GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- The 18-18 Knicks and 18-17 Celtics aren't just neck-in-neck in the standings as the eighth and seventh seeds, respectively.
They're like that on the court too, as one word defines their matchups: physical.
The last 10 times the two teams have faced off since the start of the 2010-11 season, including the playoffs, six of the games were decided by four points or fewer. In one game, although it was a 96-86 win by the Celtics on March 21, 2011, Ray Allen needed seven stitches to treat a head wound and Carmelo Anthony received five for a gash at the corner of his left eye.
"As far as Boston being physical with us, they're only as physical as the referees allow us to be," Melo said. "But they're a very physical team. I enjoy playing against those guys."
After Saturday's practice at the Knicks' training facility, Amare Stoudemire told ESPNNewYork.com what he shared with his new and younger teammates about what's to come Sunday afternoon at the TD Garden.
"Just prepare yourself for a very physical game, a very emotional game, a game that you've got to expect to play for the full 48 minutes," he said. "You can go up 20 points on this team, but they're going to come back in the second half and apply pressure and still try to win the ballgame. So you can never really get comfortable. It's going to be a battle for the full 48 minutes, if not overtime."Steve Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images
Amare Stoudemire hopes his experience playing the Celtics can help his younger teammates.
Jeremy Lin said his brief six-minute stint in Boston on Feb. 3, a day before the start of Linsanity when he scored 25 points against the Nets, has helped him prepare his game plan. But he's expecting the Celtics to defend him more aggressively in pick-and-rolls. Mike D'Antoni knows it too, and has some pointers for Lin.
"If there's a lot of pressure, the ball has to move faster, but we, as a team, have to have our flow," he said. "I think Jeremy can read the situation. I think he's passed all the tests. Now, it's a matter of learning and getting better, older and wiser as a point guard."
If Lin and the Knicks can pass another big test on Sunday, they can credit their recent competitive practices. In the past three, D'Antoni has had the first unit scrimmage the second before they break for the day. With the starters bringing the heat, the backups have risen to the challenge. Lin and Stoudemire said they've been enjoying the practice rivalry, and that it will only benefit them during their rivalry game against the Celtics, not to mention as they look ahead to the second half of the season and the playoffs. Stoudemire, in fact, said the guys are more energized during practice.
"It’s great, it's great," he said. "Anytime you can create a rivalry between the first and second team, it makes everyone better. We’re going to make sure we keep talking our trash and keep smacking those guys around, so that way they can get better. But today, the played great. They won the first game, we won the second game, so it's definitely challenging, and it’s going to be great."
Stoudemire said the Knicks are now a better team -- "we're more deep and we've got more options," he said -- but he doesn't want anyone to take the Celtics lightly.
"They're still a team to beat, so we've got to make sure we bring our A game," he said.
D'Antoni agreed, saying, "They're just a good team. We're both fighting for the seventh, eighth spot right now. Now, they have higher aspirations and so do we. So this is a home game for them that I'm sure they feel like they need to win and this is a good game to measure ourselves. Just because it's Boston, it has a little extra spice because they beat us last year 4-0 [in the postseason]. There are a lot of little subplots."
The Knicks and Celtics have faced off more times than any other teams in NBA history, and the Celtics' 274 wins in the matchup are the most by one NBA team against another. In fact, they've beaten the Knicks at the TD Garden 10 straight times -- the team's longest current home winning streak against any opponent.
So this is a chance for the Knicks, featuring Linsanity and a deeper and more talented rotation than years past, to add a new chapter to their rivalry with the Celtics.
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