WALTHAM — With their postseason existence two losses from extinction, the Celtics trotted out a new buzzword Thursday: desperation.
Following up on that term, the players and coaches dropped the usual array of clichés about their “backs being against the wall” and so forth as they head into Game 3 Friday of their first-round playoff series against the New York Knicks.
The Celtics are down, 0-2, in the best-of-seven series, and the only bright side is that they’ll be playing in front of their home crowd for the first time since April 10.
“There’s no better crowd in the NBA than ours,” Doc Rivers said before practice Thursday. “There’s no better crowd in sports than this city. They are actually really invested. And that is the difference, and I’ve always said that.
“There’s a lot of crowds that, they’re winning now, they come. And then you see all the hats, all the [trash-talking] when you’re walking the city.
“But Boston, when you’re winning or losing, you still hear the people talking trash. And that’s just the way they are, the way they’re built. And we expect them to be very much that.”
More than anything, though, the Celtics expect, as Kevin Garnett said, a “very emotional, very inspiring” night at TD Garden, as it will be their first game there since the Marathon bombings.
A moment of silence will take place before the game. A video tribute will play on the Jumbotron. First responders will be recognized.
“You know, fans really get riled up for the playoffs, and despite the tragedy, they’ll probably be even more of it,” captain Paul Pierce said.
The bombings led the NBA to cancel the Celtics’ final regular-season home game April 16 against Indiana. Since then, they’ve played in Toronto and New York.
The Celtics are well aware that basketball is, in the grand scheme, only a game, but they also know that sports can be of some help during a time of tragedy.
“With the Bruins, Sox, and us, I think the fans look to us as an outlet as far as having us and trying to pass what happened,” said forward Jeff Green, who lives downtown, not far from where the bombings took place.
“I think everybody’s been looking to us for an outlet. We’re trying to find a way to get the city going. We’ve got a game [Friday], which they can come out and support and get away from the tragic moments. [Friday] is going to be big for the city. I think they’re going to come out and be loud for us, so it will be fun.”
After subpar performances in Games 1 and 2, especially during the second halves, Boston will try to match New York’s intensity. Green said the crowd will help in that department.
“In moments where we lack the energy, I feel like they’ll help us out,” he said. “They’ll let us know.”
But playing at home doesn’t mean they’ll automatically win, Pierce said.
“We’ve got to go out and play like a desperate team with a huge sense of urgency,” said Pierce, “because Game 3 right now, our season’s definitely on the line.”
Why has the desperation been missing from Games 1 and 2?
“I don’t think it’s been missing, it just hasn’t been maintained for four quarters,” Pierce said. “I mean, we show just flashes of it, so it’s something we’ve got to do for four quarters and definitely in Game 3.”
The Celtics have rebounded from a 2-0 playoff deficit before . . . but that was 44 years ago, when the 1968-69 team, led by player/coach Bill Russell, came back and won four of five versus the Lakers, capturing an NBA championship.
Since then, the Celtics have lost their last eight best-of-seven series when sitting in a two-game hole. And no NBA team has come back from a 3-0 series deficit. Ever.
In Games 1 and 2, Knicks star Carmelo Anthony scored 36 and 34 points, and J.R. Smith added 15 and 19, but the Celtics expect those two to get their points. It’s the other Knicks who are doing the most damage, specifically Raymond Felton, Pablo Prigioni, and Jason Kidd, who all keep attacking the paint.
Once there, they have either drawn fouls, which has led to Garnett playing a supporting role in the series, or passed it out to open 3-point shooters.
“We have to do something about that,” Rivers said.
Felton, specifically, has carved up Boston, scoring 13 points in Game 1 and 16 in Game 2.
“He’s killing us,” Rivers said earlier in the week.
With Garnett in foul trouble and other Celtics struggling, Pierce has had to carry an extra load, which he can’t do, Rivers said.
“We’re asking him to guard Carmelo at times, asking him to bring the ball up the floor at times, we’re asking him to be our post passer, it’s . . . listen, he’s Paul Pierce,” Rivers said. “He’s not Christopher Reeve.”
Boston has also played as flat as a still pond after halftime, scoring 48 total points in the two losses.
“In the second half, we lacked the aggression that we come out with,” said Green, who has made 10 of 15 shots in the first halves but 1 of 11 in the second halves.
“It’s clear to see when you watch film how hard we were attacking, how we were running our offense, our defensive pressure. It’s clear the aggression between the two halves is totally different.”
Garnett said the Celtics have to defend better, try to get easy baskets in transition, and push the ball up more when the Knicks turn up the pressure on defense.
“But, second half, I think the thesis here is just being more aggressive,” he said.
The Celtics don’t really have any other choice. A deflating loss Friday would set up the Knicks for a sweep of their rivals in Sunday’s Game 4 on Boston’s home parquet.Baxter Holmes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @BaxterHolmes