Doc Rivers stood there, in utter disbelief, at picking up one of the softest technical foul calls in recent memory.
Rivers had been hit with the Celtics’ second personal technical foul of the game for apparently yelling, “Come on, Eddie” at referee Ed Malloy. Rivers’ second quarter tech was one of three whistled on the Celtics in Monday’s game, not including two by-the-book team technicals, and the Celtics seemed to grow more incredulous with each call.
No matter how the game played out on the court, those calls assured that as long as the Celtics lost the game, a large cross section of Bostonians would blame the defeat on the officiating.
That is fine, of course. Nothing brings together co-workers after a three-day weekend like the ability to share a good whine around the water cooler about how the ol’ Celts got screwed by the zebras. It is a nice catharsis before everyone gets back to the daily grind.
The quick triggers on the part of the officials should not take away from the real reasons the Celtics lost the series opener of the Eastern Conference Finals to the Miami Heat. As juvenile as the referees looked, particularly for hitting Ray Allen with a tech after the Celtics guard spun away in disgust in reaction to a questionable defensive foul call, the technicals themselves did not have a huge impact on the game. Allen’s continued shooting woes, the team’s renewed inability to rebound and the absence of an answer to LeBron James on either end of the court played a much larger role in the loss.
First, let us review the technical fouls in question. The two “team” technicals were entirely by the book and non-negotiable. Paul Pierce was caught camping out in the lane for three seconds, which draws an automatic technical free throw. Kevin Garnett, who likes to tip the ball away after the Celtics score, was issued a team technical for the practice, which is against the rules. The Celtics did it once, drew a warning, and did it again, drawing a black-and-white technical. It might have looked cheap to award the Heat a free throw for such a minor infraction, but the Celtics had been warned.
Allen and Rivers’ technicals raised eyebrows. Allen did not appear to utter any expletives and did not get in the officials’ face, and was on his way to collecting himself and getting on with life when he was slapped with a tech. Rivers did not seem to be out of character just before his tech, but we do not know what conversations he and Danny Crawford had prior to that.
The third and final technical, given to Rajon Rondo for pushing Shane Battier, was foolish on several ends. Rondo was silly to take offense to Battier aggressively boxing him out on a shot — if you can box out an offensive player all the way out of bounds, you should do it, and Battier did — and Rondo was silly to respond as he did. It was equally silly for the refs to hand Rondo a technical for a minor skirmish that could have been cleared up with a simple scolding, but this is Rondo. The Celtics point guard should realize he is not exactly a referee’s best friend.
Needless to say, the Heat missed two of the three ensuing foul shots on those calls, and since technical fouls do not count as personal fouls, the cumulative effect of those three techs was one point and zero alteration to the Celtics’ foul situation. What is more, none of the technicals were issued as a result of physical play in the course of actual gameplay, which means the Celtics should have felt no chilling effect in continuing to stay aggressive and even a little chippy with the Heat away from the ball. The Celtics possess a reputation as a mentally tough team that does not get overwhelmed by adversity. That is surely a compliment, but the extension of that is that we cannot then use a few controversial calls as an excuse for them being knocked off their game. If that is enough to ruffle the Celtics, then they are not the team we thought they were.
The Celtics are the team we thought they were — at least, we think so. They are an experienced team that relies on a hobbled shooter, an inconsistent point guard, a jump shot-happy offense and defense that hides a lot of their offensive shortcomings. It was their failures in those key areas, not a few misguided technical fouls, that caused Monday’s loss.