BOSTON — While the Celtics celebrated the return of Kendrick Perkins at the TD Garden on Tuesday night, the visiting Cleveland Cavaliers mourned the loss of their 18th consecutive game. Their first-year head coach, Byron Scott, was none too happy about it.
It just so happens that Scott's opposing coach was all too familiar with the feeling — 18 straight happens to be the exact losing streak that Doc Rivers and the Celtics suffered through back in 2007, right before the rebuilding summer that would later win them a championship.
Rivers knows all about losing 18 straight. He remembers the miserable locker room, he remembers the endless media scrutiny.
He also remembers the phone calls that would come from fellow coaches all over the NBA, voicing their support during hard times. Rivers got plenty of those back in the day.
"I'm an expert at it," the Celtics' coach said Tuesday night. "I know exactly what people say. People called me."
Rivers says he made such a phone call this week to Scott, telling him to "hang in there" and make it out of the streak alive.
"I laughed with him," he said. "I told him, 'I know you don't want these calls, because I got them, and I was starting to get pissed off at people calling me.' It's like, leave me alone, I just want to do my job."
"You try as much as you can not to talk about basketball. You really want to talk about other stuff. But it's tough. It is. But he's just like I was — I was really just focused on the next game, on improving some of the guys. That's your job as a coach."
Scott says it's not so bad — he hasn't gotten the overwhelming deluge of calls that Rivers got, but a select few have gotten in touch with him to say a few words.
"I've just had a few coaches call me, that I'm real good friends with, real tight with," said the coach of the 8-37 Cavaliers. "They just tell me to hang in there. If they don't call, they text. Just a few of my closest friends."
Fortunately, Scott already has the battle scars from fighting through hard times. In 2000, he lost nine straight games as the head coach of the New Jersey Nets. Two years later, he took them to the Finals. In 2004, he was at the helm of a New Orleans Hornets team that started off 1-19, but three seasons after that, he took them to a Southwest Division title and a No. 2 playoff seed out West.
He knows that one bad stretch is hardly the end of the world. As an 11-year veteran head coach in the NBA, he's learned a lot about perseverance. It's helped give him a more positive outlook now, as he tries to weather the storm in Cleveland.
"They haven't seen me one day come to practice with my head down," he said. "I refuse to do that. I come to practice with an attitude that we have another chance, another day to get better as a basketball team, another chance to win a basketball game. If they see me down, then they're going to follow the leader. But I've always been positive."
The Cavs started the season 7-9, in the running for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. They've since lost 28 of their last 29 games, speeding past Sacramento and Minnesota to the worst record in the NBA.
To most coaches, that would be defeating. But Scott's going to stay optimistic, thanks in part to his experience, and perhaps with a little help from his friends.
"The one biggest thing is mostly mental," he said. "I think with our team right now, with what we're going through, this is going to make us tougher physically and mentally. We need to have guys who have been through this type of adversity in order to climb back. We're going to keep fighting every day and see what happens."