Apparently, the altercation that led LeBron James to stand in the middle of the Celtics’ huddle had as much to do with Kevin Garnett as it did with Tony Allen, who was clapping in celebration after James came up empty on what would have been a go-ahead 3-pointer.
According to Brian Windhorst of the Cleveland Plain-Dealer, after James missed the shot, Garnett grabbed his crotch, gesturing at James. The two had jawed with each other much of the night, including when James was at the free throw line. Asked what he said, Garnett replied, “Nothing in particular that I would like to share that the league would like me to say.”
In the fourth quarter of the Cavaliers win in Cavaliers win a month ago in Cleveland, James could be seen in replays referring to the Celtics with a pointed expletive after making the lay-up and getting the foul on one of several three-point plays as the Cavs buried the Celtics late.
Sunday afternoon was just a continuation.
“They don’t like us, we don’t like them,” James said. “So there’s a lot of things that go on on the court.”
Doc Rivers echoed the sentiment.
“It’s two teams that I don’t think love each other,” Rivers said. “I can say that, and there’s two teams that want to beat each other. And I think in Cleveland’s case early on, we were having our way, so they got frustrated. In our case late, they were having their way. And then we got frustrated.”
The faces alone in this photo speak volumes. Rasheed Wallace’s third-quarter tirade was the most volatile he’s been in a Celtics uniform. Shouting at a pair of officials was one thing, but when the tantrum spilled to his own bench — his own coach no less — the sight was hard to believe.
Wallace was upset that referee Bill Spooner allowed LeBron James to talk back after not getting a foul call on a layup. Rivers was just as upset, screaming at Mott as the play went the other way. But Wallace kept it up, riding Spooner until he got a technical, then exploding once he was hit with his 14th tech of the season.
He yelled at another referee Rodney Mott on the opposite side of the court, then yelled at Rivers, who was trying to calm him down. Rivers never sat Wallace down and never put him back on the floor.
Wallace may have let a personal belief that the league protects its stars — or as he’s called them “Basketball Without Borders kids” — supersede the fact that the Celtics needed to stop a three-game losing skid.
Paul Pierce ended up talking to him after the dust settled.
“I just said, stay focused,” Pierce said. “We were going to need him. Just to gain his composure, that’s all. Rasheed is a vet, he’s been there before, you just have to talk to him. He understands the situation. He understands that we are trying to win a game and I just told him to stick with it, and at that point when I said something to him on the bench, I thought that he was fine.”
Rivers protected Wallace after the game, not arguing the validity of Wallace’s initial frustrations, and adding that had no plans of fining Wallace.
“We know who Rasheed is and at times he’s an emotional player,” Rivers said. “But the one thing I will say is once he does the explosion – you noticed sitting on the bench – I honestly thought if I needed him I could’ve put him back in. He gathers himself pretty well.”
As he walked off the court, LeBron James stopped at midcourt, turned to the Celtics as they congratulated themselves, held his jersey up flashing the “Cleveland” and motioned as if he was brushing off the loss.
He scored 20 of his game-high 42 points in the fourth quarter, including a lay-up that put the Cavs up 108-107 with 1:31 left. He almost single-handedly dismantled a Celtics lead that was as large as 22-points.
With the win, the Celtics were able to both split the season series with Cleveland and also salvage the six-game homestand with a 3-3 split. But even in defeat James felt defiantly confident.
“I think what we did tonight is good for our team.,” James said. “I don’t know what they’re thinking down there because I’m not in their locker room, I don’t know what’s going on in their locker room but for us, were not hanging out heads about this loss at all.”
The last shot
The rule is the rule. At home, play to tie. On the road, shoot to win. But James, who hadn’t made a 3-pointer all night, pulled up for one to win the game, when he could have gotten to the rim at will or at the least gotten fouled.
Rivers, for one, was glad to see him pop from 26-feet out.
“It’s tough to question anything he does,” Rivers said. “it felt like he scored their last sixty points in a row, at one point. Really. And who didn’t think that wasn’t going in when he shot it? Honestly, you clearly wanted him to drive if you were them, and we clearly wanted him to shoot because at least we got a chance of missing.”