- Chris Forsberg, Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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Marred in a frustrating three-game losing streak, the Boston Celtics need a victory. If that just so happens to come against the team with the best record in basketball, so be it.
There'd be easier teams for Boston to face than the Cleveland Cavaliers that visit the Hub for an Easter Sunday showdown (ABC, 1 p.m.), but the clash provides the Celtics with a quick way to right a lot of their recent wrongs.
And while Celtics coach Doc Rivers downplayed the significance of any single regular-season meeting, even he admitted that Sunday's game is the type in which "everyone's antenna is up," and that might be exactly what the Celtics need to snap out of their recent funk.
Just don't call it a statement game. Or a must-win game. Rivers doesn't put much stock in that.
"No, because if we get [a statement victory], what does it mean?" Rivers asked earlier this week. "Really, I've said it all year: We won a couple big games this year, what has it got us? We won the first game of the year against Cleveland. I don't know, what statement did it make? I think it's good for writers, honestly, it's good for, 'Boy, that was a statement game, that meant a lot.'
"The team going home, Cleveland, it doesn't mean [anything] to them. For the team that wins, it's great for a day or two, but after that, you've still got to go play. Say we beat Cleveland [on Sunday] and we play Miami in the first round [of the playoffs]. Do you think Dwyane Wade gives a [hoot] that we beat Cleveland? It doesn't matter. It's good for you -- every win is good for you and always helps your psyche."
And right now the Celtics' psyche could use a boost. Boston is well aware of its woes against quality competition -- this past week didn't help matters with home losses to three Western Conference foes -- and at the very least, a victory on Sunday on national television wouldn't hurt this team's outlook, both for the players and the pundits, as the playoffs approach.
"A team like Cleveland coming in, it's a great game to get us back on track," Celtics captain Paul Pierce said after Saturday's practice. And he wasn't exactly buying his coach's belief that a win like this wouldn't mean much.
"I think [the Celtics need a win for their own confidence]," he said. "At this point of the season, especially with the way we've been playing, to be playing at home against the team with the best record in the NBA, that's something we can use. Especially late in the year, going into the playoffs."
Boston spent much of Saturday's practice bracing for the Cavaliers, but with a hefty focus on cleaning up the problems that have plagued them recently.
The Celtics have defied their own reputation as a veteran team in recent games. Boston got run out of its own gym by San Antonio last Sunday, then watched a youthful Oklahoma City team make all the big plays late in Wednesday's gut-wrenching loss. On Friday, Boston committed so many mental mistakes against injury-depleted Houston that Rivers was convinced it was still April Fool's Day.
But it's amidst that sort of adversity that Pierce has found what he loves best about this team.
"The good thing about us is that, after a game like [Friday's], we sit in the locker room and talk about it, or sit in the trainer's room and talk about what we need to do," he said. "That's a positive sign. Even in a tough stretch, we manage to stay together and talk things out.
"The tendency is to point the finger or get mad at each other. That's not the case with this team. That's what I love about us. We still believe we can win a championship. We still believe in one another. That's why we do what we do. This team has been through a lot of adversity. For us to still be together, to still talk about it, I have a lot of confidence [in this team]."
And that's not to say the conversation after Friday's game was always cordial. Fingers were pointed, names were named.
"It's not all going to be positive," said Pierce. "There's going to be some negative when things are not going well. But the outcome is always going to be positive. We sit there and talk about it. Players are being honest about one another and that's a good thing."
So did the conversation have a positive impact?
Said Celtics guard Ray Allen: "We'll see."
Against that backdrop of adversity, it might have been something Allen posted on his Twitter account earlier this week that best sums up Boston's season.
As the New England region was being inundated with rain, Allen Tweeted Wednesday morning: "It's still raining. That's OK, that means the grass is gonna be greener and the flowers more beautiful. Stay positive."
It's the perfect analogy for Boston's season. If the team can weather the storm and still accomplish its ultimate goal, it might actually make it all that much sweeter.
And Rivers can get behind that. Last month he noted that, in a twisted way, this has been maybe even more enjoyable than the 2007-08 season because of how easy everything came that year (until Boston hit the postseason).
So as the weather changed to spring at its finest Saturday, you can't help but wonder if Boston's luck is set to change with it.
Chris Forsberg is the Celtics reporter for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.
Adversity is making the Celtics stronger, says captain Paul Pierce. We'll see.