Thursday, April 24
Plenty of player hatin' among Celtics, Pacers
By Peter May
Special to ESPN.com
BOSTON -- We've seen three technical fouls, one flagrant foul which brought a swift heave-ho, lots of yapping, woofing and whining. And Ron Artest has been on the receiving end of the bad stuff, not the dishing-out end.
Artest hasn't avoided trouble altogether in the first two games of the Celtics-Pacers series. He's been around the trouble spots, but he has not been an instigator, agitator or antagonist -- roles he played to the nines during a combustible regular season. Nope, the man whose name could not be written in the same sentence without the words "suspended" or "flagrant fouls" has been on his best, Cary Grant-ish behavior. The other players, mostly the Celtics' Antoine Walker, have been the prominent chirpers in a series that seems to have spawned more than your average playoff doses of bad blood and hurt feelings after only two games.
There's no historical antipathy between these two teams. They've played each other in the postseason only twice before, both first-round series in 1991 and 1992. The Celtics won them both. The guy who really has a right to beef is Bruno Sundov, who couldn't get playing time while in Indiana and signed with Boston last summer hoping to get just that. He didn't and now he's not even on the Celtics' playoff roster.
So there was no cause for alarm when these two teams ended up being paired against each other in the first round. Oh, Indy coach Isiah Thomas has his memories of Boston, most of them bad, but that was a while ago. And Indiana spent the better part of the season denying they played rough (Don Nelson got that ball rolling) or that Thomas was trying to re-create the Bad Boys. Still, Indiana was the runaway leader in team flagrant fouls, led by the volcanic Artest, who had nine of them.
This did not appear to be anything more than just your basic playoff series -- until the first game.
The usually mild-mannered Tony Battie went after Artest in Game 1 and was called for a Flagrant 2 foul. See ya later, Tony. Somehow, the Celtics managed to win that one, as Thomas' fourth-quarter substitutions came under fire. Game 2 produced three technical fouls, one on Paul Pierce for a third-man-in type shoving foul on Artest. Walker and Jermaine O'Neal got "tangled up" and were called for twin technicals. Walker and Reggie Miller exchanged bonbons throughout Game 2 as well, as the Pacers changed their defense and had Miller guarding Walker on the perimeter.
It doesn't take much to get Walker going. He's one of the league's more profligate trash talkers, which may explain why he also is one of the more unpopular fellows outside of Massachusetts. I remember asking Rick Pitino if he ever tried to get Walker to tone down his act, either at Kentucky or with the Celtics. Pitino's response: "He has toned it down. You should have seen him in high school."
After Game 2, Walker talked about the Celtics not getting involved in all the Pacers' "stupid stuff." Then, prior to Game 3, he was asked about Miller, who was a big factor in Indy's victory which knotted the series. According to Walker, Miller must spend his summers at the Vlade Divac Flop School. Tom Heinsohn always called such theatrics "doing a Stanislavski," a reference to the late Russian theater great Konstantin Stanislavski.
"Reggie, he's not really a factor for me," Walker said. "It's tough with a guy like that, who flops a lot. He's a veteran, so he's going to get the calls in that situation. He just spends the whole game falling down. It's tough to play against a guy like that.
|The hard foul of Tony Battie, right, on Ron Artest got the bad blood flowing.|
"You wish he would just man-up and guard you. But he's not going to do that. That's what he's done his whole career. He's a big flopper. Until the referees make an emphasis not to give it to him, he's going to get those calls. So, I've got to play smart. I've got to play within the system. I can't get caught up in going against him one-on-one."
Walker wasn't finished.
"They want to claim they're tough," he said of the Pacers. "They want to portray that image. But the league is soft now. It's not a bad boy league. It's not the same league that played in the 80s, early 90s. You can't even hand-check no more. So, it's a different league. If they want to feel like they're playing physical, we're ready to take on the challenge. That doesn't bother us at all."
Miller entered the postseason having played in 109 playoff games. Walker had appeared in 16. Miller guarded Michael Jordan, so he's not going to be cowed by the prospect of having to deal with a 6-foot-9 forward who prefers the outside to the inside. Neither Miller, nor any of his teammates, think this series has produced anything unusual in the first two games. Hah!
How about Artest playing 88 out of a possible 96 minutes in the first two games? With some assistance from his big friends, Artest helped hold Pierce to 13-of-42 shooting. Indiana basically outplayed the Celtics for most of the two games, the one blip being Pierce's fourth-quarter heroics in Game 1.
Celtics coach Jim O'Brien and defensive assistant/guru Dick Harter both said they'd want Artest on their team to defend the planet. They said it would be a waste of time to try to get under Artest's skin, although Harter offered that the Celtics wouldn't object if Artest all of a sudden went Vesuvius.
But now there's another wrinkle -- the Defensive Player of the Year award.
It went to Ben Wallace, as most thought it would. Artest was second, although his second place was more like Twice A Prince's in the 1973 Belmont Stakes, 31 lengths behind Secretariat. Artest said he was disappointed. He said he was deserving of the award. Thomas echoed similar sentiments.
Artest will continue to harass Pierce throughout the series, getting help from the likes of O'Neal or Brad Miller when possible. The Pacers are crossing their fingers that Artest plays under control, because they need him. Pacers president Donnie Walsh said, "I think Ronnie realizes he doesn't have to do those things. He knows now that it doesn't give him an edge and it hurts the team."
You can be sure Celtics fans, looking for a playoff demon, will focus on Artest. Or maybe Reggie Miller. One thing seems certain: The yapping isn't going to stop anytime soon.
||You wish he would just man-up and guard you. But he's not going to do that. That's what he's done his whole career. He's a big flopper. ”
||— Antoine Walker on Reggie Miller
Peter May, who covers the NBA for the Boston Globe, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.