By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — There are certain times in sports when the moment calls for the commissioner to step in and make an executive decision. So with that in mind: Please, Adam Silver, find a way to give the world a Celtics-76ers playoff series. We all need it.
That’s never been more clear than it was on Wednesday night, when the Sixers earned their first win of the season over the Celtics. The game itself was plenty entertaining, with Joel Embiid winning the mental battle by ceding the physical battle against Marcus Smart, with a number of lead changes, with some clutch baskets, and with an eager Philly crowd adding to the experience.
But the game was just the beginning. Once the players finished the game, we caught a glimpse of just how entertaining a two-week playoff series would be between these two rapidly rekindled rivals.
For Embiid, it was a markedly different postgame tone than the one he’s had after some recent losses to the Celtics. After a loss in October, he said, “This is not a rivalry. … They always kick our ass.” After a loss in February, Embiid said, “The referees [bleeping] suck.” (He was correct, for the record.)
But after Wednesday’s win, when he scored 37 points and pulled down an absurd 22 rebounds, Joel Embiid was feeling himself some Joel Embiid.
“I’ve been hearing that these guys can guard me better than everybody else, so I just had to come out and show that I’m the most unstoppable player in the league,” Embiid told ESPN.
Over in the losing locker room, though, morale wasn’t down too much, despite the 118-115 loss that essentially ended any lingering hope the Celtics may have had of climbing the standings to grab the three-seed from the Sixers.
Marcus Morris, who scored just four points in 35 minutes on the floor on 2-of-9 shooting, asked reporters what the season series with the 76ers was. When informed the Celtics owned a 3-1 edge — an answer he certainly already knew — Morris said it was about time that the Sixers won a game against Boston.
The Celtics went 3-1 vs. Philly last year, too, before eliminating the Sixers in five games in the second round of the playoffs.
It was during that playoff series that an employee at the Wells Fargo Center suffered from a case of premature confetti-ation late in Game 3. Marco Belinelli hit a long two to tie the game at the buzzer at the end of the fourth, but whoever was in charge of the confetti thought Belinelli was behind the 3-point line, so the confetti dropped, and it flew.
Eventually, the mess was cleared. And then the Celtics won in overtime.
So after this loss on Wednesday, Terry Rozier made a biting confetti quip when asked if it felt like this game meant more to the 76ers than just a standard regular-season game.
“Yeah I thought the confetti was gonna drop tonight,” Rozier told reporters. “Naw, I did. It was a huge, a big win. Not trying to take nothing away from ’em. But I thought the confetti was dropping tonight.”
Even in a league where pettiness can often rule the day, it’s not often you see such drama and pointed trash talk after a regular-season game. It’s enough to make visions of a seven-game playoff series dance through the heads of fans in both cities.
Alas, with the Sixers essentially locked into the No. 3 seed in the East, and with the Celtics certain to be in the 4-5 matchup with Indiana, we’re all very, very unlikely to get to experience that drama. A playoff meeting would require both the Celtics and Sixers to reach the Eastern Conference finals. That would require the Celtics to dispose of the Pacers (probable) and then get past the Bucks (questionable). And it would require the Sixers to beat their first-round opponent (Detroit or Brooklyn) and then eliminating the Raptors, against whom they are 1-3 this season.
Sure, if both teams do manage to make the conference finals, it will be great theater. Sadly, though, it appears this will be the final offering of the Celtics-Sixers rivalry for the 2018-19 season. On the one hand, it sure ended with a bang. On the other, we’ll unfortunately be left wondering just how great a long playoff series between these two teams that seem to genuinely dislike each other would have or could have been.