Things may feel a little different when the Celtics take the court at TD Garden on Friday. That game, the third installment of their best-of-seven Eastern Conference playoff series against the Knicks, will be the Celtics’ first contest in Boston since a tragic week that had a profound affect on the city, as well as a much less significant impact on the Celtics’ schedule.
Because of last week’s bombing at the Boston Marathon, the Celtics have not played at home since April 10. Their regular season home finale against the Pacers was cancelled on Tuesday, and a night later they closed out the season in Toronto. When the Celtics take the floor for Game 3 on Friday, it will be their first home game in 17 days.
“It feels like it’s been a month,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said Wednesday in a conference call. “It’ll be great to be home. Obviously, these are extreme circumstances. We missed the last home game of the season — I don’t know that that’s ever happened — and then we’ve been on the road. It’ll feel great to be back home in front of our fans. But we have to play better.”
Through two games in the series, the Celtics have played outstanding in the first half. But in the second half, not so much. The Knicks have outscored the Celtics 21-8 combined in the first five minutes of the third quarter in both games, and on Tuesday the Celtics hit a new low by scoring just 23 points in the second half while shooting 19 percent from the floor. That performance followed an eight-point fourth quarter in the opener.
Adding to Rivers’ list of concerns is a backcourt that seems increasingly unable to keep the Knicks out of the paint, Kevin Garnett‘s persistent foul problems and fatigue that may set in for three key veterans in their mid-30s.
“I worry about all those things, but I shouldn’t have to worry about it at the beginning of the third quarter, if you know what I mean,” Rivers said. “We’ve come out flat at the beginning of the third quarter twice, and that’s really hurt us.”
Jordan Crawford played more than 25 minutes in Game 2 while Courtney Lee only made a brief appearance in garbage time. Rivers defended that move on Wednesday, shrugging off Lee’s drastic drop in minutes to the recent improved play of Crawford and Jeff Green, who has moved into the starting lineup with Paul Pierce. Jason Terry also broke out of a slump with three 3-pointers on Tuesday.
But the better the Knicks shoot, the more energy they have on defense, which creates more opportunities on offense. That cycle is causing problems for the Celtics, who have not been able to answer the Knicks’ second-half runs with extended runs of their own.
Rivers is known for his in-game adjustments, but those are mostly tactical. He may have to take a page from Herb Brooks and start delivering some spirited speeches at halftime to spur his players into the second half.
“If it’s going to come to that, we’re in trouble,” Rivers said. “I don’t even remember what Mike Fratello [his coach in Atlanta] said at halftime. We’ve got two shots and we have to do something because we’ve come out flat. We’ve got two days to figure it out.”
The next two games are at TD Garden before the series shifts back to New York, if necessary. For the first time in more than two weeks, the Celtics are primed for an actual home stand. They just hope this does not end up being their last home stand of the season.