Boston and New York. Just the mention of those two cities brings to mind such great sports memories. Not always great memories for Boston sports fans, there's a lot of losing to the New York Yankees mixed in that history, but there are certainly plenty of good ones, too. The 2004 ALCS. Many victories over the Jets. The old Bruins and Rangers rivalry.
And then we have the Boston Celtics and New York Knicks. Rivals? Sure, in the sense of their location and the fact that they both play in the same division. But really, would you classify the rivalry between the Celtics and Knicks as one of Boston's best? Is it better than the Red Sox and Yankees? Or how about the Patriots and Jets? No, not even close.
You see, for a rivalry to exist, both teams must be, well, good. And good at the same time. This was never really so for either team. During the Celtics' heyday in the mid-to-late 1900's, the Knicks didn't make much noise, aside from their two championship seasons in 1970 and 1973. Meanwhile, when New York had Patrick Ewing, the Celtics were rebuilding.
Last season, it appeared as if the two sides may have finally reached that point. New York had stocked up with Amar'e Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups while the Celtics still had their Big Three (plus Rajon Rondo and Kendrick Perkins -- for a little while, at least) and were looking to make another playoff run. The cards were in place.
The first couple of matchups certainly lived up to the billing. Boston won both games by a combined six points. In the second game of the season at TD Garden, the Celtics outlasted the Knicks, 105-101, behind a triple-double from Rajon Rondo (10 points, 10 rebounds, 24 assists).
Rondo's 24 assists were the second biggest single game total in team history. Bob Cousy had 28 assists in one game in 1959, putting Rondo four off the pace of one of the greatest Celtics guards.
"It means a lot, but I'll try and catch him," said Rondo (via ESPN). "[It's] all about the teammates. If they don't make the shots, we don't get team assists."
Boston and New York next battled at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 15, when Paul Pierce buried the game-winning jumper to give Boston a more-than-satisfying 118-116 win despite 39 points from Stoudemire, who made a long jumper just after the buzzer sounded, meaning the Celtics capture another close win.
"The Knicks are playing great basketball, can't take anything away from them, and I actually thought Amare's shot counted," said Pierce (via ESPN). "I would have been stunned there for a minute, especially after all the theatrics, so I'm glad we got the win."
The success didn't stop there, though. The Celtics took the final two meetings of the season -- a 96-86 win on Mar. 21 and a 112-102 win in the regular season finale on Apr. 13. Four meetings, four Celtics wins. Not exactly competitive.
Wouldn't you know it, these two teams would happen to meet in the first round of the playoffs. The result? Same as the regular season -- more Boston domination. The Celtics swept the Knicks in four games, and that was that.
There were certainly some exciting games between the C's and Knicks one year ago, which prompted the revitalization of the rivalry question. Still, it didn't quite feel like a rivalry, at least not one that fans have become used to between Boston and New York sports teams. Yet all that could have changed with some quality additions in the offseason.
After a lengthy lockout and so many Chris Paul to New York rumors, the Celtics and Knicks wound up relatively unchanged. New York added Tyson Chandler at center and amnestied Billups while Boston added Brandon Bass and Keyon Dooling via trade while losing Glen Davis in the Bass swap and Jeff Green, who had a serious heart ailment.
Making matters more interesting, the Celtics and Knicks were scheduled to meet in the first game of the lockout-shortened 66-game NBA season on Christmas Day. And boy, did it ever look like a rivalry game. The Celts fell behind big early, but made a valiant effort to climb back into the game and even take a lead in the fourth quarter before ultimately losing, 106-104.
Now, the two teams will meet again in another nationally televised game on Friday night (8 p.m. EDT; ESPN). Will this be another rivalry game that everyone, the league and ESPN included, expected at the start of the season? Probably not.
See, for it to be a true rivalry game, both teams would have to be good. Alas, neither truly are. Boston just crept back over .500 at 11-10 following a big win over the Raptors on Wednesday while the Knicks are sitting at 8-14 this season.
The local media may try to spin this as a warmup act for the upcoming Boston vs. New York battle in Indianapolis between the Pats and New York Giants on Sunday, and it may be a good game.
Still, it isn't a rivalry. Not yet.
Should either team pull off a big trade or make a key signing in the offseason, that could change quickly. Say the Celtics add Dwight Howard (through some unlikely miracle) and the Knicks somehow managed to add Chris Paul (really, really unlikely). Boom. There you go. Until that day, it just won't be a big rivalry, no matter how much the media wants it to be.