Yesterday morning, I went to my little brother’s AAU tournament. During one of his games a referee made a miserable call, which was followed shortly thereafter by my inevitable verbal bomb to the ref. The ref and I shared words briefly, I finally shut my mouth, and play resumed. No big deal.
Against all odds, I kept my mouth shut for the rest of the game, holding back words even when the whistles deserved some severe complaints. My brother’s team lost, sadly, though they played well. We were ready to go home.
Then the real fun began. As I stood on the sideline waiting for my brother, a 60-year old man approached. Since I didn’t know him, I had no idea this Gilligan’s Island “The Skipper”-looking dude was looking for me. But a few seconds later, his dirty finger was pointed at my chest. He was close enough that I could smell his breath, which resembled dragon fire.
“If you ever interfere with my boy’s team again,” he ever-so-politely greeted me, “I will snap your f—ing neck.”
All I did was complain to a ref one time, I thought. That’s a little bit of an overreaction, don’tcha think?
“Alright, buddy,” I said out loud, with the sarcasm oozing out of my voice as if I had told him his breath smelled like roses.
“People like you should never be allowed near kids,” he told me, which was ironic considering that he had just threatened my physical well-being. Also, I coach high school basketball and seem to be well-liked by all my players. But who cares about the details? A smirk started on my face, which I don’t think The Skipper enjoyed.
He continued, “You son of a bitch. If you ever try another stunt like that, I’ll hit you upside the head.”
At this point my smirk had turned into a chuckle. Maybe this guy was tough. Maybe he had a weapon on him. But he was 60 years old, a few inches shorter than I am, and as I measured him up I believed I could probably hospitalize him if I so chose. But I was the bigger man, figuratively as well as literally. No need to retaliate against this psycho. No need to engage him in any further conflict. He walked away and I said nothing at all. He had said his piece, and I was more than content with parting ways before the conflict escalated. Even if he had just threatened to snap my neck for almost no reason whatsoever, there was no need to snap back.
If only Paul Pierce had taken yesterday’s events more like I did.
More leftover thoughts on yesterday’s game:
Rondo’s second foul
When Rajon Rondo fouled Lebron James in the open court during the first quarter, I know why he did it. James was about to get an easy dunk, and the only way to stop that was to foul him. Make him earn it from the line, all that jazz.
But Rondo has to be smarter there. The foul was his second. When he later picked up his third on a questionable (read: bad) call in the second quarter, Rondo had to sit the rest of the half. Considering that he’s Boston’s most important player, that was not good. You can blame the official for falling for James Jones’ flop on Rondo’s third foul. After that call, I know I certainly spent a fair share of time yelling at the TV screen. But also blame Rondo. If he had been smart and just let Lebron dunk the basketball during the first quarter, he could have played considerably more than eight minutes in the half.
Man, I must sound like a broken record. Every game, I complain about the bench’s contributions (or rather, their lack thereof). But every game, they do the same nonsense. Jeff Green still hasn’t reached the point where he impacts games in any positive fashion. Delonte West had moments of aggression yesterday, but he’s been oddly tentative for the most part. And Glen Davis sometimes shoots the basketball like there’s a tornado moving through the stadium.
Does the bench have potential? Yes. Quite a bit of it, actually. But we’re in the second round of the playoffs and I trust Boston’s second unit the same way one trusts a cheating, thieving ex-girlfriend. Forgive me if I expect a whole heap of nothing from the bench in Game 2.
By the way, Boston probably could have traded Marquis Daniels’ expiring contract and cash to Cleveland for Anthony Parker, thereby A) acquiring someone who would have helped at least as much as Jeff Green, and B) holding onto Kendrick Perkins. And yes, writing the previous sentence makes me want to pour kerosene into my eyeballs. But Danny Ainge was blinded by Green’s youth, potential and versatility, which brings me to my next point:
When Miami goes small
Wasn’t Jeff Green signed to make the Celtics more versatile? The answer’s yes. He was. He was supposed to add a Posey-like quality, being that Doc Rivers was supposed to be able to mix and match his lineups because of Green’s presence. Except for one problem: Rivers doesn’t trust Green.
Which is why when Miami went small yesterday, the Celtics sent Kevin Garnett chasing after James Jones. You don’t need a Ph.D in basketball to know that’s not the best matchup. It’s not often Garnett chases shooters around screens, so when he does, bad things predictably happen:
It’s difficult to blame Green for something that happens when he’s not on the floor. But here’s the thing: if Rivers trusted Green, the Celtics would have gone small themselves to counteract Miami’s advantages. That Miami lineup, with James on the court and no natural power forward, poses so many problems for Boston. Problems that Green should have rendered moot. But Rivers didn’t want to put Green on the court more than he already had to, so the Celtics stayed big even when the matchups dictated otherwise. And the Heat took advantage.
The lesson, as always: it’s Jeff Green’s fault.
Paul Pierce’s ejection
Whether or not you think Paul Pierce deserved his ejection yesterday, it’s almost impossible to argue his innocence. Perhaps James Jones deserved a flagrant foul for intentionally grabbing Pierce around the neck. Jones’s contact was surely more damning than Jermaine O’Neal’s weak forearm shiver that was whistled for a flagrant earlier in the game. But Pierce’s slight headbutt (which I’d rate a 2 on a scale of 1-Zinidine Zidane) was uncalled for and, in the fourth quarter of a playoff game, entirely inexcusable. Slightly less inexcusable was Pierce’s second technical foul, a brief verbal scuffle with Dwyane Wade to which referee Ed Malloy probably overreacted. But Pierce should know he can’t risk an ejection there. Likely frustrated by his less-than-mediocre performance, Pierce let his emotions take over.
That said, comparing his ejection yesterday to his 2005 ejection against the Indiana Pacers is quite off base. I bring this up because Jackie MacMullan, who absolutely deserves every honor the Basketball Hall of Fame gives her, made the comparison. Dan Shaughnessy also referred to the incident, though he fell short of comparing the two instances. In my eyes, there are three huge differences:
1) In 2005, Pierce was ejected during a one-point game. The Celtics eventually won in overtime while Pierce sat in the locker room. Yesterday, Pierce got ejected while trailing by 13 points. Not quite time to give up, but not quite a one-point game either. You still don’t want Pierce to get ejected in the fourth quarter of a playoff game. But it’s (very slightly) more understandable that he did.
2) In 2005, Pierce’s second technical foul was a blatant elbow he directed at Jamaal Tinsley. Yesterday, his second technical foul came on a very brief conversation with Dwyane Wade. The former shows a lot worse judgment, no? And the latter shouldn’t have been called a technical foul at all.
Yes, Pierce also lost his cool in a physical fashion earlier in yesterday’s game. But because it was his first technical, at least he wasn’t risking ejection with his physical foolishness. Yesterday’s ejection came later, on a questionable call. I’m making excuses for Pierce, I know. He probably doesn’t deserve them, I know. And I understand the second technical foul yesterday wasn’t smart. Not at all. But it was very debatable.
3) Pierce’s reaction. In 2005, Pierce left the Conseco Fieldhouse court waving his jersey to the crowd. He followed the game by attending a press conference while wearing a towel/turban/fake bandage on his head. They were the reactions of an immature man, one who obviously didn’t feel much remorse about his actions. But yesterday? Pierce left the court quietly, as if he were thinking, “Damn, I just let my teammates down.” He decided not to speak to the press, and while Shaughnessy thought that made Pierce a bit of a coward, it also made him considerably smarter than he was in 2005.
So yes, chastise Pierce all you want for his lack of composure. He earned a lot of criticism. But please don’t compare yesterday to the Pacers ejection. There are far too many differences. The Indiana game was probably Pierce’s lowest on-court moment during his Celtics career. Yesterday, though Pierce showed poor judgement, simply doesn’t compare.
Delonte West’s aggression
I mentioned West’s aggression earlier in the post, but it deserves its own section. While Davis and Green shared the brunt of the criticism directed at the bench, West has hardly received any. Why? Two reasons:
1) We genuinely like West and appreciate his hard-nosed approach to basketball.
2) Green received criticism because of his involvement in a midseason trade, Davis received criticism because he’s missed a zillion shots lately, Rondo received criticism because his play fell off drastically, and West’s understated suckiness went under the radar.
But even if we’ve conveniently overlooked West’s poor play, we expected so much more out of West than what he’s given the Celtics. We expected him to quarterback the second unit, to defend the opposing team’s best guard, and to produce on a nightly basis like no backup point guard has during the Big Three era. Instead, we’ve gotten hardly anything. Whether because of injuries or a lack of rhythm, West hasn’t been aggressive since returning to the court. He’s been hesitant to shoot, hesitant to make plays, hesitant to be himself. But he might have turned a corner yesterday.
Don’t get me wrong: I wasn’t entirely happy with West yesterday. Actually, he played pretty badly at times, especially to begin the game. He made a couple dumb turnovers and committed a silly technical foul. But when’s the last time he tried to dunk in traffic before he tried twice yesterday? Probably the day he injured his wrist, all the way back in November. When’s the last time he attempted five three-pointers in a single game? Not once this entire season. My point is, the West we saw yesterday was far more aggressive, far less hesitant, far more Delonte West. That could be a good sign moving forward.
Moving forward, the Celtics have some adjustments to make. But with everything that went wrong yesterday—Wade going wild, James Jones finding himself wide open time after time, the five-point play that accompanied Jermaine O’Neal’s bogus flagrant foul, Pierce’s ejection, Rondo’s foul trouble—the Heat still couldn’t put Boston away. The Celtics can take some solace from that fact.
I guess. Or they could just play better on Tuesday.