Golden State Warriors game against Oklahoma City Thunder lacked the usual drama that surrounds the matchup since Kevin Durant’s move from Thunder to Golden State.
Durant’s old running mate, the center of attention and close buddy Russell Westbrook missed the game while recovering from surgery to a knee injury, sucked the drama out of the game due to the deep fracture in the pair’s relationship. And there is also the matter of Warriors players getting their Championship rings that dropped from the sky at Oracle Arena.
On the other side of the US, the opening game of the new season was played out between Boston Celtics and Philadelphia Sixers prior to Warriors appearance. Looking at player movement in the offseason majorly LeBron James departure from the conference to Los Angeles Lakers, Boston-Sixers fixture features two thirds of contenders in the conference.
The other third is Toronto Raptors who boosted its chances of making the NBA Finals despite losing multiple All Star DeMar DeRozan. That is down to Manager Masai Ujiri’s brave move to flip DeRozan and Jakob Poeltl for Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green who have a championship winning pedigree to their name.
The latter pair has shown up in dicey games in the postseason in prior years and solves the team’s biggest need DeRozan couldn’t provide.
LeBron’s exit leaves a gaping hole in the conference and further weakens the league’s all ready weak conference turning more eyes to the Western Conference. Boston run away with a comfortable 105-87 win over Philadelphia in a game the Sixers struggled with its shot. The team’s best options had poor shooting displays with Robert Covington converting two of seven attempts from three point range as Dario Saric missed all four attempts. JJ Redick missed six of eight attempts from the same distance en route to a 16 point production in the game.
Quizzed after the game about a growing rivalry between the teams, Sixers Center Joel Embiid disagreed completely with the thought. Talk of a rivalry stems from a heated semifinal playoffs series last season Boston won before falling to Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 7 of the conference finals. But should there be a rivalry? Yes.
For starters, the ingredients are there to make a rivalry very plausible especially when there is history of rivalry between the two.
Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell headlined Sixers and Boston’s great run in the NBA’s early years forging the foundation of what led to Larry Bird and Julius “Dr. J” Irving’s run while headlining the franchises in the mid 1980’s. Chamberlain was a scoring machine who opened the league up with his size and dominant numbers while Russell stopped everyone and everything on defense while doing so as a consummate teammate.
After a fallow period of playoff-less runs and extensive rebuilds, both teams are on a path to great levels the Warriors and Houston Rockets are on and Cleveland Cavaliers, San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat were on around the same time which has a grand potential for both teams to peak around the same time. As great as Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls rivalry with Isiah Thomas’ Detroit Pistons, it didn’t last beyond four seasons due to the gap in timelines.
Despite having Hall of Fame players beside them, Chamberlain, Dr. J, Bird and Russell were the main acts in the duo’s battle for supremacy. However, in the modern NBA world where star players join forces rather than stand to take the league down on their own, both teams have multiple star attractions for a long sustained rivalry. Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward joined Al Horford in Boston who has been supplanted by draft pick Jayson Tatum.
Philadelphia joined forces through the draft pairing Embiid, Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz. Irving, Tatum, Embiid and Simmons form a strong core of the league’s next generation of premier talent in the post LeBron era. And what better way to sell the conference than have the stars play in rival games on the biggest stages?
Beyond the historic games and star names, Boston and Philadelphia engaged in a not so common deal in 2017 when that year’s Draft rolled out. Wielding the first pick, Boston moved down to third for future picks and the chance to draft Tatum with Philadelphia moving to number one to pick Fultz. The infamous move has placed the two sophomores under the radar meaning their activities will forever be intertwined keeping the rivalry alive long before they play out on the court. Celtics-Sixers rivalry has everything to thrive and needs to happen soon.
By Yaw Adjei-Mintah
@YawMintYM on Twitter