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For Boston Celtics fans looking for some positive news after Monday’s disastrous loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, we may have a little something for you.

The last time the Sixers won a Game 1 against the Celtics in a postseason game, things didn’t turn out so well for Philadelphia. Now, that was 42 years ago, but when the Sixers knocked off the Celtics in the series opener of the 1981 Eastern Conference Finals, the Celtics, led by Larry Bird, went on to win the NBA title.

The Boston Celtics look to bounce back from Monday’s ugly loss to the Philadelphia 76ers

Caldwell Jones of the Philadelphia 76ers looks to pass the ball over the top of Larry Bird of the Boston Celtics during an NBA game circa 1980 at the Boston Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. | Focus on Sport/Getty Images.

The Boston Celtics have the door wide open for them. So far, it looks like they are in no hurry to walk through it.

The second-seeded Celtics are now the highest seed in the Eastern Conference after the Miami Heat shocked the NBA by ousting the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks in five games. The Eastern Conference road to the NBA Finals runs through Boston — for now.

The Celtics had a golden opportunity to get a head start to the conference finals on Monday, but they flat-out blew it. With Joel Embiid, the 2022-23 MVP, sidelined with a knee injury, Boston had a perfect opportunity to take an early lead in the series. But like they typically do, the heavily-favored Celtics got complacent and saw the Sixers escape with a 119-115 victory.

Offensively, the Celtics were outstanding in the first half. They shot 85% in the first quarter, making 17 of 20 field goals. They converted 71% of their shots in the first half. Defensively is where they fell apart. Despite the offensive heroics, Boston led by just three points at the half.

“I felt like we started off well offensively, but I don’t think there was a sense of urgency on the defensive end,” Celtics center Al Horford said, per ESPN. “Embiid being out tonight, as much as you want to say it wasn’t a factor, I think it was. We have to be better. We have to understand that we have to be able to play with whatever happens, whatever variables. With our team, I’ve just seen it happen with us for whatever reason.”

The Celtics hope to get back on track in Game 2 Wednesday night at TD Garden.

The last time the 76ers beat the Celtics in a Game 1, Bird saved the season

Losing Game 1 at home doesn’t mean the series is over for the Celtics. They did the same thing last year against the Milwaukee Bucks and won the series in seven games. They also did it against the Sixers back in 1981.

In the early 1980s, the Celtics and 76ers played in the conference finals three straight times — 1980, 1981, and 1982. During the 1981 conference finals, the Sixers came into Boston and stole homecourt from the Celtics, winning 105-104. In fact, the 76ers jumped out to a 3-1 series lead before the Celtics made some noise.

In Game 5, Larry Bird scored 32 points as the Celtics rallied from six points down with 1:51 to go to pull out a 111-109 victory.

The Sixers led by 17 points in Game 6. It wasn’t enough, as Bird’s 25 points and 16 rebounds propelled the Celtics to an improbable 100-98 win. In Game 7, Philly led by seven points with 5:23 remaining but never made another field goal. Boston sealed the series with a 91-90 win. Bird led the way with 23 points and 11 rebounds.

“I can’t understand why Philly kept letting us back in,” Bird said after the series, per Sports Illustrated.

The current Celtics can’t play the role of the 1981 Sixers. Boston is the better team and can’t keep letting Philadelphia hang around.


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