Sixers vs Celtics Conjures Up Memories Of The Boston Strangler

When the Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics face each other in the Eastern Conference semifinals that begin in Boston on Monday night, the legendary franchises will resume the NBA’s top rivalry in terms of the number of series’ played. 

Bill Russell. Charles Barkley, Wilt Chamberlain. Larry Bird. Julius Erving. Kevin McHale. Hal Greer. Dennis Johnson. Billy Cunningham. Maurice Cheeks. Sam Jones.

Those are just a few of the names that have indelibly been stitched into the tapestry of NBA greatness via the playoff matchups between Philly and Boston. 

NBA Greatest Duels: Larry Bird vs Andrew Toney (1982)

Great game from 81/82 regular season, rivarly between Celtics and 76ers in its best years. Larry Bird and Andrew Toney going at it in this unreal duel, Spectrum crowd really was a lucky one. Larry Bird: 29 points, 9 rebounds, 8 assists, 12/14 FG, poster dunk over Caldwell Jones!

This will be their 20th postseason meeting, as young, dynamic players like Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and others enter their names into the next chapter. Over the next few years, as Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward return to the mix, and as Embiid and Simmons mature, the 76ers vs the Celtics will take on even greater significance in the era of post-Lebron Eastern Conference supremacy.

And goodness gracious, the nicknames that come to mind when we think back to this rivalry has to be unparalleled. The Doctor. The Stilt. The Round Mound of Rebound.  The Kangaroo Kid. The Chief. 

Shoot, Larry Bird had three damn nicknames – The Hick From French Lick, Kodak and Larry Legend.

And now let’s expand the discussion to include the NBA’s best nicknames ever. Who had the best one? Magic?
King James? Air Jordan? The Dream? The Big Fundamental? The Chairman of the Boards? The Pearl? The Truth? The Answer? The Unibrow?

How about a discussion around the best closer and shooter you ever saw with the game on the line. Kobe? Mike? Bird? Ray Allen? Robert Horry? Reggie Miller? Steph? Chauncey? KD? D Wade? Bron? Jerry West?

Whenever the playoffs roll around, Im often reminded that no discussion of either topic is complete with including the man known as “The Boston Strangler”, Andrew Toney. 

Andrew Toney & Julius Erving Combined for 63 Points vs Celtics (1982 ECF G7)

Uploaded by NBA Finest on 2016-07-19.

I still wake up in the middle of the night screaming his name, current Celtics General Manager Danny Ainge told The Boston Globes Jackie MacMullen in 1991. He was the toughest guy I ever guarded.

You say that name to me, and it messes up my day, even after all those years,” former Celtic M. L. Carr told MacMullen. He was the best when it came to undressing a defensive player. It was a waste of time trying to guard him, because he could pass the ball, too.

Do I remember Andrew Toney? Larry Bird once said.  The Boston Strangler? Yeah, I remember him. I wish we would’ve had him. He was a killer. We called him the Boston Strangler because every time he got a hold of the ball we knew he was going to score. He was the absolute best I’ve ever seen at shooting the ball at crucial times. We had nobody who could come close to stopping him. Nobody.

In fact, Toney was so dominant against the Celtics in the early 1980s that the franchise acquired the late, great Dennis Johnson in a trade with the Phoenix Suns for the sole purpose of trying to contain him.

During his first pro season, Toney instantly became an enemy in the city of Boston when the Sixers and Celtics, both with identical 62-20 records, met up in the Eastern Conference Finals. During the first three games of the series, he averaged just under 27 points per game off the bench.

After Game 1, which he won for the Sixers with his end-game free throws, Sports Illustrateds John Papanek wrote, Most of the damage was done by Toney, a 23-year-old rookie reserve out of Southwestern Louisiana, who lit up the Garden for 26 points, mostly on odd-looking jumpers that he seemed to squeeze two-handed from behind his head, as though he were shooting giant watermelon seeds. Toney instantly became a certified Boston villain

In Game 2, he was lustily booed every time he touched the ball en route to scoring 35 points. The Celtics went on to defeat the Sixers in that series despite being down 3 games to 1, capturing Larry Birds first ring when they beat Moses Malones Houston Rockets 4-2 in the Finals.

Philly got their revenge in the 1982 Eastern Conference Finals, beating the Celtics in seven games. Toney led the Sixers with a 22-point scoring average for the series. But he saved his best work for the decisive Game 7 in Boston where he connected on 14 of his 23 shots en route to 34 points, leading the way in Phillys dominating 119-94 victory. 

The Celtic fans, in full appreciation, admiration, and respect, started chanting Beat L.A.! when the game was obviously out of hand.

After his amazing performance in Game 7, Sixers legend Julius Erving said, There is no legal way to stop Andrew Toney.

In the Finals against the Lakers, Toney proved to be much more than a scorer, dishing out 19 assists in the first two games against Norm Nixon, Jamaal Wilkes, Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Magic Johnson.

In game 3, he spontaneously combusted for 36 points and followed that scintillating performance with 28 and 31 points in the next two games. The Lakers would capture the championship in six games, but Andrew Toney captured the imagination of the basketball-loving world with his amazing performances.

The next year in 1983, when Moses Malone joined the team, the Sixers won their elusive NBA title in dominating fashion. They went 12-1 throughout the playoffs, posting the best winning percentage in NBA postseason history.

NBA Greatest Trios: Malone, Erving & Toney vs Bucks (1983 ECF Game 5)

Andrew Toney, one of the best guards in the early 80’s, Julius Erving, one of the greatest SF’s ever and Moses Malone, one of the greatest centers ever. When you combine this three superstars with Maurice Cheeks and Bobby Jones you get one of the best teams in basketball history — 1983 Philadelphia 76ers.

To this day, that 83 team is considered, along with the 96 Bulls, the 87 Lakers, the 86 Celtics and the ’17 Warriors as one of the greatest teams in NBA history.

Toney was officially given his nickname by Bostons sportswriters, a respectful nod to his play against the Celtics, and especially in the old Boston Garden, which had a reputation for being unkind to visiting superstars.

While many people complained about the dead spots on the old parquet and other factors that made the visiting arena such a tough place to play, Toney had no qualms.

My first step out of the locker room, I was in range,” Toney told The Globes MacMullen. It was easy. I have no explanation for it. It was just easy for me to score at Boston Garden.

If you had the privilege of watching him work, especially against the Celtics in a time when Boston vs. Philly was the NBAs best rivalry, its hard to forget The Boston Stranglers vicious fade-away jump shot, the way he looked like he was pulling up for his jumper before driving to the hole and drawing a foul, or the way he smiled when a double-team came his way.

I was a road warrior, Toney told MacMullen. Lots of guys could step up at home, but very few could do it consistently in someone else’s building. I was one of those players. If you needed something on the road, you came to me, and I delivered.

Sadly, just as he was building a Hall of Fame resume, Toney began experiencing excruciating pain in his feet during the 84-85 season. He tried his best to fight through it, but the pain became unbearable. The more time he missed due to the stress fractures in his feet, the more 76ers owner Harold Katz questioned if he was faking his injuries. He played three more years but was never again the same otherworldly player.

He was hurt and they didn’t believe him, Charles Barkley told MacMullen. It didn’t show up on the X-rays right away, and they had some questions. But I can tell you, he was hurt. I saw how painful it was for him to take even one step. The bad thing was they made it a question of honor, and that was too much for Andrew.

For those who saw him at his best, well never forget the mercurial force of nature he was before his foot injuries conspired to end the career of one of the most remarkable talents the game has ever seen.

Andrew Toney (39pts/6asts) vs. Celtics (1982 Playoffs)

It is only fitting that The Boston Strangler’s playoffs career high in points came against the Celtics. Andrew Toney scores 39 points by doing great curls off screens and attacking the basket with witty moves. May 16, 1982.

Yeah, Doctor J ushered in a new era of flight, Moses Malone was one of the greatest big men the game has ever seen, Maurice Cheeks was a phenomenal point guard, but on that 1983 Championship Sixers team, Andrew Toney might just have been that teams best player.

I know that longevity counts when debating the games best players of all time. But if you isolate players within a four-year window, Im including Andrew Toney with Michael Jordan, Jerry West, Kobe, John Havlicek, Dwyane Wade and George Gervin as the best shooting guards to ever play.

And in the fourth quarter, with the game on the line, on the road? In the Boston Garden against the great Celtics teams of the ’80s? With a dude having a great nickname having to take the defining shot?

Man, its hard to pick against Air Jordan. But if forced to choose anyone else, Im taking the Boston Strangler.

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