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Even without the Philadelphia 76ers playing without star center Joel Embiid on Monday, the heavily-favored Boston Celtics faltered in an embarrassing home loss in Game 1 of the conference semifinals. Not much went right for Boston down the stretch in a 119-115 loss that puts the Celtics in an early hole.

Boston must hope that trend doesn’t follow what happened against the 76ers during the 1980 Eastern Conference Finals. That was a series where nothing went right for Boston, even in the locker room.

The Boston Celtics had plenty of trouble with the Philadelphia 76ers before

Kevin McHale of the Boston Celtics shoots over Bobby Jones of the Philadelphia 76ers during an NBA game circa 1980 at the Boston Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. | Focus on Sport/Getty Images.

The Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers were bitter rivals in the early part of the 1980s, and it all began with the 1979-80 season. Larry Bird was a rookie, and he guided the Celtics to an NBA-best 61 victories in his first NBA season. Boston had 29 wins the previous year.

With 59 wins, the 76ers were the second seed in the Eastern Conference. Both teams cruised through the playoffs and met up for the right to play in the 1980 NBA Finals. Just like the Sixers did to the Celtics on Monday, they did it in Game 1 on April 18, 1980.

The Sixers went into Boston and showed them who’s boss in a 96-93 victory, setting the tone for the series. Julius Erving led the way with 29 points. The Celtics did bounce back in Game 2 with a 96-90 victory behind Bird’s 31 points but then dropped three straight, losing the best-of-five series, 4-1.

The teams also squared off in the conference finals for the next two seasons. The Celtics rallied from a 3-1 series deficit to earn an improbable berth in the 1981 NBA Finals. There, they knocked off the Houston Rockets in six games to clinch the first of their three championships of the decade.

The following season, Philly held another 3-1 series lead in the conference finals, only to see Boston rally to force a Game 7 back in Boston. Andrew Toney took charge for the Sixers in Game 7, scoring 34 points in Philly’s 120-106 victory

In 1980, everything went wrong for the Celtics against the 76ers

After squandering homecourt advantage with the Game 1 loss in 1980, the Celtics had a chance to reclaim it in Game 3 in Philadelphia. They threw it away.

The Celtics were down by two points with 16 seconds left and had the ball. According to Sports Illustrated, Pete Maravich, signed earlier in the season, was supposed to take the last shot. Instead, the ball was fumbled around, and the Celtics left with a 99-97 loss. One Celtics player pinned that loss on head coach Bill Fitch.

“He has about 200 plays but we use five,” the player said, per Sports Illustrated. “Why did he pick one of the other 195? Nobody knew what was going on.”

Defense won the series for the Sixers. In Game 4, they blocked 15 Celtics shots. Philly tried to give the game away by making just two of 23 shots from the floor in the fourth quarter. Boston failed to take advantage, collecting just 16 points in the quarter in a 102-90 loss. The Sixers then closed out the series in Boston with a 105-94 victory.

It wasn’t just on the court where everything went wrong for the Celtics. After Game 4, an incident in the Boston locker room summed up how everything went for the Celtics.

A mirror hanging above M.L. Carr’s locker came crashing down on his head, causing a loud crash and a scream. The back of Carr’s shoulder had a four-inch gash, and silence filled the locker room.

“You see what I mean about things not going right?” Fitch said.


The Boston Celtics Had Their Most Significant Comeback In History Against the Philadelphia 76ers