The Boston Celtics certainly have had their fair share of rivals since the franchise was founded in 1946. The Los Angeles Lakers, Detroit Pistons, and Philadelphia 76ers are three teams that come to mind when the Celtics’ rivalry topic pops up.
They’ve also had their share of individual players who have come in and ripped the hearts out of Celtics fans. Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Moses Malone, and LeBron James are a few who have done just that. But who’s the one player who has consistently come up big against Boston and can be labeled the biggest Celtics killer?
Many believe the Los Angeles Lakers are the biggest rival of the Boston Celtics
When Larry Bird and Magic Johnson came into the league after their epic 1979 NCAA championship game, the Celtics/Lakers rivalry was rekindled. Boston and LA had their battles before with Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain leading the way, but Bird and Magic took the rivalry to a whole new level in the 1980s.
In every year of that decade, either the Celtics or the Lakers reached the NBA Finals. They faced each other three times, meeting up in 1984, 1985, and 1987.
In 1993, Bird admitted the battles against the Lakers were great, but it was those early 1980s games against the Philadelphia 76ers that were the most intense.
“LA was great, especially in a seven-game series, but to me, nothing was better than those Philly games when I first started out,” Bird said, according to United Press International.
Bird’s former teammates Cedric Maxwell and Nate “Tiny” Archibald agreed.
“I laugh when I think about the greatest series that I’ve ever played in,” Maxwell said on the Cedric Maxwell Podcast. “It wasn’t a championship series, but it had to be that Philadelphia/Boston 1981. Those were wars, man. They were wars.”
“It was always a war against us and Philadelphia,” Archibald said on the podcast. “Think about it now, the team that won would be in the championship game against either LA or Houston. I always tell people the war was Philadelphia.”
Andrew Toney of the Philadelphia 76ers is the Celtics’ biggest killer
Those early ’80s 76ers teams had Moses Malone, Julius Erving, Bobby Jones, and Maurice Cheeks. Philadelphia was a star-studded team, but it was a guy who flew under the radar who always gave the Celtics fits. Andrew Toney did so much damage to the Celtics that he was nicknamed “The Boston Strangler.”
“He was the toughest guy I ever guarded,” Ainge told The Baltimore Sun in 1991. “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.”
Toney’s signature moment came during Game 7 of the 1982 Eastern Conference Finals when he led all scorers with 34 points. The Sixers guard played 43 minutes and made 14 of 23 shots from the field. He added six assists and three rebounds in Philly’s 120-106 victory.
In 1981, the teams also met in the conference finals. Toney led the Sixers in scoring in the first two games despite coming off the bench. In Game 1, he put up 26 points. He had 35 points in 31 minutes in the second game.
During a game against the Celtics in March 1982, Toney came off the bench, scoring 38 points in 26 minutes.
Toney was a big reason why the Celtics went out and traded for Dennis Johnson, a defensive-minded guard.
“Am I the answer to Andrew Toney?” Johnson said after being acquired, per the Philadelphia Inquirer. “I don’t know. I don’t know if anyone can stop him. I’ve had some success against him, he’s had some success against me. But I’ll tell you something, when I’m on the court, he’ll feel my presence.”