From Manhattan, Celtics riveted by manhunt, try to concentrate on basketball

Paul Pierce addresses the media at Columbia University

Paul Pierce addresses the media at Columbia University the day before their first-round playoff game against the New York Knicks. (April 19, 2013) (Credit: Errol Anderson)

On the eve of their playoff series against the Knicks, the Boston Celtics attempted to create a sense of normalcy.

They held their typical team meeting at their midtown hotel in the morning and took a coach bus uptown for a practice session at Columbia University.

But they also acknowledged the obvious: that life is not normal right now for anyone who calls the Boston area home.

Before taking the court yesterday afternoon, a soft-spoken Kevin Garnett said it's "difficult" to focus on basketball while the search for a suspected terrorist effectively shut down his home city.

"I think everybody is trying to at least focus in a little bit obviously [on] our game and the playoffs," Garnett said, "but obviously, everybody's worried, also."

The Celtics haven't been in Boston since Tuesday -- a day after two bombs at the Boston Marathon killed three and injured many others -- but they said they have been following the news closely on television, on the Internet and through phone calls.

Coach Doc Rivers said he was awakened at 6 a.m. yesterday by a phone call about the latest development: one bombing suspect was dead and the other at large after a shootout with police in Watertown, Mass. After that, Rivers was glued to his television awaiting updates on the manhunt.

"You turn the TV on and then you can't go back to sleep," Rivers said. "It's really sad stuff. It's crazy, it's sad. You just want it to come to an end."

Paul Pierce, the longest-tenured Celtics player, said: "It's definitely a cause for concern, especially with us having families in the area where these situations are happening in. We're getting phone calls from home. The whole city is locked down, especially in the area I live in."

Rivers said he doesn't plan to address the events with his players, noting that dealing only with basketball is "good medicine" for his team when they're together on the court.

As for whether the Celtics might be able to provide a welcome distraction to people back home, Rivers wasn't sure. But he said his team is eager to give it a try.

"I don't know if it helps or not," he said. "To some people, a basketball game is not going to matter. Some people just enjoy the sport and a victory will help people heal. I just think the public gathering helps more than anything. That's been effective in a lot of ways."

Representing Boston at this time, though, takes on new meaning, and veteran guard Jason Terry suggested that trying to provide something positive for a city that needs it right now might give the Celtics an emotional edge. "When we go out there, we will be thinking about it a little bit," he said.

The Knicks players understand that there will be extra emotions flowing for Boston this afternoon.

"You look at what the city has gone through, the game of basketball is just a game," Knicks guard Jason Kidd said. "You're talking about lives. The emotions will be high just because of what's happened. Not just them, but for the country, for everybody."

With Al Iannazzone

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