It might be hard to believe that the Sixers and Celtics are just 20 months removed from playing in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
When the two franchises meet for the first time this season on Wednesday night at TD Garden, they will do so in full rebuilding mode as the bottom two teams in the Atlantic Division.
Long gone are Andre Iguodala, Elton Brand, Jrue Holiday and Lou Williams, who made up the core of that Sixers team coached by Doug Collins.
The Celtics have since parted ways with Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. Ray Allen found greener pastures in South Beach and Doc Rivers is now guiding the Los Angles Clippers.
“It seems like it was just yesterday,” said Thaddeus Young, who averaged 7.7 points and 5.2 rebounds that postseason. “That was a great series, of course. In Game 7 (Rajon) Rondo hit some big shots.
“But this is a new year, new teams with different players and things have changed over the course of time. We both are now in a situation where we are losing teams and basically we are both trying to go out there and battle for wins.”
Rondo has played in just five games this season since recently returning from surgery to repair a torn right ACL last year.
The Celtics point guard is trying to regain the all-star form that allowed him to put together a personal 9-2 run with 3:30 remaining in that Game 7 to give them a series win. Rondo notched a triple-double in that game with 18 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists.
Rondo’s performance that night was just the latest chapter in the rich playoff history shared between the Sixers and Celtics.
Brett Brown all too familiar with that tradition between the two franchises. The Sixers head coach was a Boston University student-athlete from 1980 to 1983, absorbing the city’s love for its Celtics and tense rivalry with the Sixers.
“What a special era it was selfishly,” Brown said. “I can still hear the NBA music and introduction to the NBA Game of the Week. To travel down to the Garden and be able to see [George] McGinnis and Julius Erving and Bobby Jones and [Andrew] Toney, [Maurice] Cheeks and Doug [Collins] play.
“I just couldn’t believe how Andrew Toney would just kick the Celtics’ tail. To me, he was unguardable. He was just such a one-on-one, triple threat. Rock a step, rock a step threat. He was a big part of my upbringing and my memory of the NBA, more so than the Celtics-Lakers battles.”
Brown hopes the days return when Sixers and Celtics can enjoy that kind of high-level success and rivalry that ruled the NBA’s Eastern Conference for so many years.
“They are two fantastic sporting cities that love basketball. It is ironic that we are on the same path of trying to find that balance of competing and rebuilding,” Brown said. “It is a difficult challenge, but I think it is in both of the programs to do it because they have such a history and rich tradition.”