In keeping with the weekly SB Nation Basketball United Offseason Synergy (SBNBUOS, pronounced "SEE-BIN-BOSS", with caps) posts, today is Rivalry Day around the network. Sactown Royalty is writing about the Lakers, Clips Nation is writing about the Lakers, and Celtics Blog is writing about the Lakers and the Heat! Normal.
For the Sixers rivals, history tells us to go the way of the Lakers or Celtics, but we're a youngish crowd here and since I don't have any first-hand accounts of those 80's battles, it wouldn't entertain you to read me copy-and-pasting wikipedia articles. But the Sixers haven't been relevant enough to find the Captain Hammer to their Dr. Horrible lately.
So who is their rival? I went back a few years to find them. And I've found them. Oh have I found them.
The Detroit MF Pistons.
There's a little green man inside my chest that starts throttling my rib cage at the mention of them. Two years after the Sixers got wedgied by the Lakers in the '01 Finals, it still felt like they had a chance to do it again. The core (Iverson) was still in tact, and the East hadn't gotten much better.
But the Pistons.
I've never played against the '02-'05 Pistons myself, but I've watched the Sixers play them enough times to feel suffocated by their defense. It was fan claustrophobia. I despised it.
In the '03 playoffs, the Sixers had just beaten (former Sixer!) Jamal Mashburn's Hornets in 6 games. Iverson was Iversonning all over the place. He had 45 in Game 6. Detroit was big time, but they were starting Cliff Robinson at the 4. Come on. Derrick Coleman 2.0 was going to put him to work in the post. I exuded confidence. I was preparing for my Bar Mitzvah. Things were looking up.
But Games 1 and 2 saw the Pistons handle their business at home. Rip Hamilton and Chauncey Billups shot 140% from the foul line, and Mehmet Okur (MEHMET OKUR) was absolutely unstoppable. Even when Billups got hurt, Chucky Atkins (CHUCKY ATKINS) poured in 23 points on 15 shots. Kenny Thomas and DC made up for the abscess that was Keith Van Horn in Games 3 and 4, but by the time they went back to Detroit, it was over. Iverson shot 19 of 58 the next two games, Tayshaun Prince proved he could touch both ends of the court at the same time, and a Chauncey trey with 15 seconds to go was the difference. Season over.
At some point during that series -- and I can't remember when because I was hazy from the fire coming out of my ears though maybe it had something to do with Greg Buckner -- I was sent to my room to watch the rest of the game because my obscenities thrown at Tayshaun Prince weren't appropriate for the living room. After stomping up the steps, I plopped in front of my TV and watched more swarming defense stifle the Sixers "attack". It was then that I hit my breaking point. Tayshaun probably got fouled as he hit a baseline fadeaway (it's starting to come back to me) and it was too much for 12-and-a-half-year-old Mike to handle. I grabbed the cabinet door upon which my TV was resting and opened it as hard as I could. The handle broke and the plastic door detached, flying into my wall with extreme prejudice.
I hate the Pistons. I was also very mature as an 8th grader.
A few forgettable years later and the Sixers were facing those same Pistons, this time coached by asshat Larry Brown. This time, Iverson had a little more help in a broken down Chris Webber, a jumpshooting Samuel Dalembert, and a rookie by the name of Andre Iguodala. Unfortunately, the Pistons still had Chauncey, Rip, Tay, Big Ben, and now Rasheed Wallace, who at that point hadn't missed a shot against the Sixers in his career.
The Sixers took only Game Three in the 5-game series, a game in which Iverson had 37 and 15 while playing (again) all 48 minutes. Other series highlights include Willie Green existing, a 29-and-16 night from Ben Wallace, Prince absolutely blanketing Iguodala every second of every game, Rodney Rogers hit two free throws, and a 4-16 night in the final game of the season for Chris Webber.
At least no cabinets were harmed in the losing of that series.
So yes. You can have your Celtics and your Lakers and your Knicks. I have the Pistons. There is no one who has taken more pleasure out of their 82-148 record the past three seasons more than I have.
Die in a fire, 2002-2005 Pistons. I loathe you.