WALTHAM, Mass. — Celtics captain Paul Pierce was surprised on Tuesday morning to be asked for his feelings on the basketball "rivalry" between New York and Boston.
"It's a rivalry?" he asked, laughing. "Oh, man. You all let me in on all the new stuff, all the time."
The two cities have their sporting history together. Red Sox-Yankees? Yeah, obviously. Pats-Jets? Sure — especially nowadays. But Celtics-Knicks? That's a new one, and it might take some getting used to.
"I didn't even know we had a rivalry," Pierce said. "But hey, if that's what you want it to be, if that's what'll sell more tickets and attract more viewers, then OK. You make up the rivalries, we don't. But New York is playing well and both teams are streaking, so it's going to be an exciting game."
The Celtics take on the Knicks on Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden, and there's a lot on the line for both teams. The Celtics will put their 10-game winning streak at risk when they take the floor, while the Knicks gamble with an eight-game run of their own. The two teams rank one and two in the Atlantic Division, and the Celtics maintain a slim lead over the rest of the Eastern Conference with the Knicks lingering in fourth.
Both teams have something to prove — especially the Knicks, who have had their way with a cupcake schedule and will now face a real test.
"Obviously for them, it's going to have a lot of meaning," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said of the matchup. "[The Knicks] are probably going to be screaming fired up for that game, and I'm hoping our guys can match that intensity. But any time a game has energy, it's great. I think it's really great for us — finding ways to get them up is always nice. We'll just let the New York people do it by what they say over these next two days."
The New York media has plenty to talk about. The Knicks' recent streak, fueled by a flurry of 30-point games from $100 million free agent Amare Stoudemire, has vaulted them into the national spotlight. They're not the Yankees of the NBA, and they may not even be the Jets, but they're starting to get the kind of attention that they couldn't dream of last season. They're starting to get respect.
Still, the Celtics insist, they've got a ways to go before this "rivalry" thing really takes off.
"I'm not worried about that, New York and Boston," Glen Davis insisted. "I'm not worried about that — I'm worried about winning the games. I'm worried about June. What's going to happen in June? That's what I'm worried about. I'm not going to get into that 'rivalry' thing. But New York's a great team, they've been playing well and they're trying to be where we're at. So it's going to be a big game."
Rivers agreed — no rivalry. Not yet.
"I don't know what that is, the whole rivalry thing," the coach said. "There really hasn't been one. We've both been bad for a while, we've both been good for a while, but the two teams haven't exactly matched for a long time. But you know when they do, it'll be great."
For Rivers, that's OK. His Celtics are used to being the dominant team in a weak Atlantic Division, and he's not crazy about the arrival of a new divisional power. Who wants four extra tough games every season?
"I kind of liked it the other way," Rivers said with a smile. "Let's hope it goes back that way."