Celtics have their heated moments

By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / May 6, 2011

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WALTHAM — There’s an inevitable boiling point in the playoffs.

It’s why Kobe Bryant shoots death stares at Laker teammates Pau Gasol and Shannon Brown, and why Andrew Bynum comes out and says the team has trust issues.

It’s why LeBron James fires Dwyane Wade a look that screams, “What were you thinking?’’ after Wade fires a pass at James that is uncatchable.

The Celtics aren’t immune to such emotions.

They were huddled during a timeout late in the second quarter of Tuesday night’s Game 2 loss to the Heat, trailing, 44-40. Wade was making sawdust out of the Boston defense. Coach Doc Rivers was yelling out instructions when Rajon Rondo decided to break away from the huddle.

Ray Allen reached out from the other side of the circle to call Rondo back, but he was already gone. Paul Pierce left the huddle, grabbed Rondo by the arm, and started talking to him. The tone seemed forceful.

Rondo patted Pierce on the side, then walked away. Pierce kept talking. Rondo kept walking.

After the game, Pierce brushed off the exchange.

“We always do that,’’ Pierce said. “I forgot what I said.’’

The Celtics are down, two games to none, and searching for answers against a team that’s as fast and strong as it is skilled. There will be frustrations in such a situation, but getting through the fiery moments quickly and staying on the same page is critical.

“Emotional hijacks, you can’t have them,’’ said Rivers. “And they happen. When they happen, they always happen when you’re down or you’re in the heat of battle.

“They happen because it’s an emotional game, but once you let it get to a point where it’s hijacking the team, that’s never good.’’

To an extent, conflict is a part of the Celtics’ DNA. They’ve bickered over defensive assignments, disagreed over play calls and ball movement. They’ve argued over the strength of earthquakes and the best backup point guards of the 2000s.

“If I had a tape recorder on me or a video camera on me over the time that I’ve been here, you would see a lot,’’ Allen said. “I’ve always said about this team, we’ve argued and debated more than I’ve argued or debated in my whole NBA career.

“I’ve been on teams where you never communicated, you never argued about anything. This team, somebody will tell me I didn’t have pancakes for breakfast this morning and they didn’t even have breakfast with me.’’

When the issue is an on-court matter, the game tape typically settles it.

“Normally, it’s a defensive situation,’’ Allen said. “Any time you debate or argue over it, when the play shows up [on film] you will know what’s going on because everybody talked about it. At some point, you’re like, ‘That’s the play! That’s the play we talked about. That’s the play we argued about.’ ’’

The Celtics roster has been like an emotional minefield. Kevin Garnett got in Glen Davis’s face in 2008, leaving the second-year forward near tears. Tony Allen was unpredictable. Nate Robinson was a live wire. Rasheed Wallace had a reputation for being a time bomb.

Pierce and Rondo are typically on the calmer, if more mercurial, side.

“But they came back, they played well,’’ Rivers said. “When it happens with the same guy all the time, that usually becomes a problem.’’

Over the course of four years, the Celtics core players have developed their own language with each other. James and Wade said they had to figure out their own as well, but acknowledged that in the playoffs, winning takes precedence over manners.

“It’s challenging,’’ James said. “Any time you have new teammates, you have to understand who you’re playing with sometimes.

“Some people can be yelled at and still can play. Some people you have to kind of have to do it a certain way.

“But at this point in the season, feelings go out the window. We’re trying to win a championship. We can’t worry about anyone’s feelings, friend or no friend, honestly.

“So if D-Wade makes a mistake or I make a mistake, I expect to hear from him. He expects to hear from me, too.’’

Off the court, they’re calm, according to Wade.

“If it’s on the court, it’s in the moment,’’ Wade said. “It’s been times where he’s gotten on me for something I should have done or didn’t do, and vice versa. And it’s a different tone.’’

“A whole different language,’’ James said.

“My voice is not this calm, his voice is not this calm,’’ Wade said. “It’s not a bed of roses all the time. We’re not always patting each other on the back. Our job is to get the best out of each other.’’

The emotions are as high as the stakes.

“It’s easy to say you can’t let it happen,’’ Rivers said. “But I can show you every Game 7 that was played and at some point there was an emotional hijack somewhere. It’s part of the game. The point is you don’t allow it to distract you from what you’re doing.’’

It undoubtedly will happen again. The only thing that will matter is how the Celtics respond.

“I can stand here before you right now and tell you something like that is going to happen again on Saturday, for us and them,’’ Allen said.

“For every team that’s playing in the playoffs, for everybody that’s going through something in life, there’s always something.

“We just have to always know that and be prepared.

“If a team goes on a run, it doesn’t matter. It’s how we come back together, it’s how we do it together, and hopefully we know that as a team.’’

Julian Benbow can be reached at

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