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Celtics notebook

Going onward and upward

Villanueva backs up his comments

By Julian Benbow and Gary Washburn
Globe Staff / December 30, 2010

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DETROIT — Pistons forward Charlie Villanueva stands by the tweet in which he accused the Celtics’ Kevin Garnett of calling him a “cancer patient’’ during their Nov. 2 game in Auburn Hills, Mich.

“I will do whatever it takes to win a ballgame,’’ said Villanueva. “But I’m not the type of guy who’s going to go out there and make things up. I said what I said. Move on. The truth as told.

“I said what I had to say and it’s over with.’’

About three hours after the Celtics’ 109-86 victory over the Pistons Nov. 2, Villanueva tweeted with the accusation, and by morning it was a national story, sparking a debate about trash-talking in professional sports and whether any subject matter is inappropriate.

“I didn’t expect it to get the attention that it got, but you guys made it a big deal,’’ he said. “It created some attention. That’s all I have to say about that.’’

The next day, Garnett denied the charge, insisting through a release that he said Villanueva was “cancerous to your team and our league.’’

Villanueva doesn’t have cancer but suffers from the skin disorder alopecia, a condition that prevents the former University of Connecticut standout from growing hair.

After Garnett’s clarification, Villanueva tweeted that he knows what he heard, and the issue soon was dropped.

Asked a few weeks ago about Villanueva, Garnett said he wouldn’t acknowledge “a nobody.’’ When the Celtics played the Nuggets, however, he did approach Denver coach George Karl, who is battling throat cancer, to clear the air.

Asked before last night’s game if he would speak to Garnett, Villanueva said, “No, not at all. I don’t expect anything to change with KG. He’s known for being a trash talker. I expect him to trash-talk tonight. I don’t expect anything different.’’

Celtics coach Doc Rivers said he didn’t have to talk to Garnett about the issue before last night’s 104-92 loss to the Pistons.

“He’s human, so I’m sure all the talk and stuff bothered him,’’ said Rivers, “but other than that, the one thing you never have to worry about with Kevin is going too much one-on-one or anything. Hell, I wish he would at times.’’

Garnett left the game in the first quarter with a muscle injury to his right calf.

Villanueva knocked down four 3-pointers and scored 14 points last night, one of six Pistons in double figures, but from the outset he went head-on with Garnett.

They crossed paths on a screen on the first play of the game and Villanueva went chest-to-chest with Garnett, who raised his arms to show the officials he wasn’t retaliating. When Villanueva picked up two quick fouls and went to the bench, he threw a shoulder at Garnett on his way back to the Pistons’ end of the floor.

Rivers told referee Ken Mauer, “He bumped him on purpose.’’ Mauer said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.’’

After the game, Villanueva downplayed the one-on-one, but he acknowledged he wanted to let Garnett know he was there.

“This was just another game for me,’’ Villanueva said. “I just tried to be physical right away and I think I got my message across.’’

Bad bounces A big issue for the Celtics lately has been keeping Shaquille O’Neal on the floor. Entering last night, he had fouled out of the last two games, and he was on the floor for only 16 minutes Tuesday night against the Pacers. “There was a play when Marquis [Daniels] drove the ball right into [Roy] Hibbert and Hibbert left his hands up, nobody fell, and it was a no-call,’’ Rivers said. “Shaq did the same thing, except the guy bounced off Shaq and went into the stands and they gave Shaq a foul. It wasn’t Shaq’s fault, because he’s big. And it is tough to officiate. Some days you get the better judgment on that, some days you don’t. You’ve just got to live with it.’’ O’Neal didn’t commit a foul in 16 minutes last night.

The hard stuff Rivers used a foul by Garnett Tuesday as a teaching moment for Semih Erden, who was on the bench because of an upper respiratory infection (he didn’t play last night, either). “At one point,’’ Rivers said, “Semih had to be leading the league in [giving up] three-point plays.’’ Garnett’s foul was an example of a hard and effective one. He whacked Pacers forward Josh McRoberts with 5:31 left in the fourth quarter and the Celtics ahead, 84-73. He sent McRoberts to the line but fouled him hard enough to make sure he didn’t make the initial shot. McRoberts made one of two free throws. “It doesn’t have to be flagrant,’’ Rivers said. “But he should be shooting two free throws instead of shooting one free throw for an and-one. And the guy missed the free throw, so it turned out that Kevin saved us a point. That could be the difference in the game.’’

Tough guy Seeing Pistons forward Ben Wallace reach 1,000 games for his career last week was noteworthy for Rivers, who coached Wallace his fourth NBA season in Orlando, when it seemed as though Wallace’s body wasn’t going to allow him to have a long career. “The year I had him just showed you how tough he was,’’ Rivers said. “Every night, he would play in the games. Then he would have to put a boot on. He had a tear in his wrist, so he couldn’t lift weights for a year. Then, he’d take the boot off and he’d play. He never practiced the whole year. He toughed it out and that’s just who he is.’’

Julian Benbow can be reached at jbenbow@globe.com.

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