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A major relief for Pierce

No action by NBA on Celtic’s ejection

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By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / May 3, 2011

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CORAL GABLES, Fla. — After Paul Pierce had a night to sleep on it, the regret was evident as much as the still-lingering frustration. The Celtics captain had put his Game 1 ejection behind him as much as he could have, but early yesterday afternoon a part of him was bracing for a possible phone call from NBA higher-ups.

“It’s always a concern when things happen,’’ he said, talking to reporters after skipping out on a media session following Sunday’s 99-90 loss to the Heat. “It’s out of my control. They’re going to view it the way they view it and come to a decision.

“I’m definitely worried, because if it’s a situation where it affects my team then it was very selfish. It was selfish of me [Sunday], but it would hurt even more if they came to a decision to suspend me if that’s what they thought they saw.’’

The league, though, eventually decided no further action was necessary in the wake of Pierce drawing two technical fouls in 59 seconds in separate incidents with James Jones and Dwyane Wade, and getting tossed from the game.

Realizing his actions could have left the Celtics without their leader and top scorer for tonight’s game, Pierce was penitent.

“I was more disappointed I let my teammates down,’’ he said. “That’s the first thing I said when I went to the locker room. You put yourself in a situation that you can control, and it hurts your team, that’s what I was most upset about. I can’t do that. I’m too important to this team to be putting myself in those situations.’’

The Celtics trailed by 13 with seven minutes left when Pierce and Wade crashed into each other. Pierce verbally taunted Wade, drawing his second technical; Wade also was issued a technical.

But the incident with Jones was the one that could have proven costly. After taking a hard foul from Jones, Pierce got nose-to-nose with him, pushing his face into Jones’s. Some thought it was a head butt, similar to the one the Hawks’ Zaza Pachulia struck the Magic’s Jason Richardson with earlier in the playoffs. Pachulia was suspended for a game.

Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said he didn’t think what Pierce did was close to what Pachulia did.

“Heavens, no,’’ Ainge said. “It looked more like an Eskimo kiss.’’

Lead official Dan Crawford said immediately after the game, “There wasn’t a head butt, but he got right into his face after a hard foul.’’

Pierce, who scored 19 points but missed 8 of his 14 shots, had gone through his share of frustrations throughout the game. Being hit in the head by Jones only added to them.

“I probably overreacted,’’ Pierce said. “I thought I was fouled excessively on both plays, actually. It probably should have been a flagrant on both of the plays, but it’s up to me to keep my composure.’’

Pierce wouldn’t go so far as to say his ejection was justified. When Pierce and Wade crashed into each other along the baseline, referee Ed Malloy quickly blew his whistle and gave Pierce the heave-ho sign.

“I didn’t get an explanation from Ed,’’ Pierce said. “I was surprised of getting kicked out, I was. I didn’t think what I did warranted ejection, but sometimes players get caught in the hype of the game. Sometimes refs do, too. He reacted the way he felt and that’s what it was.’’

There were five individual technicals in the game; the Celtics were whistled for three of them.

“The referees called what they saw,’’ Pierce said. “I could have done a better job keeping my composure. That’s it.’’

Asked about the possibility of Pierce being suspended, teammate Jermaine O’Neal said, “Suspensions? I never thought about that. We never thought about him getting ejected.’’

O’Neal was whistled for the only flagrant foul in the game for shoving Jones as he was trying to cut through the paint in the third quarter.

“If anything, we felt like the lunge off the top buckle from D-Wade to Paul’s chest was a flagrant foul,’’ O’Neal said.

“My bump to the chest [of Jones], I didn’t feel like was a flagrant foul. But, you know, refs are going to officiate the game the way they want to officiate it. It’s not about those plays, we were losing when those plays happened.’’

Coach Doc Rivers said he talked to the league about reviewing the O’Neal call.

“I didn’t think it was a flagrant,’’ Rivers said. “If Jermaine’s was a flagrant, then the other two [Jones and Wade] were. I’m not a fan of the flagrant thing. I think I’ve made that clear for years.’’

Immediately after the game, Crawford acknowledged that Jones’s hard foul led to Pierce’s reaction. Rivers argued that Jones should have been punished more severely for his foul.

“If we’re calling flagrants the way we’ve been calling flagrants, if you go above the head, then that’s a flagrant foul,’’ Rivers said. “Do I actually think any of them are flagrants? No. I really don’t. But if we’re going to start citing the rule book on why we give techs, then you’ve got to call flagrants.’’

Both teams were physical. In order to keep LeBron James from getting loose on the fast break, the Celtics wrapped him up in near football-tackle fashion several times.

“Miami wants to show us that they’re physical,’’ Rivers said. “That’s cool with us. We just want to play the way we play. I honestly don’t know if that’s physical or not. That’s for everybody else to say. But at the end of the day, we’re going to play our style, and somebody’s style is going to win. That will be what’s determined at the end of the game.’’

Rivers didn’t spend much time thinking about whether the flareups in Game 1 set the tone for the rest of the series.

“Honestly, it’s over,’’ said Rivers. “I could [not] care less. We’re far more concerned about preparing for Game 2 than we are whether the league’s going to take away a flagrant or give a flagrant. It will have no impact on Game 2.’’

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

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