Rivalry renewed 20 years later

Boston Celtics. New York Knicks. Madison Square Garden.

When is the last time all three of those entities have been relevant at the same time?

For the first time since Patrick Ewing's swan song campaign of 1999-2000, the Knicks actually have a competitive product on the floor at the same time the Boston franchise is successful. Tonight, their rivalry is rejuvenated in New York as the Atlantic Division's top two teams meet at MSG.

At 16 wins through 25 games, the Knicks are on pace for their first 50-win season since Ewing's last — a span of 12 years.

The Knicks' only two playoff appearances since the turn of the century have been first-round ousters in 2001 and 2004. The Celtics also lost in the first round in 2004 and did not make the playoffs in 2001.

Boston went through the same struggles before putting together its Big Three of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen and getting an unexpected boost from the play of point guard Rajon Rondo during the 2007-08 campaign. That team went on to give the Celtics 66 wins and their 17th NBA title. Boston had not qualified for the postseason the two seasons prior to the arrival of the Big Three, had lost in the first round the two years before that and had not seen a 50-win season in almost two decades.

So, again, when is the last time the Celtics, Knicks and Madison Square Garden all joined together as a truly competitive triumvirate?

For my money you have to go back to the 1991-92 season. Some could say the 1992-93 campaign was the last as both teams finished 1-2 in the Atlantic, but New York was 12 games better and won four of the five meetings by an average of 13 points.

So it comes back to the 1991-92 season.

Both teams won 51 games, Boston winning the Atlantic Division as a result of a 3-2 advantage in the season series.

The five meetings between the Knicks and Celtics during the 1991-92 season were decided by an average of 6.6 points, no margin greater than the first meeting's 11-point advantage to Boston, and the Celtics won the season series 3-2. New York won the two games at MSG — 111-110 and 100-96.

Both teams made it to the Eastern Conference semifinals.

It was the last time Boston would win 50 games until the Big Three formed in 2007-08, while it was the beginning of a 10-year stretch where the Knicks made two NBA Finals, two Eastern Conference finals and five Eastern Conference semifinals appearances. During that time New York never had a losing record and only once did it not get out of the first round — the end of the run in 2000-01.

Fast forward 20 years and the Boston-New York rivalry in basketball can be renewed.

The Celtics (19-4) are winners of 10 straight, while the Knicks (16-9) have their longest winning streak in more than 16 years at eight in a row; they didn't post more than four straight wins all of last year but have won 13 of their last 14 entering tonight's game.

The Knicks' key free-agent acquisition, Amar'e Stoudemire, has scored 30-plus points in a franchise-record eight straight games.

New York scores 108.5 points a game for second-best in the NBA, while Boston allows a league-best 91 points a game.

The league has waited 20 years for these two storied franchises to be relevant together, and tonight Madison Square Garden gets to play host to the long-awaited event.

— Corby A. Yarbrough @AthlonCorby on Twitter

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