By Rich Levine
The idea that the Celtics and Knicks currently have any sort of rivalry is ridiculous. And heading into tonight's game at Madison Square Garden, it's a shame I even have to explain why.
But after Paul Pierce was asked about the Knicks before Tuesday's practice, failed to acknowledge the existence of this non-existent rivalry, and the story erupted like Artest in Auburn Hills, I guess I have no other choice.
So I'll talk about the Celtics dominance. How they start four future Hall of Famers, and that doesn't even include their most talented player. How they're the best team in the East, and have been for three-plus years. How they've collectively seen and experienced more than perhaps any team in the last 20 years, and are generally unaffected by the peaks and valleys of your average NBA season.
Meanwhile, I'll mention how four of the Knicks starters have yet to win a single playoff game and three have never even made the playoffs. How they've only beaten three teams with a winning record all season, don't play defense, only go seven deep and have been playing with each other for all of two months.
I'll argue that, despite the New York Post headline that reads "Pierce questions CelticsKnicks rivalry," there's actually no rivalry to question. That it was a rivalry created and then destroyed over the course of one 24-hour news cycle, and all because Pierce didnt know how to answer a question that there wasn't an answer to.
So, Paul, how do you feel about this budding rivalry?
Sure, the New YorkBoston dynamic might add a little extra tension, but that doesnt affect the players. They don't care about the Boston vs. New York. Nor should they. When has the city ever given them the impression that the Knicks are a major enemy? It's not like NYK coming to town is anything close to the scene when the Yankees or Jets do. Lately, Boston just laughs at the Knicks.
Paul Pierce has been here since the late '90s and has played 45 career games against New York. How many of those have been memorable? How many have been played under anything close to rivalry-forming conditions? How many have had meaning?
Yet for some reason, we all acted surprised almost shocked that Pierce didn't give the Knicks the kind of respect he might the Heat, Magic, Bulls or Hawks.
"It's a rivalry?" he asked. "I didn't know we had a rivalry going."
You're right, Paul. It's not a rivalry; it's a shame.
Because in our overreaction to Pierce's honest reaction, we made the game into something that it was never supposed to be:
A battle for bragging rights. An early test for the Knicks to see if they have what it takes to make a run at the Atlantic Division crown. We tried to set the stage for a Knicks victory to signify the start of some major shift in power; like one successful 14-game stretch puts you in the conversation with one of the most decorated teams in NBA history.
And it's not like the Knicks were even asking for this. They know they're not the Celtics. They're just winning games. Essentially, they gave us an inch and we took a yard.
We threw them into a storyline they weren't ready for. Paul Pierce chewed it up, spit it out and all we could do was go break down why he did. We had to bring out all those New York negatives all the obvious reasons why they're not as good as the Celtics when we should have just been able to take a second and appreciate all the positive vibes that are coming out of Mike DAntoni's camp.
Like the fact that they've found a point guard who can thrive in one of the league's most entertaining offenses; or the story of Landry Fields a second-round pick who's played more minutes, scored more points and grabbed more rebounds than any rookie not named Blake Griffin (or in other words any human rookie); or that they've brought Madison Square Garden back from the dead; or that Amar'e Stoudemire's in the midst of one of the most clutch and dominant stretches in recent NBA history.
Or just that that after so many depressing seasons, the Knicks are getting better, because regardless of how deep your Celtics devotion lies, you have to admit that that's good for basketball. Its good for Boston.
Don't get me wrong. It would be great if the Knicks and Celtics had a rivalry that extended beyond the fact that theyre both storied franchises that hail from historically rival cities. It would be amazing to see the two teams go head-to-head in epic playoff series or two.
Sports are better when Boston vs. New York means something. We can all agree on that. But while the Knicks have certainly taken sizable steps in the right direction, we can also agree that it doesnt mean anything yet. And it won't start to until there's much more than a pair of mid-December winning streaks on the line.