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The Boston Celtics are ready to face one of their biggest rivals in the Philadelphia 76ers when the NBA playoffs begin Monday night. The Celtics and 76ers are one of the league’s biggest rivalries after having met each other a league-best 22 times in the playoffs. The rivalry heated up in the 1980s when the teams met four times in the Eastern Conference Finals between 1980-85. In a series full of stars, it was Philadelphia’s Andrew Toney who usually shined the brightest against the Celtics.

Andrew Toney’s basketball career

Andrew Toney was a first-round pick in the 1980 NBA draft after playing his college basketball at Louisiana-Lafayette. The Philadelphia 76ers selected the 6-foot-3 shooting guard with the eighth overall pick. Toney spent eight seasons in the NBA – all with the team that drafted him.

Toney played on star-studded Sixers teams that included Julius Erving, Moses Malone, Maurice Cheeks, and later, Charles Barkley. He was an NBA champion (1982-83 season) who averaged 15.9 points and 4.2 assists per game over his career. Toney came off the bench in his first two seasons in the NBA before becoming a full-time starter during the 1982-83 season.

A two-time NBA All-Star, Toney had his best statistical year during the 1983-84 season. Toney averaged a career-high 20.4 points that year and also dished out 4.8 assists per game. His professional career was cut short due to chronic foot injuries.

The Sixers vs. Celtics rivalry

Technically, the NBA rivalry between Philadelphia and Boston dates back to the late 1940s when the Sixers were known as the Syracuse Nationals. In 1963, the Nationals moved to Philadelphia and became the 76ers. The teams have the most meetings in the playoffs, playing 22 series. Boston owns a 13-9 record against Philadelphia in series victories.

The Celtics defeated the Sixers in back-to-back seasons during the playoffs in 1965 and 1966 to reach the NBA Finals. Those series had Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell battling against each other. The following season, the Sixers won the battle, ending Boston’s eight-year reign as champions.

In the early 80s, Julius Erving, Moses Malone, Andrew Toney, and Maurice Cheeks battled Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish, among others. Things were so heated in that era that a melee took place when the teams met during a 1983 exhibition game. The teams met four times in the Eastern Conference Finals between 1980-85, with each team winning twice.

Andrew Toney was a Celtics killer


Larry Bird’s Heated Brawl with Julius Erving in 1984 Began Innocently Enough

While Julius Erving, Moses Malone, and Charles Barkley were the biggest names on the Philadelphia 76ers, nobody hurt the Boston Celtics more than Andrew Toney. Toney was known as ‘The Boston Strangler’ for his monster games against the Celtics. In 1982, Toney scored 25 points in the fourth quarter against the Celtics. During Game 7 of the 1982 Eastern Conference Finals, Toney scored a game-high 34 to lead the Sixers into the NBA Finals.

In 1991, more than three years after Toney retired from the NBA, Danny Ainge said he still had nightmares about guarding Toney. “He was the toughest guy I ever guarded,” Ainge told The Baltimore Sun. “I still talk about him all the time and I was telling the guys in Portland about him last week. I still wake up in the middle of the night screaming his name.”

Charles Barkley said Toney was the best player he ever played with. “Andrew Toney is the best player I ever played with,” said Barkley. “When I first got to Philadelphia, everyone kept asking me, ‘How’s Dr. J? What’s Moses like? How about Maurice Cheeks?’ I told them, ‘They’re all fine, but wait until you see Andrew.'”