Doc Rivers wasn't much for deep philosophical musings when asked on Wednesday night about the barrage of technical fouls that derailed the Celtics in the second quarter of their preseason game at Madison Square Garden.
"It is what it is," the Celtics' coach said with a shrug. "You've just got to live with it. This is the new, kinder, gentler me."
Despite everything that happened in the Celtics' dramatic 104-101 win over the Knicks on Wednesday night — the game-winning jump shot by Paul Pierce, the monster night from the rookie Luke Harangody, the valiant effort of the C's small lineup to stop a red-hot Amare Stoudemire — the story of the night was still the whistle-happy officials who ruined Kevin Garnett's night.
With 4:39 left in the second quarter and the C's down seven, Jermaine O'Neal was called for a questionable loose-ball foul, allegedly for shoving Knicks center Timofey Mozgov as he pursued a rebound on a Garnett miss. O'Neal protested, and which point referee Kane Fitzgerald quickly T'd him up. Garnett, who stood nearby and happened to overhear O'Neal jawing at Fitzgerald, chuckled loudly, and a displeased Fitzgerald whistled him too. Seconds later, KG was gone. The C's never got a good explanation.
"I didn't need one," Rivers said. "Listen — the rules are the rules. We have to have more discipline. Kevin, J.O., all of them. I told them that. Whether he deserved it or not, I just think we've got to use our judgment a little bit better. We know the rules, so we have to have discipline."
The Celtics have long suffered from technical difficulties as a team. KG and Paul Pierce are two of the game's most emotional players; last year's team featured the oft-griping Rasheed Wallace and the intense Kendrick Perkins picking up T's left and right. If the Celtics want to find the cause of all these whistles, they'd be well-advised to take a look in the mirror.
"We can't worry about them," Rivers said of the officials. "We have to be better. You know, the first tech on J.O., he got it and he walked away. The first tech on Kevin, he got it and he didn't. Whether he said anything or not, whether he deserved it, it doesn't matter. We know the rules, and we have to respect the rules."
"The refs are making a statement here in the preseason, but the players are going to adjust," Pierce added. "I don't think [Garnett's actions] warranted getting kicked out, but they're making a stand in the preseason, and by the time the season starts, we've got to make the adjustment. We'll be fine."
The Celtics weren't fine on Wednesday night. Garnett's ejection dramatically altered the course of the game — O'Neal was in foul trouble, the other O'Neal (Shaquille) was sitting out with a hip injury, and Glen Davis was sidelined by a sore knee. The C's were low on big men, and that opened the door for Amare Stoudemire to run wild. The Knicks' All-Star forward finished with 30 points. You could argue that Garnett's ejection nearly cost the Celtics the game.
We knew all along that officials would be cracking down this season with the technicals. But we may not have foreseen that the new rule would end up deciding games. Going forward, this is a scary precedent.
"I think they'll have to take a second look and just see how it affects the game, especially the stars," Pierce said. "You know, people pay good money to come out and see the stars play. And even though we have to play within the rules, I think there has to be some kind of leniency. When a guy turns and just looks at you for a technical, that can cost you a game, or at least that can cost you a player coming out of the game. I think they have to take a second look, really hard, and understand that this is an emotional game. Players are going to use emotion, and that's never going to stop."