WALTHAM, Mass. — Two weeks ago, the Celtics put forth a strong bounce-back performance in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinals in Cleveland, beating the Cavs in convincing fashion in their building, 104-86. They had all the inner confidence, all the outside hype and all the momentum on their side.
Then they had three days off.
Then they got blown out on their home floor in Game 3.
Once again, the Celtics are coming off of a huge road win in Game 2, this time over the Orlando Magic in the East finals. But they're again facing a long layoff before they return to the floor. Game 2 was Tuesday night at Amway Arena; Game 3, back at the TD Garden, isn't until 8:30 p.m. on Saturday. It's hard to guard against the letdown that sets in between games.
"You can't," Celtics head coach Doc Rivers said on Thursday at the team's practice facility in Waltham. "You don't guard against it, you just keep focusing on execution and improvement and getting ready."
Rivers is trying to avoid taking a grandiose look at the series as a whole, examining the team's momentum, its ebb or its flow. With the long layoff before Saturday night, he's trying to keep his team focused on winning games, one at a time. He just wants to be prepared.
"Each game is a single game," he said. "That's what we talk about. That's been our speech through this playoff series — all of these series, really. Each game is a single game. Game 1 was an individual game, Game 2 and Game 3 as well. And as I told our guys, we have yet to beat Orlando on our home floor this year. And that's something that we have to have a focus on."
For a coach, too much time off is never a bad thing. Rivers has made the most of it.
"I don't mind the prep time, for me," he said. "It's always good in some ways. Sometimes you probably watch too much film. I mean, I don't know how many more times I can watch Games 1 and 2, but I'm still going to do it, because that's what we do. You never know — after the fifth time, which is where I'm at already, you do see something different every time. So you never know what it'll do for you."
For a player? It's different. There's only so much mental preparation you can do, and eventually, the anxiety gets to you.
"It's tough," Paul Pierce said. "I think we all have trouble sleeping. Just the anxiety of just going out there and wanting to play, and all the playoff pressure and everything that comes along with it. The travel. A number of guys can't sleep. You wish you could play every other day, but it's necessary to get these days off in between, just to get some rest."
It's up to the coach to keep everyone composed. Over the course of a long season, that can be challenging. Now that the Celtics are in crunch time, Rivers is keeping everyone's focus razor-sharp.
"We've just got to focus on basketball and keep our focus on what we're doing," the coach said. "We can't get into killer instinct or whatever we're going to get into. We've just got to focus on doing what we've been doing and not taking our eye off of that."