Hawks 102, Celtics 96

Rivers ejected as Hawks give Celtics the boot again

By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / January 12, 2010

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You could zero in on the 6:16 mark in the third quarter - an implosive sequence in which three technical fouls were called, one coach was ejected, five free throws were taken, and the 18,624 fans at TD Garden last night went from cute and cuddly to angry - and call it the tipping point in the Celtics’ 102-96 loss to the Atlanta Hawks.

The Celtics were facing a Hawks team that already had beaten them twice this season, and they came into this one without forwards Kevin Garnett (hyperextended knee) and Rasheed Wallace (a late scratch because of a foot injury). But for the first 30 minutes it was a snoozer as the Celtics built a comfortable double-digit lead while shooting better than 60 percent from the field.

Then chaos broke out.

Boston’s Glen Davis, dunked on by Josh Smith on the previous possession, found himself chasing down Marvin Williams on another fast break. This time, though, Davis wrapped up Williams in a bear hug that earned the big forward a flagrant foul.

“I was surprised,’’ Davis said. “I’m a big guy. I don’t feel like I did it intentionally. Really, when I was coming down, I was trying to hold him from falling. The refs made a decision. I can’t get mad and upset at them.’’

Said Williams, “I’ve been in that position, too, outweighing a guy by 40 pounds. I know Big Baby. He’s not the type of guy to try to hurt me. I haven’t seen what it looked like. He got me pretty good. Was it that bad? I don’t know. That’s what happens sometimes.’’

Within seconds, though, Celtics coach Doc Rivers went from confused to livid.

“I was so shocked at what they were calling,’’ Rivers said. “I thought they were talking about was it a breakaway [foul] or not. The last thing I had in my mind, I didn’t even think flagrant.’’

Rivers flew off the handle, and the technicals were flying close behind.

Rivers was assessed two, and was ejected by referee Bennett Salvatore.

“It was kind of fast,’’ said Celtics center Kendrick Perkins, who was on the receiving end of a flagrant foul by Zaza Pachulia earlier in the game. “It wasn’t within like 5 seconds. It was like ‘tech,’ then you’re thrown out the game.’’

Celtics assistant coach Armond Hill, lingering on the court, was hit with a third technical from referee Marc Davis.

“He didn’t say anything,’’ said Brian Scalabrine, who had 9 points and five rebounds in his first start of the season. “He just said, ‘Baby fouled him on the way up.’ And he got it.’’

“Honestly, from what I heard from the players, they were just searching the bench,’’ Rivers said. “Whoever was saying anything was going to get a tech and Armond was the guilty party. Armond felt awful. You know Armond. It’s tough for Armond to get a tech.’’

Four made free throws later (three by Jamal Crawford for the technicals and one by Williams for the flagrant), the Hawks had whittled a 10-point deficit into a two-possession game.

“That was 4 extra points we gave them,’’ Perkins said.

Within minutes the Hawks tied it on a 3-pointer from Crawford and the Celtics, once lightly sparring, found themselves trading body blows in the fourth quarter, catching a left-right-left combination from Joe Johnson, who dropped 12 of his 36 points in the final frame. Johnson hit a long jumper in front of the Boston bench with 3:09 left that gave the Hawks the lead for good, 94-93.

Rajon Rondo, who finished with 26 points, was particularly silent in the fourth quarter. The Celtics shot just 31.3 percent in the period, leaving Davis, Perkins, Ray Allen, Rondo, and Paul Pierce on the floor for the full 12 minutes.

“That’s pretty much the turning point of this game,’’ said Allen. “Being up 10, we were playing well. You figure three techs and then the flagrant and then the ball back. That’s close to tying the ballgame back up and the momentum swings in their favor.’’

Davis, who scored 13 points off the bench for a team that has been shorthanded for weeks, appreciated Rivers’s support.

“Doc felt it was a bad call and he expressed himself,’’ Davis said. “He watched out for his players. I’m all with him. I’m not mad at what Doc’s decision was. I just feel like it was a tough call and emotions flare.’’

Rivers blamed himself for losing control.

“I told the guys after the game, No. 1, that’s always on me,’’ Rivers said. “I don’t think I should ever get thrown out. I don’t know when the last time I was thrown out actually [St. Patrick’s Day, 2009, against Chicago]. I don’t care how bad you think calls are at that moment, you have to somehow try to bring yourself back in.’’

Pierce and Perkins found other points when the Celtics fell short.

“Regardless of all the commotion,’’ Pierce said, “we still had the lead in our building. So there are no excuses. I think we just failed to execute there in the fourth quarter.’’

Perkins said the Celtics may have taken the Hawks a bit too lightly, despite the two previous losses.

“I don’t think nobody on our team fears them,’’ Perkins said. “I think that’s the problem.’’

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