Just so we’re clear: This is not a rivalry , but it is a big game. The Celtics  have won 10 straight games and are back atop the Eastern Conference. The Knicks have won eight straight and 13 of their last 14 and are looking like the best New york team in a decade.
While the Celtics downplayed the significance Tuesday at practice, the Knicks Raymond Felton  was more outspoken . The truth is, this is a huge game for the Knicks. This is the game that will either validate their early-season success or take them back to reality. They know that and so do the Celtics, which should make for one heck of a show at the world’s most famous arena.
“Whenever the Knicks are playing well and there’s energy in the building it’s good for everybody,” Doc Rivers  said. “I loved it as an opponent. I loved it when I was playing there. It’s the only building alive still, as far as the old buildings. It has that energy.”
What makes this matchup so compelling is that the Knicks and Celtics are practically diametrically opposed in terms of philosophy. The Celtics preach defense, while the Knicks try to win with offense. Boston takes the fewest 3-pointers in the league and New York takes the most. The Celtics move and execute you to death in the halfcourt, while the Knicks try to spread the floor and let their controlled version of chaos reign.
No, this isn’t the Lakers. It’s not the Magic and it’s not the Heat. But it’s New York, Madison Square Garden and the two hottest teams in the league. Throw in the New York-Boston element, make it about an up and coming challenger against an undisputed regional champion and it makes for a uniquely unexpected winter treat on the NBA calendar.
CELTICS (19-4, 10-0 last 10)
Offensive Rating: 109.3 (9th)
Defensive Rating: 98.7 (1st)
Pace: 91.0 (21st)
KNICKS (16-9, 9-1 last 10)
Offensive Rating: 111.6 (4th)
Defensive Rating: 109.6 (23rd)
Pace: 96.4 (Third)
Likely Starters: Ray Felton, Landry Fields, Wilson Chandler , Danilo Gallinari, Amar’e Stoudemire
Injuries: Kalenna Azubuike (Knee, out)
KEY MATCHUP: Amar’e Stoudemire vs. Kevin Garnett
Stoudemire has been a beast during the Knicks’ streak, setting a franchise record by scoring 30+ points in each of the last eight games. Garnett has reclaimed his spot as the best defensive forward in the league. Stoudemire remains a pick and roll monster, but the Knicks are putting him in more isolation situations, as detailed here by Jonathan Abrams .
“The one thing he’s doing more than I’ve seen in the past is he’s putting the ball on the floor and scoring off the dribble,” Rivers said. “When you’re [a center] doing that, that’s different.”
Stoudemire is the nominal center for the Knicks who play a number of smaller lineups that are heavy on wing shooters and short on bruisers. The Celtics center, Shaquille O’Neal, is dealing with an assortment of lower leg injuries and may or may not be ready to play. While losing O’Neal hurts the Celtics depth, and they don’t have much to begin with, the Celtics will likely play a heavy dose of Garnett and Glen Davis  up front.
Either way, expect Stoudemire and Garnett to matchup more often than not in one of the best big man confrontations in the league.
KEY STAT: 3-point shooting
At 37 percent, the Knicks aren’t a particularly efficient 3-point shooting team, but they prefer quantity over quality and average about 25 attempts per game — highest in the league. The Celtics take the fewest 3’s in the league, but make them at about a 39 percent clip. The Knicks are capable of shooting themselves in, or out, of any game and in Chandler, Felton and Gallinari they have a trio of gunners. (Also, somewhat incredibly, Shawne Williams  has made 10-of-14 3’s since cracking the rotation).
The Celtics are a help defensive team that pressures the strong side and forces teams to move the ball. If the Knicks can handle the pressure, their wing players will have open looks, but that’s easier said than done.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
After you cut through the hype and the game begins, keep an eye on Knicks rookie Landry Fields. In an underwhelming rookie class, the second round pick has become the underexposed, overachieving poster-child of the new Knicks — an unexpected development if ever there was one. Rivers loves the kid and believes that he’ll probably wind up guarding Rajon Rondo, who dished out 24 assists in their earlier meeting.
“He’s terrific,” Rivers said of Fields. “I had no idea that he was going to be this. He does so many of the little things. He does the dirty work. It’s rare when you find a rookie that he’ll guard the best guard. He’ll guard Rondo for most of the game. You just don’t see that very often from young players.”