I’m about to make a claim, one which may sound ludicrous based on certain events from this season (the Kevin Garnett ball tap being one of them). It may sound even more ludicrous considering that Kendrick Perkins earned his third technical foul last night, giving him a “three technicals in eleven games” pace which would equate to 22 technical fouls over the course of an 82-game season. But the Celtics are improving at not fighting back. I swear.
Think back to the Orlando game. Dwight Howard shook Perkins loose with an elbow, and Perk didn’t react. Hedo Turkoglu shoved Garnett in the back, and Garnett went tumbling into the photographers. He stood up, Rajon Rondo whispered sweet nothings into his ear, and then Garnett didn’t react. Orlando picked up technical foul after technical foul for responding to Boston’s aggressive tactics, yet, in a way that avoided history’s pattern, Boston didn’t fight back.
“I think we were the instigators, not the retaliators,” Perkins told reporters after the game, explaining why Orlando picked up so many technicals while Boston stayed clean. “We kind of instigated a lot of stuff, and they retaliated, and that’s usually what happens.”
In a nice cover story for Sports Illustrated, Ian Thomsen talked with Doc Rivers about Perk’s avoidance of any physical response.
“First time in his life—he fouled Dwight, holds him and holds him, Dwight hits him with an elbow, hits him with another one, and Perk just stands there,” said Rivers. “At halftime I said to the team, ‘That is toughness. Toughness is somebody hitting you in the freaking face, and you’re looking at him and laughing and walking away. That’s a tough mother.’”
If you can’t remember as far back as the Orlando game, just think about last night. Brook Lopez received a technical foul for a little jostling with Perk (albeit a very weak technical, which ended in Lopez gazing around in all sorts of confusion), but Perk didn’t respond. Okay, so maybe it’s not the best example. Lopez didn’t exactly throw any lethal elbows. Still: When’s the last time, before this season, Kendrick Perkins openly walked away from contact?
It’s not like Boston has lost its edge. The Celtics still play with a ferociousness that occasionally (and, sometimes, not so occasionally) crosses the line to insanity. But there’s something slightly more controlled about what I’ve seen recently. The C’s seem to have a better hold of their own emotions.
Maybe I’m overreacting to a few weeks of somewhat behaved play. Maybe Perk will spend the post-All Star break Western Conference road trip elbowing people left and right, and piling up double technicals like there’s no tomorrow. Maybe Garnett will throw some ill-advised elbows of his own, or administer another cup check or two. Maybe the Celtics will revert back to the team that loves retaliating, rather than simply instigating.
Or maybe the C’s new “we’ll talk a whole lot of crap, bump the hell out of you, and then laugh in your face when technical fouls are handed out” mentality is here to stay. On second thought, probably not.