Shouldn’t be trying tough stuff
MIAMI — It . . . cannot . . . happen.
The Celtics are supposed to be the composed veterans. The Heat are supposed to be the young bucks, the fragile frauds who need to be schooled in how it’s done in the playoffs.
So how come Paul Pierce picked up two technical fouls and got himself ejected midway through the fourth quarter of yesterday’s 99-90 Game 1 loss to the Hype Masters of Miami?
We don’t know Pierce’s explanation because the captain was nowhere to be found in the losers’ locker room. A team publicist said he would be available to comment today.
Not good enough. You want to be a champion? You want to be talked about the same as Russell and Bird and Havlicek and Cooz? Stick around and take your medicine like a man after you act like a stupid tough guy on the court.
We thought we were over this stuff with Pierce. He is 33 years old. He’s been in the NBA since 1998. He was MVP of the Finals in 2008, for gosh sakes. What’s the excuse for losing his cool twice in the fourth quarter of a game against a team that’s always waiting to choke if you can keep things close?
This was a horrible day for Pierce. In the first quarter, when the Heat established their game-long lead, Pierce had 0 points and three turnovers. He got into a groove after that, but then came the knucklehead macho stuff in the fourth.
He had the ball in his hands with eight minutes left and the Celtics trailing by 12 when Heat forward James Jones got caught in the air and had no choice but to foul hard. Jones positively mugged Pierce, and that should have been it. But no. Pierce got in Jones’s face and attempted to head-butt the Miami sub. This was no Carl Everett-Ron Kulpa moment. Pierce sort of rubbed his head into the side of Jones’s face. But Jones sold it, Montreal Canadiens style, and a double-T was assessed.
Pierce lucked out on that one. But it cost him. Less than a minute later after Dwyane Wade tried to run through him on a screen, Pierce went the extra mile again, got T’d up again, and that meant he was done for the day.
The second T looked ridiculous. Pierce said something to Wade (“a bunch of gibberish,’’ said Wade) and referee Ed Malloy didn’t like what he heard. It was another double-T, which meant Pierce was gone.
“It’s what we call a verbal taunt,’’ said crew chief Dan Crawford. “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.’’
Rules are rules, right? But does anyone believe they would have slapped LeBron James with a second T on a “verbal taunt.’’ Please. Where’s Emily Post-Up when you need her?
Coach Doc Rivers defended Pierce . . . to a point.
“I thought both [Miami fouls on Pierce] were flagrant fouls, and I don’t think we should react to either one . . . I told Paul you still don’t react,’’ said Rivers. “I thought as a whole we were the retaliating team. We were never the first hit team.’’ (Violation of Red Auerbach’s No. 1 rule — always hit first.)
Doc went on to rip the Heat for being “chippy,’’ and that is going to get a lot of attention over the next couple of days. Given the Celtics’ reputation, it’s a little bit like Pedro Martinez or Roger Clemens accusing someone of being a headhunter.
We’ll be debating the relative softness of these Heat from now until they actually win something, but the takeaway point from Game 1 is that the Celtics played like style-over-substance guys. And it started at the top with Captain Paul.
Pierce’s maturity issues flashed in the 2005 playoffs when, in a complete act of selfishness, he got himself tossed from the final seconds of a playoff game against the Pacers. A hard foul by Jamaal Tinsley triggered a nuclear reaction from Pierce. He compounded the ejection with a hideous demonstration at the postgame news conference when he wore a phony bandage over most of his head. Those were the days when Pierce openly defied Rivers, and the Celtics gave a lot of thought to trading him.
He seemed to have grown past all that, other than one manic moment when he flashed a gang sign at the Hawks in the spring of 2008.
Then came yesterday’s silliness.
“I don’t think he did anything over the top,’’ said Celtics spokesman Ray Allen. “Again, it’s us learning how to get out of those situations and back away from them.’’
Auerbach set the tone for this franchise more than a half-century ago when he cold-cocked the owner of the St. Louis Hawks before the third game of the 1957 Finals. Always punch first. Never get caught making the second hit.
Pierce fell for the oldest trick in the book yesterday. He got suckered into an ejection. It never should happen to a 13-year veteran. It would have made Red choke on his Hoyo de Monterrey.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.