And it was with what O'Neal would call his "soft bedroom voice" that he approached referee Zach Zarba for an explanation about the personal foul he had received trying to haul in a rebound over Knicks rookie Timofey Mozgov late in the second quarter of Boston's 104-101 preseason triumph Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden.
Zarba instructed O'Neal to walk away. The veteran of 14 NBA seasons said he then simply asked whether he could have a conversation about the call and received a technical foul for his troubles, setting off fireworks that resulted in Kevin Garnett's getting tagged with a pair of technicals by second-year referee Kane Fitzgerald farther down the court, earning KG an automatic ejection with 4:39 to play in the first half.
Garnett was not available for comment after the game.
"I asked, 'I can't talk right now?'" O'Neal said, mimicking his gentle tone and demeanor. "Just like that, the soft bedroom voice …
"But he gave me a tech. That's too fast. That's way too fast. That's telling guys that they can't ask refs what they did. You're basically taking emotions out of the game.
"You're talking about two technicals on Kevin in a matter of seconds. You gotta be able to have an opportunity to go, 'OK, back away, I got one already, I can't get thrown out.' But to give them that quick?"
Shortly before the start of training camp last month, NBA officials received updated -- and more stringent -- guidelines for calling technical fouls with the goal of handing out more technicals to players who persistently argue calls or display an aggressive demeanor toward officials.
The result? The Celtics already have been tagged with nine technicals in five preseason games. At that rate, Boston would commit roughly 148 technical fouls this season, which would be an NBA record and nearly 40 percent more than last season, when the C's had a pair of antagonists in Kendrick Perkins (knee surgery) and Rasheed Wallace (retirement) who aren't contributing to this fall's lofty count.
"It is what it is," said coach Doc Rivers, using the trademark phrase of Bill Belichick, presumably to avoid any potential fines from the league. Rivers did, however, offer some thoughts on the way the preseason games have been officiated.
"We've got to live with it," he said. "It's a new, kinder, gentler me. What can you do? Listen, I do think, as a league, it's about all of us. It's not just the officials, the players or the coaches. It's all of us. We have to keep making this a better product, and a lot of people smarter than me have decided this is what we need to do. Then that's what we have to do: Adhere to it. I don't think that's that hard."
Are the new rules creating a better product?
"I don't know," Rivers said. "I know we don't want techs. We don't want guys thrown out. It will come to, eventually, not being a knee-jerk thing. Officials will have a better feel on it.
"J.O., I was very surprised. He never raised his voice. He didn't walk away, but it wasn't anything demonstrative. We're going to figure it out. It's just going to take time."
If nothing else, the uproar from Wednesday's game might prompt the league to further examine the new guidelines and assess whether it is happy with them.
The biggest question the Celtics were left with is, how does a quicker technical trigger lead to a better product? Boston players wondered out loud how the ejection of a superstar like Garnett sits with fans who paid top dollar to see a game. O'Neal worried that the elimination of conversation between players and officials could make the game more robotic and prevent players from learning how to avoid getting techs in the future.
"I don't know; refs are making a statement in the preseason, and players are going to have to adjust," Paul Pierce said. "I don't think [Garnett] warranted getting kicked out, but, hey, they're making a stand in the preseason. So by the time the season starts, we have to make adjustments.
"The [referees and league offiials] are going to have to take a second look and see how it affects the game, how it affects the stars. People pay good money to come out and see the stars play. Even though we've got to play by the rules, there has to be some leniency. When a guy turns and looks at you, maybe it doesn't cost you a game. It doesn't cost a player coming out of the game. That's something they have to think real hard about. It's an emotional game; players are going to show emotions, and that's not going to stop."
O'Neal said the new guidelines were a hot topic of conversation when the union's player representatives gathered recently for a preseason summit. He wonders whether the refs themselves would prefer to call the game like it used to be and whether they're simply being pressured to enforce the new rules.
For now, O'Neal suggested, it's "In David Stern We Trust."
But after picking up his second technical in as many nights, O'Neal's head was spinning from the calls. In fact, he barely knew Garnett had been tossed Wednesday.
"I was still dazed by [my technical]," O'Neal said. "By the time I turned around, I heard two whistles and was like, 'OK, well, Kevin's gone.' That's three techs in [a short time]. I'll let the powers-that-be determine [how the game is called]. We're just like [most workers]; you're handed down a list of tasks for your job and you go with it.
"It is what it is."
Chris Forsberg is the Celtics reporter for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.