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Don't Call Celtics-Hawks a Rivalry Either

It's doubtful that many Knicks fans tuned in to the Celtics-Hawks game Thursday night. Less than 24 hours before, Paul Pierce made the shot heard ‘round the city. Can't blame the fans for taking a night off of basketball after that one.

But what they missed is a Hawks team that was once like them - young, athletic, and rejuvenated. Oh, and also a "rival" to the Celtics.

Remember that?

It was only three seasons ago that the Hawks took the Celtics to seven games in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. All of a sudden, the two teams were rivals - at least if you asked anyone on the Hawks side.

"It switched with the Knicks now because they're playing good," Glen Davis said with a smile. "That's when the Hawks were playing really good, you know?"

After the Celtics won 102-90 Thursday night, and 99-76 back on Nov. 22nd, not many people are thinking about a rivalry right now.

"It wasn't like it used to," Davis said of the emotion in Thursday night's game. "I don't know why. I think their team has changed."

Sure, the Hawks were without Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford, but the Celtics have a pretty impressive list of injured players too.

"We've been together now for a few years," Hawks coach Larry Drew said. "We've added some pieces, given, we got some pieces out, but still we want to come in here and we want to show that we're a much better ball club than we showed the first time we met this team this year. Right now this Celtics team has our number."

Previously, the Hawks had found a lot of success beating the big teams during the regular season, but when it came to the playoffs, something had been missing.

In 2009, the Cavs swept the Hawks in the Conference Semifinals. Ditto by the Magic last season.

The news doesn't get better for the Hawks either. They're a team that appears to be stuck in neutral. They're not bad, but they're certainly not the Celtics right now. Or the Magic. Or the Heat. Or even the Bulls. They've got talent - just not enough. And they don't have nearly enough money to buy some either.

Still, Al Horford considers it some sort of rivalry - whether the C's consider it one or not.

"I'd say so," he said. "I don't know how they particularly feel about it. But I know that they have to come on edge when they play us. That's the way it is. That's the way we approach it."

They aren't the only team that thinks they're the Celtics' rivals. The C's are a measuring stick for teams that are trying to find an identity. It's a test for those teams, while the C's just cross off each team one at a time: Next.

"I love it basically," Davis said. "Everybody feels like they have to beat us. And that is true. You have to beat us to get to where you want to go. We're the team that went there last year."

Joakim Noah said it too. There's no team he wants to beat more than the Celtics. Why? Because the Bulls just haven't. The C's got the best of them in the same fashion as the Hawks two postseasons ago.

Those two teams have pushed the Celtics to the limit, but have yet to take them over it.

Now the Knicks, who haven't played a meaningful game against the Celtics in 20 years, want a piece. Those fans have every reason to be excited. It's still early, but there's a good chance New York makes the playoffs this season. There's also a chance they meet the Celtics in the first round.

But before the Knicks plaster a "Rivalry Renewed" promotion over their website, they should learn a lesson from the Hawks.

A "rivalry" can disappear just as fast as it can appear.

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