WALTHAM — The Celtics took another hit Thursday — one day after coach Doc Rivers called the team “soft” — learning that they will be without Rajon Rondo for two games. The point guard was suspended by the NBA after a fight with Kris Humphries that made its way into the stands late in the second quarter Wednesday night in a loss to the Nets at TD Garden.
The suspension is Rondo’s third in 10 months for on-court incidents.
After Humphries committed what Rondo believed to be a hard foul on Kevin Garnett with 29.5 seconds left in the first half, Rondo and Humphries got into it, with the pushing and shoving spilling over into the seats under the east basket. It appeared from some angles that Rondo threw a few punches, though the point guard denied doing that Thursday.
Speaking for the first time since the fight (he did not talk after the game), Rondo did not apologize for going after Humphries, but did acknowledge that a suspension would hurt the team. The Celtics will have to face the Trail Blazers Friday and the Bucks Saturday without him.
“I know I have to be out there for my teammates, that’s the only thing about it,” Rondo said before the suspension was announced. “But I was sticking up for my teammates. I didn’t try to start a fight. I’m not trying to be a bully. I just didn’t think the play was fair that he made on Kevin, that’s all.”
Neither did Garnett, who said on WEEI radio Thursday that Humphries has “always been known to be out of control. He’s always tried to play the tough guy or whatever role.”
Rondo called the initial foul “malicious,” saying, “I got hurt last year on a similar play like that, a guy going up in the air defenseless, on his way down.
“I don’t think I did anything dirty. I didn’t try to start a riot. I don’t think it was more than just a pushing war.”
Before the news came down, Rivers said he didn’t believe the incident warranted a suspension, though he acknowledged that because the players went in the stands, it was more likely. He did say that Rondo needs to learn from the situation, and not let it happen in the future.
“The one thing Rondo understands is he can’t allow himself to be taken out of the game,” Rivers said. “And he did. I don’t think he had any intentions when it started. I don’t think he went in there thinking, ‘We’re going to get in a fight.’
“Unfortunately the other guy reacted. Rondo reacted back. And then, you’re out.”
And that is becoming a bit of a pattern with the point guard. Rondo was suspended for Game 2 of the first round of the playoffs last spring against the Hawks for bumping official Marc Davis in the first game. He was also suspended two games for throwing a ball at an official Feb. 19 against the Pistons.
“Yesterday’s actions were completely different than the other two, I believe,” Rondo said.
He added that he was not worried about getting a bad reputation with league officials. When asked if he might be considered a repeat offender, he quipped, “Is this a trial?”
“I think I play the game the right way,” Rondo said. “Sometimes I let my emotions get the best of me, but I have no intention of hurting anybody out there. I go out there and compete every night. That’s how I play the game. I play the game hard; I play the game with an edge.
“I’m not a trash talker. Like I said, I don’t play the game dirty, I play it hard. When one of my guys gets disrespected, I retaliated. Not in a bad way. Just shoves, which led to [the media] calling it a fight even though no punches were thrown. It wasn’t a brawl. It was just five guys out on the court breaking each other up.”
Rondo spoke with the league office about an hour before the Celtics took the court at 1 p.m. at their practice facility. He said he practiced as if he would be playing against the Blazers, even though as it turns out, he will not.
“We move forward,” Rivers said. “We’ll figure it out.”
With the chance that Jeff Green (sprained right knee) and Chris Wilcox (illness) won’t be available for Friday night’s game — neither practiced Thursday — that would leave the Celtics shorthanded, which could mean a return trip to the NBA from the D-League for Kris Joseph and/or Fab Melo.
In Rondo’s absence, the Celtics will rely on the combination of Leandro Barbosa, Courtney Lee, and Jason Terry as ballhandlers, a tough task against the upcoming opponents.
But being without key players is not an excuse. Not to Rivers.
“I don’t care who doesn’t play,” he said. “The guys that play, we have to be ready to play and ready to win.”