NYC vs. Boston hostilities? Fuhgedaboutit . . . for now

J.R. Smith of the Knicks dunks the ball

J.R. Smith of the Knicks dunks the ball against Jeff Green of the Boston Celtics in the first half during Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. (April 20, 2013) (Credit: Jim McIsaac)

For one day, the hostile rivalry between the Knicks and Boston Celtics was on hold.

The two teams and their fans put aside their decades-old animosity Saturday to show support for the city of Boston as their first-round playoff series tipped off at Madison Square Garden.

In an effort to show a united front, Carmelo Anthony of the Knicks and Paul Pierce of the Celtics stood side by side at center court minutes before the opening tip and addressed the crowd.

It's been a trying week for Bostonians, beginning with the Boston Marathon bombings that killed three on Monday and then the manhunt for the suspects that effectively shut down the entire city. Friday night brought some closure with the capture of the 19-year-old suspect after his older brother had been killed in a shootout hours earlier.

"We as New Yorkers understand what you guys are going through," Anthony told the Garden crowd, "so once again, we want to send our prayers out and our condolences to the people of, to the city of Boston."

When Pierce took the microphone, there was an initial wave of boos. But the scattered jeers were quickly drowned out by the sound of "Shhhhhh," allowing Pierce to speak.

Wearing a T-shirt over his Celtics jersey that was yellow-and-blue (Boston Marathon colors) and read "Boston Stands as One," Pierce thanked the Garden crowd for its support during the tragedy.

"To the people of Boston," he said, "we will rise."

After the game, Anthony said Knicks fans were wrong to boo Pierce in that situation.

"I don't think that was the right thing to do, boo somebody like that," Anthony said. "At the end of the day, we all know what happened in Boston. Our prayers and things like that go out to the families and the city of Boston. In a situation like today, we all won.

"It's all about the U.S. It's our country. It's sad we got to go through unfortunate tragedies like that. I don't think whoever booed him should have booed him, not in a situation like that."

After Anthony and Pierce addressed the crowd, a Boston Fire Department color guard stood alongside the New York City Fire Department, each displaying American flags, during the national anthem.

For two teams and cities known for their fierce rivalry, these displays were the closest thing to a group hug. And the signs of support toward Bostonians didn't end there.

The handful of fans who were dressed in Celtics gear at the Garden said they were greeted warmly by Knicks fans, something that would be virtually unheard any other day.

Conor Griffin, 27, of lower Manhattan, said he's worn his Celtics jersey to at least a dozen Knicks-Celtics games at the Garden over the last five years and described the atmosphere as typically "hostile."

Saturday, though, he described it as a far more welcoming environment for Bostonians. He said several fans yelled "Boston strong!" to him on the subway and as he entered the arena.

Rick Goralnick, 50, of Bridgewater, N.J., said the guy who took his ticket greeted him by saying, "I'm a Yankees fan, but I wore a Red Sox hat this week."

"Everything we've heard has been respectful," said Goralnick, who wore a Larry Bird jersey and brought his 11-year-old son, Matthew. "One guy said, 'You're wearing the wrong color!' Then he smiled, shook my hand and said, 'I know you've had a rough week.' "

Celtics coach Doc Rivers said he experienced the same type of behavior from New Yorkers. Rivers is no stranger to the Knicks-Celtics rivalry, having played for the Knicks in the early 1990s. That's why he said he almost bumped into a cab when he heard a few random New Yorkers call out to him outside his hotel and offer some kind words.

"I know what they mean," Rivers said, laughing. "They mean the city, they ain't meaning the Celtics. I get that 100 percent."

Beforehand, Celtics players were admittedly not sure what kind of reaction the Garden would give them; Kevin Garnett even said he thought it would still be "terrible," like always, because it's the playoffs.

That wasn't the case during warm-ups, but once the game started, that took precedence, which is probably a good thing for Bostonians looking forward to getting back to normalcy.

Added Rivers, "Thank gosh it's over."

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