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Heat 99, Celtics 90

Not so hot

Pierce and Celtics lose cool, fall to Heat in Game 1

By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / May 2, 2011

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MIAMI — First, Paul Pierce rolled his eyes. Then, he brought his hands to his head, seeming puzzled by the fact that he had just been thrown out of the game, but also realizing how big a mistake he just had made.

The Celtics forward had been slapped with a technical foul not even a minute earlier for getting face-to-face with the Heat’s James Jones. But when Pierce and Dwyane Wade crashed into each other along the baseline like two locomotives, Wade took a few steps toward Pierce. Pierce clenched his fists, flexed his arms, and said a few words.

“It was a bunch of gibberish,’’ Wade said.

Referee Ed Malloy didn’t hesitate, stepping in between the two and then hitting Pierce with another tech, causing him to be tossed from what ended up a 99-90 Celtics loss to the Heat in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference semifinal.

Pierce was stunned.

He threw his hands up as he walked back to the bench. At that point his team was down 13 and still had a puncher’s chance. But in a series that had a week to spin around in the hype machine, the Celtics were the first team to let composure go by the wayside.

They were erratic offensively (missing 15 of their first 20 shots), careless with the ball (14 turnovers), fell behind by as many as 19 points, and let the Heat feed off the energy in AmericanAirlines Arena.

Wade had been booted from the playoffs by the Celtics last year. So had LeBron James. The Celtics had bullied them the past four seasons. This was the point at which they felt like they could push back.

“You knew it was coming,’’ Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “All they did was talk about being physical. To me, that’s not being physical, that’s being chippy. We didn’t handle that well. That’s what was disappointing to me. Instead of walking away like you have to, we reacted. That’s exactly what they wanted us to do. We have to be better than that.’’

Wade, who had been bottled up in four regular-season meetings (averaging 12 points), blew up for 38. James’s 22-point, 6-rebound, 5-assist all-purpose afternoon seemed modest by comparison.

Ray Allen (25 points) was the only consistent source of offense for a Celtics team that mustered just 36 points in the first half.

James Jones, who crashed Pierce and Allen’s party by winning the 3-point contest on All-Star Weekend in February, torched the Celtics for 25 points.

“Their Big Three today was James Jones, LeBron, and Wade,’’ Rivers said.

Even James did a double take when he examined the box score. “That’s weird,’’ he said. “Five of seven, all of them was threes.’’

Pierce scored 19 points before he was bounced. His 6-of-14 shooting afternoon may have been frustrating, but at the 7:59 mark in the fourth quarter he let Jones get under his skin.

Pierce got Jones to bite on a pump fake, Jones leaping in the air while Pierce was stepping back. On his way down, Jones’s arm smacked Pierce’s head and face.

Pierce rushed at Jones, got nose-to-nose with him, and they had words. They were given double-technicals, but after the game lead official Dan Crawford said that Jones’s will be reviewed.

“He approached Jones and got right in his face,’’ Crawford said about Pierce. “There wasn’t a head-butt, but he got right into his face after a hard foul.’’

“We just looked at that,’’ Crawford added. “It was Jones’s hard foul that pretty much precipitated Paul doing what he did. The technical foul on Jones will probably be looked at. He didn’t do as much as we thought. We thought he got in and became aggressive or initiated. But after looking at video, that’s something that we’ll have to look at again.’’

Pierce’s second technical was a different matter. He was punished for what he said more than what he did.

“I don’t think he said anything that was at the referee or that was even focused at D-Wade,’’ Allen said. “Paul was just, ‘I’m tough, I’m tough. That’s not going to faze me.’ ’’

Pierce actually did something similar in Game 3 of the Celtics’ first-round series against New York, taking a hard foul from Roger Mason Jr., and yelling to himself more than anyone else, “I’m too strong for that [stuff].’’

But in this instance, he and Wade were in a staredown.

“It’s what we call a verbal taunt,’’ Crawford said. “He directed profanity towards Wade. And in the rulebook, that is a verbal taunt. And it just so happened to be Pierce’s second technical foul.’’

“The ref has his reasons,’’ said the Celtics’ Glen Davis. “He might have really not liked it or didn’t like what Paul said. Or didn’t really understand the terminology or language. If I say [something] you might think it’s a bad word, but everybody else’ll say, ‘What?’

“I didn’t really hear what he said, but at the same time, from what I was seeing he didn’t really say anything bad. But it happens.’’

Rivers wasn’t thinking about Pierce’s actions as much as the fouls that led him to react the way he did.

“I thought both fouls were flagrant fouls,’’ Rivers said. “I don’t think we should react to either one. I thought that James Jones was a clear flagrant — went right for the head and grabbed. I thought Dwyane Wade’s was absolutely flagrant. He had no intentions and he was just trying to run through Paul. I told Paul, ‘Still, you don’t react.’ I thought as a whole we were the retaliating team. We were never the first team to hit.’’

Wade laughed off Rivers’s assessment.

“It’s a physical game,’’ Wade said. “I was trying to get through a screen. Paul was there. I ran through it. Foul on me. Then Paul had some words for me. The ref thought it was a little bit much. Gave him a tech. Gave me a tech because I was in there. And we move on.’’

In all, there were five individual technicals. The Celtics had three of them. They also had the game’s only flagrant foul.

“Anything can tick a referee off,’’ Allen said. “That’s why we always say don’t put it in their hands. You’ve got to make sure that you’re smart out there.’’

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

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