Celtics could use lift from Boston

BOSTON -- The Boston Celtics arrived home in the early hours of Wednesday morning following a Game 2 loss in New York and slept in their own beds for the first time in more than a week.

And, boy, what a week it was around here.

In a way, the Celtics were divorced from much of the activity in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings. The league canceled the team's home finale -- a visit from the Indiana Pacers last Tuesday night -- and Boston traveled to Toronto for its regular-season finale the next day. The team then went straight to New York to prep for its first-round playoff series with the Knicks.

When the Celtics play Game 3 of the series on Friday night at TD Garden, it will be their first game there in 16 days. "It feels like a month," coach Doc Rivers said.

To be certain, the city of Boston has been on this team's mind. After being captivated by news reports of the manhunt for the bombing suspects on Thursday night, Celtics players frantically phoned home before Friday's practice to check on loved ones with the city in lockdown. A sense of relief came with news that the second suspect was caught on the eve of Saturday's Game 1 and the Celtics attempted to focus on the task at hand.

Being away from home prevented the Celtics from participating in the citywide group hug as Boston came together as a community. The Celtics wanted to be part of the healing process, but it was difficult from 200 miles away.

The Celtics haven't experienced a goose bump-inducing sing-along of the national anthem, as the Bruins did in their first game after the tragedy. When Paul Pierce took the microphone at Madison Square Garden before Saturday's Game 1, there was no Big Papi-like declaration, just a few stray knuckleheads who initially booed Pierce before being properly shushed.

Make no mistake, TD Garden should be full of emotion for Game 3. For the Celtics community, coming together for the first time will resonate. It simply seems unlikely that it will manifest itself in the sort of indelible moments that the Celtics' city brethren experienced while they were away.

But here's how it could.

While in New York, Celtics players preached a desire to give their fans a boost amid a harrowing time, to make basketball a diversion from what had occurred. Instead, the Celtics put together two of the most astoundingly anemic second halves the playoffs have ever seen and they return to Boston staring at a 2-0 hole.

Now it is the Celtics who could use a lift and it might just come in the form of 18,624 fans piled into the Garden, ready to cheer again after two long weeks.

"The emotions are going to be high," Kevin Garnett said. "Obviously, we haven't been back home since all of the current events that happened, so I'm looking forward to going home, getting some of that home love. Boston, here we come."

Garnett often has reminded us that Boston is a brotherhood. The Garden, regardless of the situation, has had a way of helping the Celtics.

Despite all their struggles this season, only three teams in the East had a better home record than Boston (27-13). The team's role players, especially Jason Terry, tend to perform better here than on the road.

Rivers said he doesn't want his team taking home success for granted. After what happened in Boston while they were away, it seems impossible the Celtics could do that.

The players seemed genuinely excited about the opportunity to get back in front of their home fans after Tuesday's Game 2 loss.

"It should be great, getting back in front of our fans," Terry said. "We've been [on the road] for about a week and a half now, so we'll definitely welcome our own beds and the comfort of our own home."

And isn't that, in a nutshell, what we've all been searching for? A little bit of the normalcy that was stripped when those two bombs exploded last Monday.

Rivers has maintained that he won't use the marathon as any sort of motivation for his team because of all those who were affected by the bombings.

"I don't use tragedy for sports, I don't think it's right," he said. "We want to win for the city, it would be terrific. It is not anything I am going to use in a press conference or with our players. We should want to win. It would be great for our city, but that is as far as I will go."

That's as far as Rivers should have to go. The Garden faithful ought to take care of the rest on their own.

"Obviously it's going to be emotional, and quite honestly it should be," Rivers said Thursday on Boston sports radio WEEI (93.7 FM). "I hope that we channel it in the right way, and I think we will. I really do. It will be emotional for the fans, it will be emotional for the players. It's one of those things; that's what it should be."