Commentary

Tempers get better of Celtics

Rivers' outburst helps swing momentum to Hawks

Updated: January 12, 2010, 7:57 AM ET
By Chris Forsberg | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- With Rasheed Wallace and Kendrick Perkins jockeying for the top spot on the NBA's technical foul leaderboard, Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers last month texted both players his motto for the 2009-10 season: "He who angers you, owns you."

In the aftermath of Monday's 102-96 loss to the Atlanta Hawks, Rivers wished he had considered his own message after a personal meltdown helped the visitors rally from a double-digit deficit at TD Garden.

The Hawks have won all three meetings this season (the teams play one more time in Atlanta later this month), rallying from halftime deficits in each win.

Rivers lost his cool when Glen Davis got called for a flagrant foul for a hard takedown of Marvin Williams midway through the third quarter.

Rivers expressed his displeasure in no uncertain terms to referee Bennett Salvatore, who promptly hit the Boston coach with a double technical and ejected him from the game. Before Rivers could be herded down the tunnel to the locker room, assistant coach Armond Hill drew yet another technical.

Doc Rivers
Elsa/Getty ImagesDoc Rivers still isn't pleased as associate coach Tom Thibodeau tries to calm Rivers down following his ejection in the third quarter.

The volatile series left Atlanta with five free throws -- it made four -- and possession of the ball, helping the Hawks trim Boston's 10-point lead to a 67-61 advantage with 6:16 to play in the third.

Atlanta tied the game before the end of the quarter, then pulled ahead in the fourth, making Rivers' tantrum sting that much more.

"I told the guys after the game, No. 1, that's always on me," said Rivers. "I don't think I should ever get thrown out. I don't know when the last time I was thrown out was, actually. I don't care how bad you think the calls are at the moment, you know, somehow you have to try to rein yourself back in.

"Honestly, I reacted -- I was so shocked at what they were calling. I thought they were talking about whether it was a breakaway or not. The last thing I had in my mind was a flagrant. I didn't even think that was part of the discussion. So I was so surprised by that I reacted, and I never should have."

Rivers, who last got tossed on March 17 against Chicago, shouldered the blame for the loss, but made it clear to his troops after the game that losing close games -- for any reason -- is unacceptable.

Whether it's technical fouls, injuries, illness -- or as the Celtics are battling this month, a combination of all of those problems -- Rivers said he will not allow his team to think of itself as a victim.

But it's clear that's exactly how the Celtics felt after Monday's game.

"It was just a terrible situation, whether it was justified or not, we were up 10 and then all of a sudden it seemed like it was a two-point game and the ball wasn't even dribbled," said Ray Allen. "I hated watching that, the lack of a good call can result in that much of a difference in a game like that. Up until that point, we were playing well and after that the game did change."

Pinning the loss on the third-quarter outburst seemed like too easy a scapegoat. Did the technical fouls help the Hawks rally? Of course. But the Celtics did have the final 18 minutes to recover.

"You hate to see coaches get tossed, but Doc did what he thought he had to do," said Atlanta coach Mike Woodson. "Our team just stayed steady and continued to play and that's what you have to do. When I called them over, I told them we just need to keep grinding, and they did."

The Celtics did not. After leading by as much as 14 in the third quarter, Boston spiraled out of control. Both the offense and defense disappeared at times and the Atlanta duo of Jamal Crawford (17 points) and Joe Johnson (a game-high 36) took over.

"The game is full of momentum changes and, throughout the course of the game, that's what happens," said Pierce. "I mean, we gave them momentum when we were up [10] and then we got the technical fouls and they cut the lead basically in half with the free throws. It becomes a dogfight after that."

Davis, whose hard foul triggered the meltdown, was asked if the Celtics wilted a bit after Rivers was ejected. By not answering the question, he answered the question.

"I don't know, I just know we didn't win," he said. "We didn't finish the game like we were supposed to."

Chris Forsberg is a roving reporter for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.

Chris Forsberg

Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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