It’s rare you can look back at one single play and say it determined the outcome of a game. Even in a game decided by a buzzer-beater, it’s normally tough to single out that one play as the game’s lone turning point.
But last night, I can honestly look back at one play and say to myself, “That was where the Celtics lost the game.”
You probably already know exactly what play I’m talking about: Glen Davis chasing Marvin Williams from behind, fouling him in the general vicinity of his neck, and getting called for a flagrant foul. It wasn’t necessarily the flagrant foul that did the Celtics in; it was the fallout from the call.
First, Doc Rivers argued the call vehemently, earning himself two technical fouls and a premature trip to the locker room. Then, assistant coach Armond Hill picked up a technical foul himself, giving the Hawks five free throws and the ball. When it was all said and done, a 67-57 Boston lead was cut to 67-61 and the Hawks were suddenly back in the game.
Before that play, the Celtics had been coasting, Rajon Rondo was dominating the game, and everything was flowing smoothly. Boston was clearly the better team, outplaying Atlanta in all facets of the game. Then, as soon as a referee could cross his arms in an upright “X”, the flagrant foul sign, the momentum had shifted. All of a sudden, Atlanta was getting easy dunks, Joe Johnson was hitting everything he threw up, and the Celtics were throwing the ball all over the court.
After Doc’s ejection forced him to the locker room, Tom Thibodeau took the reigns. In the past, I have argued that Thibs deserves a head coaching job somewhere; his mastery of defensive schemes is unparalleled in the NBA. But last night, with Doc taking a shower and the C’s recent nemeses, the Hawks, on the comeback trail, Thibodeau simply choked.
He coached for the final 18 minutes and 16 seconds of the game, and didn’t make a single substitution. Do you know how impossible that is? Granted, the Celtics were shorthanded. They were down to Brian Scalabrine in their starting lineup, for God’s sake. But to not make a single sub, over a quarter and a half? I can’t help but think Thibodeau must have simply forgotten that he had to make subs.
Unfortunately for the Celtics, Thibs also seemingly forgot every play in the playbook. I know he’s a defensive specialist and everything, but something tells me if Doc was coaching the offense wouldn’t have been nearly as stagnant as it was under Thibs. In the final period, the offense completely broke down and the Celtics spent several possessions clearing out Glen Davis or Kendrick Perkins for a post-up. The wheels were falling off, and Thibs and Rajon Rondo decide to call Davis’ and Perkins’ numbers time after time? Does anyone else see anything wrong with that picture?
Looking back, even late in the third quarter the C’s offense had completely digressed into one-on-one play, one pass and a contested shot. The only differences in the third quarter were that Paul Pierce was the one taking the shots, and he was making them. For whatever reason, after Thibodeau took over for Doc, the C’s offense almost completely fell apart. It lost all the free-flowing ball movement and attack-mode penetration that made it so tough to stop in the first half, and disintegrated into isolations on the block for Perk and Big Baby.
So the call changed the entire game, but was it really a flagrant foul? I certainly didn’t think so but, as a ref, when you see a big, beefy arm come across an opponent’s neck as he goes up for a layup, it would be easy to blow the whistle for a flagrant. Okay, now I’m done with the politically correct answer, and it’s time to move on to my true thoughts because I’m being far too kind to the refs…
There is no chance it was a flagrant foul. The hit was so weak Davis could have hit my 89 year-old grandmother with the same force and I wouldn’t have even been upset with him; I would have thought it was cute that he was being so gentle with her.
On top of that, when a ref makes a bad call he should never, ever, under any circumstances, compound the call by adding a technical foul to make the call even worse. When a ref makes a bad, or even questionable call, he should just swallow his pride — and whistle — as the team he screwed lets off a little steam. To call a weak flagrant foul, then proceed to call three successive technical fouls, only serves to make the original bad call even worse.
But the call was made, and the damage was done. Later in the game, after all that rubbish was sorted through, Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford hit some enormous shots and the Celtics missed a fair share of opportunities.
But the game wasn’t won or lost in the fourth quarter.
It was decided with 6:16 to go in the third, as soon as the referees made the sign of the “X”.