NEW YORK -- Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers spent a little more than two seasons with the New York Knicks during his playing days, so he knows the mindset of a typical New York sports fan. Which is why he said it has been so startling to hear the locals offering words of encouragement as he navigates the streets here.
"Hearing, 'Good luck, Doc!' [and] 'Hey Doc, we love Boston!' I mean, I almost ran into a cab last night," cracked Rivers. "But I know what they mean -- and they mean the city. They don't mean the Celtics. I get that 100 percent."
New Yorkers, maybe knowing all too well the heartache that Bostonians are enduring this week, have opened their arms to a territorial rival. While the Celtics try to collect themselves for Saturday's Game 1 of an Eastern Conference first-round series against the Knicks, they've been smothered with kindness.
Like the worker at the Celtics' team hotel who stopped Rivers on Friday to tell him that she was a Boston fan.
"And then she turned around [and added,] 'Today,'" Rivers said. "And I was thinking, 'That's what this is all about.' And that's good. It's good. I love the rivalry. I think it's great."
The rivalry took a back seat after a chaotic, violence-filled evening in Boston on Thursday. Celtics players, away since Tuesday, one day after the marathon bombings, were captivated by news reports from back home. But many were also worried about family and friends, which made focusing on basketball a daunting task on Friday.
"The city's crazy, man," Kevin Garnett said. "I think everybody's kind of trying to at least focus in a little bit on, obviously, our game and the playoffs. But the obvious thing is everybody's worried, also. I hope everybody back home, especially in the whole New England area, is OK, and safe."
Echoed captain Paul Pierce: "You wake up, turn on the Internet, it's cause for concern, especially with us having families in the areas that these situations are happening in. I got phone calls from home, the whole city's locked down, especially in the area where I live at, so it's definitely a concern. You worry. But we're here, there's nothing we can really do about it. Hopefully everything takes care of itself back home with the law enforcement doing what they have to do to secure the situation."
Ready or not, the Celtics will take the court on Saturday. [Editor's note: The second Boston Marathon bombing suspect was taken into custody Friday night.]
Rivers is hoping his team can put on blinders when the ball goes up.
"You have to put things in compartments. You always do," Rivers said. "This is what everyone's going through, not just basketball players. It's everybody. It's everybody at work, whatever you do. But then you have to do your job, too. Honestly, for us, getting on the floor is good medicine. It gets you focused on your job."
Soon after his chat with reporters on the floor of Levien Gym at Columbia University, whistles blew, sneakers squeaked and the Celtics went through final preparations for the series opener against the Knicks. Veterans such as Jason Terry were doing all they could to keep their teammates locked on the task at hand.
"Right now we're real focused," Terry said. "We've already had our team meeting, we're going to practice [Friday]. Our sole focus is on Game 1. We're still thinking about what's going on [in Boston], but not letting that be a distracting factor for what we came here to do."
In fact, the lingering question is whether Boston can take a negative situation and extract something positive from it. Could the Celtics get an extra jolt from putting on their jerseys on Saturday?
"It's definitely pride for the city, which we carry every time we put the Boston uniform on," Terry said. "But, at the same time, when we go out there, we will be thinking about it a little bit, and hopefully it'll give us a little extra edge."
The Celtics have acknowledged a desire to give the city of Boston something to cheer about again after a tumultuous -- and often frightening -- week.
"I think when you go through tragedy as a city, you kind of look for something to cling to, and I really believe that the city of Boston lives and dies with our sports team," Pierce said. "They're going to be watching closely and there's just a sense of pride about the city, a sense of pride about this team to go out there and kind of play well and do the best we can for the city in the wake of the tragedy."
As nice as the New Yorkers have been, they'll turn hostile at Madison Square Garden on Saturday. Rivers is looking forward to the environment in Boston for Game 3 next Friday. With hopes that the healing process will have begun, Rivers thinks sports can return to being a means of joy.
"Listen, to some people, basketball games aren't going to matter," Rivers said. "Some people, just the joy of the sport and the victory and it'll help people. It'll help people heal. I just think the public gathering helps, more than anything, because that's what's been affected in a lot of ways."