Kevin Garnett gave reporters two options yesterday. They could talk about the game or they could talk about what he called nonsense. Because lately there's been a lot of it.
So with the Pistons in town tonight, Garnett chatted a little about Allen Iverson. Then, since he didn't want to get too far ahead of himself or the Pistons, he brushed off talk about his return to Minnesota this weekend. And, finally, one reporter asked Garnett about his one-game suspension.
He hopped out of his chair like it had an eject button, "That's it," he said. "Y'all take it easy."
And as he walked away, "I like that try, though."
Rather than feed the "nonsense," Garnett chose to ignore it, something the Celtics have had a hard time doing. Teams have been in their ears all season. The problem is the Celtics haven't been able to keep from talking back.
Doc Rivers has the remedy. "What do you need to respond for? Just play."
But the most memorable images are Garnett chasing Jose Calderon down the court, waving the "no-no" finger in his face last week in a game against Toronto. Or Kendrick Perkins bumping foreheads with Jermaine O'Neal the same night. Or Paul Pierce laughing off a slightly annoyed, mostly embarrassed Zach Randolph in Tuesday's win over New York. And that tangled-arm mix-up in Milwaukee between Garnett and Andrew Bogut that cost Garnett a game and a six-figure game check.
"The suspension, that's a whole different subject to me," said Rivers. "That's not in the same ballpark. The trash talking and all that, let them do all the talking. We'll do all the playing. That's where we have to keep it."
After the Bogut incident, Bucks coach Scott Skiles complained to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel that the Celtics were instigating incidents.
"I think there are too many times when somebody goes woofing at somebody and I don't know what they expect that player to do," he said. "Go sit down on the bench? What do they expect them to do? I know the referees are skilled enough to find the guy who instigated it. I just think we need to be a little more conscientious with that. I was always dumbfounded, when I played, how [Dennis] Rodman was involved in every double technical."
The Knicks' Quentin Richardson was almost threatening in his postgame rant Tuesday.
"I'll just be real curious to see what a lot of those guys would say if we weren't in a basketball arena where there ain't no referees and the NBA officials are going to stop certain things," he said. "I mean, it wouldn't be the same story. They are the world champions and rah-rah-rah. But I mean, the tough talk, I don't buy."
His argument was that last season, many of the Celtics were church mice, now they're barking at opponents to "Get a ring."
Rivers's point is, why talk at all?
"I say it all the time in practice, if you can't talk and play, just play," he said.
Notice that Rivers draws a distinction. Some players can jaw for 48 minutes and play like All-Stars. Garnett's one of them.
"Kevin's just verbal," Rivers said. "But he's been verbal his whole career. But he plays that way. So, you let Kevin be Kevin. The last thing I would do is ask Kevin to change. You don't want to change his way."
That personality can rub off in certain ways.
"What he rubs off on is his intensity," Rivers said. "His talking may get the other teams talking, but that's fine with us. We don't mind them talking."
The trouble is some players get caught up in the conversation. Perkins would fall into that category.
"He's the one guy, I think emotionally when he starts getting involved with techs, you know, it affects his game," said Rivers. "So he has to get better at that."
Perkins is responsible for six of the Celtics' 20 technical fouls this season. He said he's not the one talking, but he's often the one getting caught up.
"We're out here going hard, you can't be complaining," he said. "The game is physical. If you don't want to be touched, then you don't need to be playing basketball. It ain't nothing that we changed up from last year. It's the same team. It's the same intensity. It's nothing wrong with being emotional out there on the court, in my opinion."
It's no secret the Celtics have a bull's-eye on their backs. But with teams aiming at them mentally, physically, and verbally, composure is crucial.
"I thought we did a good job [Tuesday] of holding our composure," Pierce said. "We weren't the ones getting technical fouls. We usually get technicals every game. I thought for the most part we know teams are going to come at us, teams are going to say things just to try to get us to play their game and we're not going to get caught up in all that."
The challenge is toeing the line between intensity and maturity.
"It's an emotional game," Rivers said. "Again, I just don't want it to affect their play."