BOSTON — Doc Rivers sensed the game was going downhill fast, with his own physical Celtics team matched up against an equally hard-nosed Pacers squad. Things were getting so chippy that Rivers sent Brandon Bass to the scorer’s table to replace Kevin Garnett before something bad happened.
Rivers turned out to be a beat too late.
With Bass waiting to substitute, Garnett was slapped with a flagrant foul, penalty two, for striking Indiana forward Tyler Hansbrough in the face in the fourth quarter of Boston’s 94-75 win on Friday. Both Garnett and Rivers looked surprised when head official James Capers signaled for a flagrant foul, and both Celtics were absolutely incredulous when video review upheld the flagrant-two ruling, which came with an automatic ejection.
“I was firm,” Garnett said after his early trip to the showers. “I didn’t mean to get him in the face like that. I was actually trying to strike the ball. They called it what it was. It’s a physical game. That’s what it was. It’s part of the game.”
With 8:24 remaining in a blowout that was all over save for the final score, Hansbrough drove the right baseline and met Garnett rotating over to protect the hoop. Garnett stuck out his arm and swung downward, catching Hansbrough across the face and sending the never-subtle Tar Heel flailing. It was difficult to tell whether Garnett really was trying to hit the ball, but as with many hard fouls that end up being ruled flagrants, Hansbrough’s reaction may have influenced the decision.
Rivers was decidedly subdued in talking about the flagrant-two ruling, possibly because he was simply happy to see his team’s four-game win streak end.
“Honestly, there was so much crap going on at that point, I just think [Capers] has been around the league a long time and he was thinking, ‘I’m going to do Kevin a favor and get him out of here,’ because it was getting chippy,” Rivers said. “I had Brandon at the table anyway because I could see that, too. I really think sometimes that’s what officials do, and you can’t blame them for it.”
Capers indeed got Garnett out of there, giving those 36-year-old legs some extra rest on the first night of a home-and-road back-to-back set. There was one major downside for Garnett in being forced to leave early, though: He was not on the court for “Gino Time,” the customary celebration in the waning moments of a sure Celtics victory.