In the course of 48 minutes the Celtics replayed their 2009-10 season, only in reverse. They were sloppy and uninspiring early, just like they have been over the last three months, and then suddenly they were engaged defensively and unselfish offensively like they had been until Christmas.
We should be talking about how they snapped out of their funk and shutdown the Miami Heat in the second half of an 85-76 victory in Game 1 of their playoff series. We should be talking about how Tony Allen neutralized Dwyane Wade by finally fulfilling his promise as a defensive stopper and how Rajon Rondo summoned the energy to play 43 minutes after battling the flu.
Instead, we’re talking about Kevin Garnett and his elbow to the head of Quentin Richardson that got him ejected with 40 seconds left. If nothing else, it was a foolish act by a veteran who should know better.
It may have been worse than that if the NBA decides to take action and suspend him for Game 2.
“He was ejected for throwing an elbow that made contact with Quentin Richardson,” referee Joe DeRosa said in a statement. “He already had one technical for taunting Quentin Richardson before that.”
DeRosa went on to say that Garnett still would have been ejected even if he didn’t make contact with the elbow, but he did and now it will be up to the NBA if there is any further punishment. Orlando’s Dwight Howard was suspended last season for a playoff game after throwing an elbow at the head of Philadelphia’s Sam Dalembert, and it will be interesting to see if the league wants to set a precedent early in this playoff season.
Precedents have never been the NBA’s strong suit, however. Kobe Bryant was not suspended after he threw an elbow at Ron Artest (then with Houston) last season, but his Laker teammate Derek Fisher was after he hit Luis Scola. The precedent seems to be if contact is made above the shoulders it leads to a suspension and if that holds true then Garnett could be in big trouble.
“I am smarter than that,” Garnett said. “Composure is everything in the playoffs. That’s all. I just didn’t understand all the things that were going on. I am smarter than that. I have to keep my composure in a situation like that.”
But he didn’t and the Celtics are clearly worried.
“I’m concerned as far as what I heard and know,” Doc Rivers said. “I haven’t seen it, so I’m at a disadvantage. You know, I don’t think he was the instigator. I can say that much. I did see that much. But we’ll see.”
There’s more to this story, and yes, this game, which leads us into our three things:
‘EVEN IF WE’RE RIGHT, YOU’RE STILL WRONG’
That quote came from Rivers and he meant that nothing good can come from getting into anything around the other team’s bench.
The play unfolded with the Celtics holding a six-point lead and 40 seconds left. Pierce had the ball and he banged into Richardson, which sent him down to the ground near Miami’s bench. Pierce has had issues with his shoulder and he said he has a pinched nerve, which was aggravated on the play.
As Pierce lay on the ground, Garnett went over to check on him and that’s when Richardson approached and as Garnett said later, “Mayhem started.”
Richardson: “I said to Jermaine [O’Neal], ‘He’s OK,’ because I know nobody touched him. Is he taking another break like he does so many times? Sometimes he falls like he’s about to be out for the season and then he gets right up. That’s all I said.”
Garnett: “Well, I saw Paul grab his shoulder. I just tried to call [trainer] Ed [Lacerte], just trying to give him some room and I just saw Q standing over him, talking nonsense. Before you know it, mayhem started.”
Richardson: “[Pierce] was on the ground crying. I don’t know what was going on. Two actresses over there, that’s what they are.”
Garnett: “I just remember people grabbing me. Jamaal [Magloire] grabbing me. Next thing I know Doc is sitting there yelling at me. I was just concerned about Paul. You make your bed you have to lay in it.”
Richardson: “I don’t like them and they know it.”
Rivers: “The only lesson for us is we got to get out of there. We got a lead and nothing good can happen from that situation. And I know they were concerned about Paul, so I do get that. And even if we’re right, you’re still wrong. Get out of there.”
The shame of it is that Garnett played one of his best games in recent memory. He was active offensively, connecting with Rondo on a pair of alley-oop dunks and he was solid on the board with nine rebounds. He played the entire third quarter and was on pace to play 34 minutes.
“Kevin looks as fresh as he’s looked all year to me,” Rivers said and he may be looking at giving him some unintended time off.
The one thing the Celtics could point to in the face of all the questions about their ability to perform in the playoffs was their experience and their veteran savvy. So much for that.
AND NOW FOR THE TONY ALLEN SHOW
About six minutes into the second half, the Celtics found themselves down by 14 points and Dwyane Wade was beginning to take control.
The Celtics could do nothing to stop him, and while they devoted more energy and attention to Wade then they had in the past, they were doing very little to contain him. That was when Rivers summoned Tony Allen from the bench and that was when the game changed.
The next 18 minutes were six years in the making. For years we have heard how Tony Allen could be a defensive stopper. There have been moments, brief flashes of inspiration, but mostly with Allen there has been one head-scratching play after another.
Could it be that after all this time he is finally coming into his own? Allen locked in on Wade and didn’t allow him to score another basket until there were just over two minutes left.
“The key for us was Tony Allen’s defense on Dwyane Wade,” Pierce said. “It gave us the spark.”
Making Allen’s play all the more remarkable was the fact that despite the scoring drought, Wade still scored 26 points on 11-for-18 shooting and had six assists. Yet he also turned it over seven times.
Allen on the other hand scored 14 points and had zero turnovers. Not one. Rivers brought Pierce back into the game with about six minutes left in the game and the player he replaced was Ray Allen, not Tony. That’s how much trust the Celtics have in the mercurial TA right now.
“He does everything that you want in a guy coming off the bench,” Pierce said. “You want him to bring energy, just a spark when things aren’t going well. He is playing well for us right now and we are going to need that from him all series.”
So is Tony Allen a certified defensive stopper now? “I’ll let you call that,” he said. “I’m just sticking with my team defense.”
Regardless of whether Garnett is with the Celtics for Game 2, they can count on seeing a few different looks from the Heat and it will once again start with Wade.
“Dwayne is very good at reading situations and making adjustments,” Heat coach Erik Spolestra said. “He’s proven that over the years that he has the ability to do that within a series. It’s really nothing that we haven’t seen before, but knowing Dwyane, collectively we’ll get into a pace that is a little more comfortable for us. At times we got to it and that’s when we were more efficient. But we played rushed, a little bit hurried, forcing some plays. We expect to make those adjustments by the next game.”
The game began at a breakneck pace, at least for these two teams with 25 possessions each in the first quarter. Miami usually plays at around 22 a quarter and the expectation was that the Heat would slow it down even more in the playoffs.
They also are one of the best in the league at avoiding turnovers, but they turned it over 22 times, which led to 38 points for the Celtics. The two things are related.
“The turnovers absolutely killed us,” Spolestra said. “That might have been the story of the game more than anything.”
The story for the Celtics was rebounding, or specifically the lack of rebounding. Time and again they surrendered weakside offensive rebounds as their season-long penchant for being lazy on block outs manifested itself.
After one Miami miss early in the second half, Wade easily gathered in an offensive rebound and dunked while several Celtics stared at him flat-footed. That prompted Rivers to call a timeout and unleash some well-placed anger.
“I got upset one time tonight,” Rivers said. “And I just told them I thought we were hanging our heads and we were quitting.”
In truth, neither team played like they wanted to do and whichever team can correct their flaws will dictate how this series turns out.
Of course for the next 48 hours the talk will be about Garnett.
“It made it a playoff, that’s all,” Wade said. “Couple of basketball players out there acting tough, that’s all it was.”
We’ll soon find out if it was more than that.