The Boston Celtics are back.
And tonight they proved that despite their record and place in the standings, they are still the team to beat in the Atlantic Division.
The New York Knicks came into the game as first place in the Atlantic Division, but the Celtics worked for 48 minutes to prove otherwise.
For those of you wasting your time watching the National Championship Game between Notre Dame and Alabama, let me fill you in on exactly how the Celtics pulled the 102-96 win off at Madison Square Garden.
Playing without Rajon Rondo, who was suspended for making contact with a referee (an incident that warranted no technical in the game, mind you), the Celtics needed Paul Pierce to be the playmaker. He filled that role perfectly, finishing with 23 points and six assists on over 50 percent shooting.
Meanwhile, every other Celtic managed to make a positive impact, especially Kevin Garnett (19 points), Avery Bradley (13 points, five assists) and Jeff Green (16 points, six rebounds, three assists).
As a team, the Celtics shot an efficient 52.7 percent and managed to hold off the Knicks' early prolific three-point shooting (led by J.R. Smith's 24 points).
In the end, Boston's consistent and efficient offense, coupled with their stifling defense, was enough to ground the Knicks. MVP candidate Carmelo Anthony finished with a Kobe Bryant Game 7-esque shooting performance of 6-for-25.
For the Knicks, not much changes from this loss. They remain in first place in the Atlantic and likely will remain there throughout the season. However, it was certainly an ego-check.
While the standings will reflect the Knicks as the first-place team, both teams left MSG thinking otherwise.
For the Celtics, this win is a huge step forward, especially coming on the heels of two straight impressive wins.
Just a few days after many had written them off (note: I never did), the C's have shown everyone that it is not quite time for their last rites. They are still a force to be reckoned with, especially after they proved they could handle the Knicks without Rajon Rondo.
Also evident throughout was the animosity between the two teams, more specifically Carmelo Anthony and KG, confirming my thought that the rivalry truly is back.
Now, we will all wait for January 24th when these two teams face off again for more rivalry-fueled excitement.
Until then, we will simply take this away from the game: the Celtics are for real, the rivalry is for real and the Celtics and Knicks will produce some entertaining basketball.