|Kevin Garnett, who elbowed the Hawks' Zaza Pachulia and shoved referee Ed Rush during a skirmish in Game 4, was neither fined nor suspended by the NBA. (Jim Davis/Globe Staff)|
WALTHAM - Celtics coach Doc Rivers breathed a sigh of relief when he learned last night that he will have a full complement of players available for tonight's crucial playoff contest.
The status of Celtics Kevin Garnett and Kendrick Perkins and Atlanta forward Marvin Williams was in question for Game 5 tonight because of their roles in a skirmish during the Hawks' 97-92 victory in Game 4 Monday that evened the first-round playoff series.
An NBA official said yesterday evening there will be no fines or suspensions.
"Great news," said Rivers via text message. "As I said, it's not the league, it's us. We must do a better job of playing with emotion, but not emotional. It's our job not to have the league get involved."
What touched off the incident was a loose rebound with 7:24 left in the second quarter. With the play dead, a disgruntled Garnett gave Atlanta center Zaza Pachulia an elbow. Pachulia retaliated with what appeared to be a head butt. Players from both teams bunched up and mouthed off, but no punches were thrown.
Pachulia was given a foul and technical foul while Garnett, Joe Johnson, and Sam Cassell were assessed technicals. Replays also showed Garnett shoving referee Ed Rush, and Perkins and Williams stepped on the floor from the bench, which can mean an automatic one-game suspension.
Following yesterday's practice, but before the league's decision was announced, Garnett and Perkins expressed their innocence.
"The referee grabbed me," Garnett said. "I don't expect to get suspended."
Said Perkins, "I thought I was there before all the fighting started. I was just cheering my team on before all of it started. If they see it on tape, they'll notice that I was up before all of the fighting.
"When our team was up battling for the boards, I was up telling them, 'Keep going.' "
Although Rivers was happy about the decision, he wished a verdict had come in earlier. Practice was affected because Rivers didn't know whether he would have Garnett and Perkins available.
"They have the same information that we had - you look at it and you make a decision," said Rivers after practice. "And I think the quicker they can tell teams, the better it is for both teams. I don't know why it takes so long to make a decision."
The practice was light, including a walk-through and film work. After watching the Game 4 film, Rivers said, the thing he was most disappointed with was that his team relied on its offense instead of its trademark defense.
"We got a 10-point lead going into the fourth quarter," Rivers said. "I showed them on film a couple things. No. 1, we had great looks at the basket. But they kept repeating that, 'Another wide open shot. Wow, we missed another wide open shot.'
"But I said, 'Yeah, but we've had 10-point leads all year and we have a stretch where you miss wide-open shots and then you go down on the other end and get a stop. And right now it sounds in this room that we're hoping to make a shot rather instead of hoping that they miss a shot.' "
Garnett mentioned that the Celtics need to rebound better.
"When you play defense, you have to finish it off with rebounds," Garnett said.
Ray Allen said he was bothered by Johnson scoring 20 of his 35 points in the fourth quarter, and Rivers said the Celtics should have trapped earlier on Johnson.
"The one thing that stood out the most is how Joe Johnson got going in the fourth quarter," Allen said. "There were some small things that we have to change up and work on."
Cassell said the Celtics arrived at practice disappointed but were ready to move on after the two losses in Atlanta. Paul Pierce said he expects them to play with a "higher sense of urgency."
"I fully expect us to play better, especially after Game 4," said Pierce.
Added Cassell, "We let a golden opportunity slip through our hands [Monday] night and we've got to get it back. They held serve. They won their two games at home, like we did. We planned on winning all four of them.
"It's a little monkey wrench in our program, which happens sometimes.
"It is what it is. We've got to come out in Game 5 and put out a better effort, a better strategy, and lay it out.