston’s player-coach, the 76ers beat the Celtics, 4 games to 1, to break Boston’s string of eight consecutive championship seasons. That Sixer team was quickly anointed “best ever,” which annoyed Red to his dying day.

The rivalry heated up again when Bird, Robert Parish, and Kevin McHale roamed the parquet in the early 1980s. The Celtics’ comeback from a 3-1 deficit in the 1981 conference final was a clear indication the Bird era was going to be special. Celtics-Sixers in ’81 is best remembered for McHale’s block on Andrew Toney in Game 6 in Philly. That was the same night Cedric Maxwell went into the stands after a Philadelphia fan used disgusting language. According to Max, the court case on that matter is still pending.

One year later, Celtics-Sixers gave the world “Beat LA” when Boston fans recognized defeat in the final minutes of Game 7 and sent the Sixers off to Los Angeles with a show of Eastern Conference support.


Moses Malone was introduced to the rivalry in 1982-83 and immediately led the Sixers to a championship. A year later, Red stormed across the parquet floor during a preseason game and challenged Malone to a fight after Bird was ejected in the first half.

“We probably won the championship that night,’' Bird said after the ’84 Celtics beat the Lakers in seven.

Larry Bird had several memorable battles with the Sixers.
Larry Bird had several memorable battles with the Sixers.The Boston Globe/Boston Globe

Bird and Dr. J famously tried to strangle one another during a Garden game in November of 1984. Ted Gartland’s photo of the dust-up is the Celtics-Sixers version of the Jason Varitek-A-Rod image that adorns most saloons in New England.

Fast forward to 2021 and the Celtics and Sixers are still going hard at one another. The Celtics broomed the Sixers from the playoffs last summer, prompting Philly to hire Rivers. The Sixers are tied with Brooklyn at the top of the Eastern Conference and the Celtics are uneven and ordinary at best.

Green Teamers were lining up excuses before the opening tap as the Celtics played without Evan Fournier, who has been placed in the NBA’s health and safety protocol. Boston leads the NBA in games lost to abundance of caution.

Williams and Embiid tipped off just after 7:45 p.m. The Celtics held their own for the first quarter, but struggled mightily in the second. With the Sixers leading, 53-38, Stevens called for Tacko to guard Embiid. Tacko scored over Embiid before intermission, but Philly led, 59-46, at the half.


Tacko had a lengthy shift on Embiid in the third that ended with the visitors leading, 85-70. It was 96-76 with six minutes left. Jayson Tatum looked like he’d rather be anywhere other than the parquet floor. Boston committed 22 turnovers. It’s hard to believe the Celtics swept these guys in the playoffs in August.

Straight Daddy Ball. Don’t even know what it means, but I love it.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at daniel.shaughnessy@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @dan_shaughnessy.