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Celtics react to marathon tragedy

WALTHAM, Mass. -- Each year that his team is in town for Patriots Day, Celtics coach Doc Rivers walks a few blocks from his downtown residence toward the finish line of the Boston Marathon to savor a small slice of Boston's unique holiday.

He never made it there Monday. Exiting the Massachusetts Turnpike at the Prudential Center on his way back from the team's afternoon practice, he stumbled into the hysteria that had enveloped the area after multiple explosions rattled a previously picturesque afternoon.

"I always go down after practice and watch. I've done it every year that we've been in town, because I live literally two blocks from the finish line," said Rivers. "I was on my way actually. I had just gotten out of the tunnel when the bomb exploded. It's just awful. It takes the joy out of sports -- because that's what sports is supposed to bring is joy. It took all the joy out of the event and out of the day."

The NBA canceled Boston's game against the Indiana Pacers on Tuesday night at TD Garden, a move that the entire Celtics organization called for in the aftermath of the tragedy. As team president Rich Gotham noted, "Even a day later, the notion of playing a basketball game in these circumstances just didn't feel right to us."

The Celtics hit the practice floor Tuesday -- something Rivers said would be a 1½-hour diversion for his players and staff -- but the events of Monday resonated strongly within the organization, particularly for Rivers and Jeff Green, who live close to the finish line.

"It was sad to hear about what happened yesterday," said Green. "You never think anything like that can happen. For something to happen here, right where I live, right down the street from where I live, and close to home, I mean, it's sad."

Green grew up in Maryland and tragedies dot his memory, from September 11 and the plane crash at the Pentagon, to the Beltway sniper attacks in 2002. He also played in Oklahoma City and recalled visiting the museum for the bombings there. His cell phone started buzzing on his way home from practice Monday, but he didn't know the full extent of what was happening in Boston until he returned to his apartment and turned on the news.

But even amid the chaos, Rivers and Green stressed pride in what they saw on the streets of Boston, the way people responded to the events.

"Being in the city, the one thing I will say, you're just really proud to be part of Boston," said Rivers. "I saw people who didn't work for the police or anything like that, directing traffic, showing people where to go. I just thought the spirit of Boston was phenomenal last night. In a tragic event, it either separates you or brings you together. It clearly brought the city of Boston together, which was awesome."

The Celtics know things won't go back to normal any time soon, but there's a sense that the team can aid that transition back to normalcy, when sports can return to being a positive diversion.

"I know this is a strong city. I think we're going to do everything possible to help the victims and families and help the city come back and get back to the way it was," said Green. "It's going to be tough, because I don't think the city really had anything like this happen before. Whatever we can do, whatever I can do, I'm willing to help, because it's a tough thing to get through."

Rivers said the city of Boston showed a lot in the aftermath of what occurred, including the first responders and anyone who offered support after the explosions.

"The city has responded," said Rivers. "The city it was awesome, watching people help people. I'm driving and I can see people helping people walk; helping go to the right places. This city has an amazing amount of spirit and I think that showed last night. And today still."

Rivers said his phone lit up with those concerned for his own safety before he got home. The spotty service in the area made it nearly impossible to send word that he was OK. He said his daughter, Callie, texted 16 consecutive times hoping to reach him.

"Now I know who's going to take care of me," he said, managing a chuckle.

Rivers, notorious for failing to respond to texts from family and friends, made sure to reach out to them once able. And he was floored by the outpouring of support from the league and coaching community, including former assistants like Tom Thibodeau and Lawrence Frank.

"Just because they don't live here anymore, they're still part of this and so they really felt for everybody," said Rivers.

Soon after his chat with reporters, Rivers blew his whistle and huddled his team for some heartfelt words before the start of practice. The whistle blew again and the familiar sounds of basketball activities started up. For the Celtics, it's the first step in getting back to normal. Something Rivers wants for the entire city.

"I think that's what our city wants," said Rivers. "I think that you hear the police commissioner today talking about that. We want to return things as soon as possible back to normal because that tells whoever did this that you don't stop the spirit of Boston. We are going to be back, we're going to work the same, we're going to play the same, we're going to do things the same, and there's nothing you can do to stop us from doing this.

"Next year, the marathon will be bigger and better, and you're not going to stop us and I thought, of all the messages, the police commissioners said that and I think that's a fact."

You get the feeling that Rivers can't wait to walk to the finish line of the marathon next year.