CelticsKnicks rivalry bonanza

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CelticsKnicks rivalry bonanza

By Rich Levine
CSNNE.com

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.

Rich Levine's column runs each Monday, Wednesday and Friday on CSNNE.com. Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrlevine33

Opportunity knocked in Game 3, and Celtics answered

Opportunity knocked in Game 3, and Celtics answered

CLEVELAND -- Marcus Smart sat at his locker stall late Sunday night, soaking in the moment for all it was worth. 

The Celtics were just minutes removed from one of the biggest playoff upsets ever, knocking off Cleveland, 111-108, a game in which Boston was a 16.5-point underdog.
 
Smart’s play had a lot to do with the win as he scored a career-high 27 points, which included a career-best seven made 3-pointers.
 
But this win was about more than Smart having the game of his life.
 
It was about opportunity, an unspoken rallying cry that has galvanized this Celtics team through what has been a season in which they defied the odds and naysayers time and time again.
 
Boston was supposed to be pretty good this season, but no one predicted the C's would finish with the best record in the Eastern Conference.
 
Isaiah Thomas had a breakout year in 2015-16, but few anticipated he would be even better while putting up numbers that rank among the greatest single seasons in the storied franchise’s illustrious history.
 
Then Thomas goes down with a right hip injury that will keep him out of the remainder of the playoffs, and the Celtics hit the road while trailing the defending champion Cavaliers 2-0. 
 
So what do they do? Oh, not much. 

They just come up with the most epic playoff comeback win ever against a LeBron James-led team.
 
You can dissect what happened Sunday night all you want, but in the end, it came down to one thing: Opportunity.
 
Which is why Boston’s Game 3 win was so sweet. And for those of us who have followed the ups and downs of this team this season recognized it was another example of the Celtics making the most of their opportunity to shock the world.
 
Look no further than Smart, a gritty physical defender whose shot-making isn’t exactly top-10 worthy.
 
No, I’m not talking about top 10 in the NBA. I’m talking top 10 on his team.
 
And yet there he was, delivering his usual strong play defensively while channeling his inner Isaiah Thomas to get big-time buckets in the second half, which included 11 points during a 26-10 run to close out the third and bring Boston within 87-82 going into the fourth.
 
With the surge came more opportunities for other Celtics like Kelly Olynyk, who gets the superstar treatment in Cleveland with more boos than any other Boston player. (They have not forgotten about that Olynyk-Kevin Love incident a couple years ago, apparently.)
 
Olynyk soaked in the boos while coming off the bench to splash the Cavs defense for 15 points on 5-for-8 shooting.
 
“Keep fighting, keep fighting,” Olynyk told me when I asked him about what Game 3’s win says about this team. “You can knock us down but we’ll keep getting back up. That’s what we did out there.”
 
Opportunity.
  
The Celtics had their moment on Sunday night, reminding us just how tough-minded a bunch they can be when they are boxed in a corner and left with two choices: Fight or face inevitable elimination.
 
Because had they lost Game 3, they would have been down 3-0 in the series. And no one needs reminding that no NBA team has ever come back from an 0-3 playoff deficit.
 
Fortunately for them, that’s no longer an option.
 
Instead, they have a chance to even this series up and regain home court advantage if they can win Game 4, which, much like Game 3, seems a long shot.
 
They don’t care.
 
It has never been about being the favorite or underdog. It’s about the opportunity, something the Celtics gave themselves with Sunday’s win.