First of all this sets up a pretty heated Christmas Day game right off the bat. It should get some good ratings. You have to wonder if the league wanted to set up a rivalry between these two teams for ratings purposes. Yes, I know I'm getting into tinfoil hat areas here, but I can't help but wonder.
In the first outing between the Celtics and the Nets, Keith Bogans practically strangled Leandro Barbosa and the refs decided that it was just a regular old foul. In the second game, the referees were letting the Nets get away with dirty plays and physical play the entire first half without calling any fouls. At the half, the Celtics had shot 5 free throws (with 3 of them technicals) and the Nets had shot 17 free throws. Is it any wonder the Celtics were getting a bit frustrated? Then when Humphries got away with another hard foul on KG that should have been called a flagrant 1 since no play was made on the ball and he went directly at KG's head while he was in the air, it was a bit too much for Rondo to take.
In the aftermath, much has been said by players and coaches. Doc started it off after the game by calling the team soft. For a basketball team, this is about as big an insult as can be made. Check out The Sports Boy's great article on another era when this insult was levied at a Celtics team. Let's hope that this makes the team rally together and toughen up some. It sure worked great when Larry Bird accused his teammates of being soft. Hopefully it will touch something inside each player as that accusation did and this game will be the turn around for the season.
Doc also backed up my thoughts on the fact that the hard foul is what caused the whole thing. Perhaps if the refs had control of the game, nothing would have happened, but knowing that the Nets had gotten away with yet another dirty play, Rondo was frustrated and retaliated.
"Humphries was at fault, the foul is what precipitated everything," Rivers said. "They called a flagrant to begin with, so that started it but then we took it to the next level. I thought, just watching it, if it was in the middle of the floor I don't know how bad this would have been. ... Rondo pushed Humphries, Humphries pushed Rondo, grabbed Rondo's jersey, Rondo started pushing him back and unfortunately pushed him into the stands. Once you go in the stands everything happens."
Perhaps if they had called a flagrant on the court nothing more would have happened. But this, like the throttling of Barbosa above was just a regular foul. Rondo's teammates had his back, just as Rondo had KG's back after the hard foul. Jason Terry had played with Humphries in Dallas and he took a couple of jabs at Humphries after the game.
"Some guys are tough. Some guys pretend to be. He's one of those that pretends to be," Terry told reporters. "I played with him (on the 2009-10 Dallas Mavericks). Maybe that's the role Avery (Johnson) wants him to have, but he could leave that to somebody else."
Terry continued jab at Humphries, calling him “soft.”
When told Doc Rivers called his entire team soft for its effort in Wednesday’s 95-83 loss to the Nets, Terry took that nugget and redirected it at Humphries.
“Well, Humphries might as well play with us if that’s the case.”
I'll add that he's a dirty player and had gotten away with some dirty plays in this game and that's a big part of the problem. Doc is partly right. It was Humphries fault for the hard foul, but it was more on the refs who let him get away with cheap shots all night. And speaking of cheap shots, Reggie Evans may be the king of cheap shots. He had this to say about Rondo afterwards
"That's just like a mosquito in your face. Eventually, you are going to swat at the mosquito, right?” Evans told reporters. “You aren't going to let mosquitos in your face. You are going to get bumps all over your face. So you have to knock the mosquito down."
Referees, please note that Reggie Evans will be looking to knock "the mosquito" down next time they play. Rondo defended his actions after practice on Thursday.
"I thought the play on Kevin was a malicious play. I got hurt last year on a similar play like that, a guy going up in the air defenseless, on his way down. I just pushed Humphries and after that it was a pushing war."
“I know I have to look after my teammates, that’s the thing about it. I was sticking up for my teammates. I didn’t try to start a fight. I just didn’t think the play was right that he made on Kevin.”
Again, players getting away with dirty plays that could injure a player and if it's not called, there are frustrations that just boil over. Rondo added that he didn't feel he did anything dirty or try to start a riot. He just pushed Humphries who had made a play that could have hurt his teammate. Kevin Garnett responded by having Rondo's back in return.
“Rajon doesn’t like anybody messing with teammates or messing with brothers or family. It’s been how it is since I’ve been here. We have each others’ backs out there.”
KG also said that Humphries got away with a similar foul against Pierce last game and that he's always a little out of control and tries to play the tough guy. KG did take a little bit of exception to Doc's comments that the team was soft.
“There’s only one way to respond. I would never think that I would be on a team that would be called soft. I’m not a hardcore guy. I’m not a gangster or thuggish or anything like that. But I am what you call firm. I do play with a physicality.
“I don’t really want to say that we’re soft, because there’s men in here. Where I’m from you don’t call another man soft. … Coach’s assessment, it is what it is. Whether you take it as criticism or he’s trying to make us better, it’s your call.”
I think Doc's purpose, just like Bird's purpose all those years ago was a call for the team to be more aggressive especially on the defensive end, where the team has been very passive so far. Tough teams play in your face defense and that's the kind of toughness Doc wants out of this team, not pushing and shoving and fighting. Man up. Play defense. Rebound. Hopefully they get the message.
Whether they were intentionally trying to build the rivalry for the Christmas game or not, the league did just that. It should be a great matchup. Hopefully the Celtics take Doc's criticism the right way and we see a different Celtics team on that day. I'll leave you with another classic quote from KG.
"This ain't the Girl Scouts. This ain't the Boy Scouts. This is the NBA."