BOSTON Whenever the New York Knicks come to town, it's always a big deal.
But when the Boston Celtics face the Knicks on Sunday, well, let's say it'll be a bigger deal than usual.
Both teams are in a relatively tight race for the top spot in the Atlantic Division, and then there's . . . Jeremy Lin.
Much has changed for the Knicks' fortunes since the Harvard graduate burst onto the scene just a few weeks ago.
He has taken a Knicks team that was seemingly headed nowhere in a hurry on a run of success that now has them thinking beyond simply getting to the playoffs.
"They're playing with spirit," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "When you watch them, the ball is moving and all that stuff. But they're playing now, like they have a chance. They believe."
And Lin, more than any other Knicks player, is the reason for that.
Since he was inserted in the starting lineup against Utah on Feb. 6, the Knicks are 9-3.
"Lin has obviously taken over the world; that's dope," said Boston's Kevin Garnett. "You always like to see someone succeed at what they love. He plays with a lot of passion. But he's given not just that team, but that city, life. I haven't really followed him much or jumped on the bandwagon. That's not my style. But I keep an eye on it."
Garnett added, "He's definitely put a spark in the city, and there's no better city to spark up than New York."
Rivers hasn't seen too much of the Knicks this season, but when it comes to Lin . . .
"I have watched him," Rivers said. "Because you have no choice. He's fantastic. He's scoring the ball at a high rate; double-digit assists every night."
But if he were all the Celtics had to worry about, they'd be in pretty good shape.
In addition to Amar'e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony, the Knicks also have Baron Davis, who is healthy enough to play now, and they picked up J.R. Smith, who rejoins the NBA after spending most of this past season in the Chinese Basketball Association.
"That's an impressive amount of talent on one team," Rivers said.
And the team that the C's have faced twice this season will be much tougher to put away on Sunday.
"They're definitely a lot different based on what they're doing with Jeremy Lin, getting some healthy bodies back . . . they've been playing really well of late," said Celtics Captain Paul Pierce.
The same can be said for the Celtics, who remain undefeated following the break after Friday night's 10794 win. The 107 points equaled the Celtics' season-high for points scored (at Miami, Dec. 27, 2011) this season.
And with both coming in separated by just a half game, you can expect this game will be like most Boston-New York games and won't be decided until the final minute or two of play.
Pierce expects the game to be challenging, primarily because both teams have so much at stake.
"We're both aiming for the same thing; we're aiming for position right here," Pierce said. "We're both seventh and eighth seeds now. We're playing for the Atlantic Division. We got a lot to play for. They'll come with it, but we'll be ready."