When the Celtics found themselves down 61-47 to the Miami Heat midway through the third quarter in their playoff opener Saturday night, it was team unity that kept them in the game, driving them to fight all the way back.
When they found themselves in a sticky situation in front of the Miami bench in the final minute, it was team unity that got them in a big mess.
With 40 seconds left and the Celtics up six, Paul Pierce tried to drive past Miami's Udonis Haslem on the sideline and deliver a pass around Quentin Richardson into the paint for Kevin Garnett to ice the Celtics' win in Game 1. But when Pierce collided with Richardson and then fell to the ground in front of the Miami bench, that's when trouble started.
As Pierce was on the ground, clutching his shoulder and neck in pain, Richardson stood over the Celtics' captain, barking at him. Garnett rushed to his teammate's side to help him out, and things escalated quickly.
"I saw Paul grab his shoulder," Garnett said. "I was just trying to give him some room, and I saw Q standing over him and talking nonsense. I just asked him to give him some room. And before you know it, mayhem started."
Garnett hadn't asked nicely. He elbowed Richardson once, trying to back him down. Richardson persisted, and Garnett elbowed him again — harder. That's what led to pandemonium at the TD Garden, and when all was settled, it's what led to a double technical and automatic ejection for KG.
"I'm a vet," Garnett said. "I've got to use my head. But the only thing I saw was Paul hurt, and that's the only thing I cared about at that time.
"I was trying to do common courtesy for an injured player," he continued. "That's all. It was nothing more and nothing less than that. I have no beef with Q. I know him personally. But I thought what he did was a bit disrespectful, standing over a guy that was hurt."
Needless to say, Richardson saw things differently.
"I was just trying to get over there to take the ball out of bounds," the veteran forward said. "He started to talk to me, so I talked back. I don?t have any business talking to [Pierce]. He was on the ground crying. I don?t know what was going on. Two actresses over there, that?s what they are."
"I don't like them," he added. "And they know it."
This isn't the first time we've heard that kind of language. The Celtics get into stuff like this all the time — at heart, they're competitors and they're trash-talkers. They got into it a week ago with the Bucks in Milwaukee, and with the Cavaliers on Easter Sunday. The Celtics are going to mouth off, they're going to stir up trouble, and they're going to push the limits.
This time, they might have gone too far. KG is looking at a likely suspension — and what's more, he's gotten the Heat fired up for what lies ahead.
"A lot of that is the way this series is going to be," Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said. "And some of it has nothing to do with the game. It's going to be heated."
After Saturday night, there's little doubt that the intensity in this series has been raised to a whole new level.
The Celtics fought hard to erase that second-half deficit, going on a 34-10 run fueled by tough defense and countless transition buckets. But they'll have to fight even harder now.
The C's now lead the series 1-0. But the road from here on will be tough, and moving forward, they'd better stick together. Luckily for them, that's never been a problem.