The New York Knicks appeared to be far out of contention midway through the third quarter against the Celtics last night.
While the Knicks had trailed by as many as 27 points, coach Isiah Thomas was encouraged by his team's rally. Which makes it more difficult to understand how Thomas could have been ejected, just before a David Lee foul shot cut the Knicks' deficit to 90-79 with 10:17 remaining in New York's 111-103 loss.
Official Mark Lindsay signaled the ejection as Thomas stood in front of the scorer's table. He then walked over to shake hands with Celtics coach Doc Rivers, and then hugged him. It was Thomas's second ejection of the season; he was also sent off Jan. 9 against Houston.
Thomas said he was surprised by the call, following his second technical foul in a 78-second span.
"I don't know," Thomas said. "I think Doc and I kind of looked at each other in disbelief. I don't know."
Asked if he had made contact with Lindsay's shoulder, Thomas replied: "He gave me the thumb. I didn't tap him on the shoulder.
"Doc was walking out of the coach's box and I walked out and I got ready to say that [Rivers is] complaining and he turned around and I was [ejected]."
Thomas had disputed a non-call after Jamal Crawford had pulled the Knicks within 85-74 early in the final quarter.
"The first one, I am not really a guy, as most officials will tell you, I'm not a guy who complains a lot," Thomas said. "I got up off the bench on the first technical and said to the official as he was running up the floor that they were holding Jamal, they've got both hands on him. And I gestured with both my hands and said they have both hands on him. And he didn't like the fact I was complaining. So, I guess it is well within his right to give me a technical for complaining."
Then, as Lindsay went to the scorer's table to signal a foul against Eddie House, Thomas approached him, Lindsay signaling him to leave the court. Thomas, though, must have done or said something to attract Lindsay's attention. Was it Thomas's stroll out of the coaching box limits?
"Doc and I were both out of the box," Thomas said. "Technically, we were both out of the box. I didn't get an explanation."
The timing of the ejection was odd, since the Knicks had appeared to be reversing the momentum of the game, outscoring the Celtics, 34-15, over an 8:16 span covering the third and fourth quarters, cutting the deficit to 90-82 on a Malik Rose 3-point play off an inbounds pass with 9:45 remaining.
"I thought we were fighting our way back into the game," Thomas said. "I thought we got hit with a haymaker coming out into the third quarter. It was turning into a pretty good game."
In fact, the Knicks cut the deficit to 97-90 on a Lee foul shot with 6:58 to play. But the Celtics went on an 8-point run to clinch the result, Rajon Rondo's uncontested layup the deciding field goal, giving the Celtics a 105-90 lead with 3:56 to go.
In the late going, the Knicks played without center Eddy Curry.
"What's happening in this league is that a lot of teams are playing really small," Thomas said. "It is a slow phasing-out of the big man, it seems like. A lot of teams are playing really small and shooting the 3-ball and if you don't adjust, and adjust quickly, you can find yourself down 12-15 points."
The Knicks did adjust, eventually.
"We had our chances," Thomas said. "It was a -point game with eight minutes to go in the fourth quarter and if we had done a couple things a little differently, it might have been a positive outcome."