Commentary

Celtics don't give refs free pass

Updated: April 1, 2010, 10:28 AM ET
By Chris Forsberg | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant entered Wednesday's game against the Celtics leading the league in free throws made at 654, connecting on nearly 100 more free throws than second-place LeBron James (557).

(The same James, by the way, who attempted 16 charity chucks in a win over Boston earlier this month.)

Only Orlando's Dwight Howard had attempted more free throws (754) than Durant (733), and Oklahoma City's star swingman had nearly double the amount of attempts as the nearest Celtic (Paul Pierce, tied for 20th in the league at 385).

[+] EnlargeKevin Durant
David Butler II/US PresswireKevin Durant torched the Celtics for 37 points, but Boston wasn't pleased that 15 of them came from the free throw line.

So the fact Durant ended up at the charity stripe 15 times Wednesday wasn't shocking. But put in the context of the game, it left some, including Kevin Garnett, shaking their heads.

"I thought we were playing Michael [expletive] Jordan tonight the way he was getting the whistle," Garnett vented. "Durant damn near shot more free throws than our whole team."

To be clear, the Celtics did not pin all the blame on Wednesday's 109-104 loss to the upstart Thunder on the referees. The refs weren't the ones who were late closing out on Jeff Green as he drilled a pair of ice-water-in-his-veins 3-pointers in the final two minutes to help Oklahoma City emerge with another monumental win this season.

But on a night Boston shot 59.5 percent from the floor, generating a staggering 44 field goals against a top-10 scoring defense, a 34-17 free throw attempt disparity between the teams stuck out like a sore thumb on the final box score.

The Celtics connected on 13 of their 17 attempts (76.5 percent), while the Thunder made 28 of their 34 (82.4 percent). So try as they might, after a frustrating loss in which the Green played exceptionally well at times, they simply couldn't get over that number.

"I don't know, [refereeing is] not my call," said captain Paul Pierce. "I'm just a player out there playing. The referees, they make the call. It is what it is. I can't control that part of the game, I just have to control what I do as a player and as a team.

"Yeah, we have to do a better job keeping them off the line. They shoot 34 free throws, and that was the emphasis before the game that we can't foul them. They shoot 80 percent as a team from the line, and they did it again tonight. So you can't allow them to get to the line as many times as they did, and shoot 50 percent from the [field]."

Asked if it would be reaching to look past the free throw disparity, even Celtics coach Doc Rivers admitted it would be tough to do.

"Yeah, you'd be reaching," Rivers said. "When you shoot 60 percent from the field ... it's a tough one to swallow. A team shoots 34 free throws to our 17 on our home floor. That's a tough one. I thought we were aggressive, too. I thought we were attacking, and we just didn't get to the line."

Rivers realized his criticism came very close to the NBA's line for what's allowable when venting about officials. And, as reasonable as his claims might have appeared, he was not ready to part with $25,000, and quickly reversed field.

"I'm not going there, I'm staying away from it," he said when pressed on the fouls. "We just can't foul as much, let's put it that way."

Rivers went on to stress that the Celtics gave up 109 points and while 28 of those points came at the charity stripe, 81 came from an array of other spots on the floor. He didn't particularly like the quarter scores allowed by his team -- 30, 27, 26, 26 -- noting Boston failed four times in its goal to keep its opponent under 25 points.

Even Kendrick Perkins, the straightest shooter in the locker room, admitted Boston's defensive intensity was lacking, particularly in the fourth quarter, when the Thunder connected on multiple big shots over the final five minutes and looked mature well beyond their average age of 25.

"It was a battle of the offenses and it seemed like whoever had the ball last was going to win," Pierce said. "It was that type of game. Both teams really had a good rhythm going on the offensive end. We were struggling to get stops and they were too. They really executed well and they put Durant in great positions to score, where it was really hard to trap him. They spread the court and that's why it was a big game [for him]. He goes to the line 15 times and that's why he's the league's [second] leading scorer."

The fact Boston played so well -- shooting a ridiculous 71.1 percent in the first half, but leading by just four at intermission -- made the loss even harder to swallow.

And despite the positives, the Celtics simply kept going back to the glaring free throw numbers.

"I've never been, in all of my 15 years, part of a team where you shoot 60 percent and still lose," Rasheed Wallace said. "But Jeff [Green] hit a couple of big threes down there and I think they had 30-something foul shots. So you can't win against that."

Chris Forsberg is the Celtics reporter for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.

Chris Forsberg

Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com

EDITORS' PICKS

  • Bruschi's Breakdown
    Bill Belichick won't say it, but a weak opponent might give the Pats a chance to find themselves.
  • Rest For Rusney
    Cuban outfielder Rusney Castillo is not in the Red Sox lineup tonight in Pittsburgh.
  • A Good Problem To Have
    At B's camp, a full house of defensemen will fight for limited roster spots.
  • Brady's Plan B
    If this football thing doesn't work, Tom Brady is ready -- resume and all.
  • BC's Balancing Act
    The BC Eagles are eager to show another side to their offense.

ALSO SEE