The Boston Celtics haven't played a home game since April 10, when Deron Williams' Brooklyn Nets beat their hosts by eight. They were supposed to take on the Indiana Pacers on April 16, but the NBA canceled that game after the city had been rocked by the prior day's bombings at the 2013 Boston Marathon.
Since those tragic events, the Celtics and their fans have been honored in opposing arenas, and Boston's players have taken the court wearing commemorative warm-up shirts and jersey patches to show support for residents affected by the bombings. But Boston has yet to actually suit up in front of the TD Garden faithful since before Boylston Street became an active crime scene. That will change Friday night, when the Celtics finally return home for Game 3 of their first-round series with the New York Knicks.
With the Celtics leaving New York in an 0-2 hole and in desperate need of a win to get back into the series, you'd expect the Garden to be rocking under normal circumstances; given everything that's transpired in Boston over the past two weeks, it's likely that the emotion in the stands will be palpable and that the crowd will be at a fever pitch all night. That's fine for fans eager for both a Boston win and a sense of release, but Celtics coach Doc Rivers won't look to leverage the highly charged atmosphere to stoke his team's competitive fire, according to Jeff Zilgitt of USA TODAY Sports:
"I won't use that [for motivation], I can tell you that. I don't do that. I don't use tragedy for sports," Rivers said. "I just don't think it's right. We want to win for the city. It would be terrific. But that is not anything I'm going to use in a press conference or with our players. We should want to win because we want to win. If we win, it would be great for the city. That's as far as I'll go with it."
[...] "It'll be great to be home," Rivers said. "Obviously, this is an extreme circumstance. We missed our last home game of the year, which I don't know if that's ever happened. We've been on the road ever since. First of all, it's just good to be back in Boston period. Second, it'll feel great and be great to be back in the Garden playing in front of our fans."
It's not surprising that Rivers said exactly the right thing in this situation — he's long been one of the best coaches in the NBA at working with the media, always quick with a quotable line, a clear explanation of a decision and an uncompromising assessment when his team's underperforming. Still, it's worth giving Doc a quick doff of the cap for refusing to trivialize an event that resulted in five deaths and nearly 300 injuries by turning it into "win one for the Gipper"-style fodder.
There are better, classier ways to rally his team — like, perhaps, appealing to the individual and collective pride of a group professionals who just turned in a historically putrid offensive performance — than by referencing all that was lost 10 days ago and devaluing it in the process. It might seem like a simple point born out of basic human decency, but I can't fight the sneaking suspicion that there are plenty of other coaches who would be very willing, at least privately, to awkwardly dip into that particular emotional reservoir if put in a similar situation. I'm just glad this one isn't.
However, as Stephen Colbert has taught us, with each tip of the hat must come a wag of the finger, and on Thursday, that wag came from the league office in New York. The NBA fined Rivers $25,000 for publicly criticizing the officials who presided over Boston's Game 2 loss. After the defeat, Rivers lamented several "horrendous" calls against Kevin Garnett that he felt took his center and defensive centerpiece out of his rhythm, contributing to a disastrous third quarter in which New York completely took control of the game.
In this case, Rivers might have been speaking the truth, but (in the league's eyes) he didn't exactly say the "right thing." So long as he continues to focus on the former, though, Celtics fans and NBA observers will most likely continue to think that he usually comes through with the latter.