WALTHAM — Instead of being contrite, Rajon Rondo sounded dumbfounded when asked to explain his latest NBA suspension.
He realizes his run-ins with officials are becoming an issue and that the league was especially harsh on him with this particular penalty.
In the third quarter of the Celtics’ 89-81 win in Atlanta Saturday night, Rondo collided with former high school teammate Josh Smith, sending the Hawks power forward flying into the basket stanchion. Rondo thought Smith may have flopped, and he approached official Rodney Mott.
Rondo said he joked with Mott about how a 6-foot-1-inch point guard could send a 6-9 power forward sailing as if he had been smacked by Vince Wilfork.
Rondo made contact with Mott, but the official didn’t see it as significant enough to call a technical foul or eject Rondo. After the game, however, Atlanta general manager Danny Ferry presented video of the incident to the game officials and the league office.
It didn’t help that the league said Rondo did not cooperate with its investigation, meaning he said nothing to defend himself and told NBA officials to make their decision without his input. He was suspended for a game — his fourth suspension in 11 months.
Tussles with the league are becoming common for Rondo, who missed what may have been the Celtics’ biggest win of the season, a 102-96 triumph over the New York Knicks Monday at Madison Square Garden.
In that game, Kevin Garnett got into an altercation with New York’s Carmelo Anthony, who waited for Garnett at the Celtics team bus after the game. Anthony, who could face a fine or suspension for attempting to confront Garnett — both at the bus and earlier near the Celtics locker room — told reporters in New York that Garnett said inappropriate things to him, and he simply wanted to hash out matters.
Garnett didn’t give him the opportunity in person, and did not address the situation with the media at practice Tuesday. ESPN reported that Garnett and Anthony spoke on the phone and have cleared the air.
While that matter appears closed until the Celtics and Knicks meet again Jan. 24 at TD Garden, Rondo’s continuing trouble with the league office is becoming more of a concern for the organization. He has already been suspended for three games this season and has missed six games over the past 11 months, including a playoff game.
Rondo sought to defend himself Tuesday.
“The league thought it was a big deal,” Rondo said. “I don’t feel there was a need to have an investigation. I know Rodney, and that particular time with that play, I actually went up to him and I made a joke, he laughed, and in the midst, I did touch him, and the league, I guess, reviewed it. The media blew it up, on ‘SportsCenter’ or whatever, and I served a one-game suspension.
“I thought Josh had flopped. I told Rodney, ‘His body size and what he weighs [Smith is listed at 225 pounds], and look at me. There’s no way I could have made him go into the stands off of contact.’ He laughed, threw the ball in, and we got back on defense.”
Asked if past misdeeds are a factor with his reputation, Rondo said, “You’re smart. You know the answer to that. You seen what happened on the play.”
Rondo acknowledged that terms such as “repeat offender” that are used by the league make him feel the problems are blown out of proportion.
“I feel like I’m a criminal; I go to court a lot,” he said. “They say what happened during the investigation. I’m not on trial or anything. That’s how it is when you’re dealing with the league and when you get into a little bit of trouble. I’m a repeat offender. I don’t know if I have two or three strikes, but it is what it is.”
He acknowledged he may need to adjust his approach with officials and the manner in which he disputes calls.
“I’ll learn the game, but I’m an emotional player, and in that aspect, I think I had a triple double at the time, we were up 10 [actually 1], and I wasn’t — didn’t go over and yell at Rodney,” he said. “I think even he said that in his statement. But the league put the hammer down and made the decision.”
Celtics coach Doc Rivers said there is no need for an intervention with Rondo.
“We’ve talked about it all, and it’s over,” the coach said. “He’s good and we’ve got to keep getting better at it. If he misses the game, we’re on the wrong side of that law. That’s it.
“We don’t want him missing any games no matter what happens on the floor. We want to be as emotional and intense as a team can possibly be, but we never want to cross the line. When we do, we’ve made a mistake. We tell everybody that.
“You earn your reputation. You’re not given a reputation. Once you earn it, you still have a chance to earn a better reputation. That’s on him, but that’s also on us as well and we’ll keep trying to do our best.”