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

Celtics aren't asking Al Horford to be 'anything more' than what he is

Celtics aren't asking Al Horford to be 'anything more' than what he is

WALTHAM -- From one media station to the next, Al Horford effortlessly moved about during Boston Celtics Media Day.
 
In between stations, I jokingly asked the nine-year veteran, "Been through a few of these before?"
 
"A couple," he quipped.
 
But Monday was different. And every other Monday going forward this season will be different, too, for the longtime Atlanta Hawks forward, who is now a member of the Boston Celtics after they signed him to a four-year, $113 million contract this summer.
 
With that significant increase in salary comes -- from those outside the Celtics program at least -- a higher level of expectations.
 
"We’re not asking Al to be anything more than him," said coach Brad Stevens.  "He’s a good fit for how we play on offense. He’s a good fit for how we play on defense. He’s a professional. He has a routine. He works hard at his craft. He’s a guy that guys can follow by example."
 
However, Horford joins a Celtics team that -- since the rebuild began in 2013 -- has yet to win 50 games in a single season or get past the first round of the playoffs.
 
And while it will certainly be a collective team effort for Boston to achieve those goals, make no mistake about it: Horford is expected to be the man leading the way.
 
"We need to start building good habits from Day One," Horford said.

Danny Ainge, Boston’s president of basketball operations, is a big fan of Horford’s character and versatility, which has been on display throughout his career.
 
"As much as anything he’s been very consistent over his career," Ainge said. "Shooting the ball, playing multiple positions. He’s a guy that fits in with our system with big guys handling the ball a lot."
 
Horford’s new teammate echoed similar sentiments about the four-time All-Star.
 
And when you listen to his new Celtics teammates talk about him and what he’ll bring to a roster that’s loaded with returnees, there are a couple of common themes that seem to develop.
 
"He brings leadership; hard work," said Avery Bradley.
 
Bradley had a chance to spend some time around Jeff Teague, one of Horford’s former teammates in Atlanta.
 
"He just told me I’m really going to enjoy having him on this team," Bradley said. "He’s going to open the floor for everybody. He’s a great player on the offensive end, defensive end. He knows how to play the game of basketball. To have him be a part of this team, I’m just happy about it."
 
So is Amir Johnson, who will likely start with Horford in the frontcourt for Boston.
 
Last season, Johnson was Boston’s primary rim-protecting big man. With the addition of Horford, Johnson won’t be relied on as heavily to be Boston’s last line of defense, which makes his life easier and, more importantly, makes the Celtics a better team defensively.
 
"[Horford] has so many skills he can contribute to the game," Johnson said. "He can run the floor, block shots, shoot the 3-ball, which is big now. He can do it all. It’ll be a big piece to carry us over the top. We just have to put it all together."