Celtics, Hawks escape punishment for skirmish, leaving bench
WALTHAM, Mass. -- Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers remembers being in a couple of fights in his playing days, so he understands what was going through Kevin Garnett's mind when he pushed off from a referee who was trying to make peace.
"Right afterward, I felt like a dunce," Rivers said. "At the time, though, there was nothing in me that didn't feel like it was the right thing to do."
The rough-and-tumble playoff series between the Celtics and Atlanta Hawks returns to Boston for a fifth game on Wednesday night, with both teams getting good news from the league after practice on Tuesday. NBA spokesman Tim Frank said there would be no fines or suspensions for a Game 4 altercation that resulted in double technicals to each side.
"The game's emotional for everyone," Rivers said after the team's workout but before the league's decision was announced. "It's easy to say, 'Just step away.' We, as a team, have to stop putting the league in a position where they have to make a decision. That's on us; that's not on the league."
The incident in the second quarter of Atlanta's 97-92 victory on Monday night began when Garnett cleared out Zaza Pachulia with an elbow, and the Hawks forward went forehead-to-forehead with the Celtics star.
Referee Ed Rush grabbed Garnett, but he, too, got a push as Garnett struggled to break free. "The referee grabbed me," Garnett said.
"In the heat of the battle like that, you never know what's going on," said Hawks forward Marvin Williams, who also escaped discipline. "You never know who's grabbing you. I'm sure he had no intention of hurting anybody. He just plays hard. It got pretty emotional out there."
Williams and Celtics center Kendrick Perkins both admitted stepping onto the floor to see what was happening -- a no-no in the NBA, especially with commissioner David Stern in the crowd. But they were not punished under the rule designed to keep incidents from escalating into bench-clearing brawls.
"Technically, I broke the rule," Williams said. "But I had no intentions of doing anything on the court. I was just trying to see what was going on."
Said Perkins: "I didn't realize it until I watched the tape."
Hawks coach Mike Woodson said his team would have struggled to replace Williams. While the NBA-best Celtics have a deep bench, Atlanta has a more precipitous drop-off once Woodson gets out of his regular rotation.
"I don't want to lose anybody," the coach said. "I can't combat their team because they are a lot deeper than our team. I want to go to war with all my guys."
The Celtics cruised to the best record in the NBA in the regular season, earning home-court advantage against the Hawks and everyone else. They won the first two games and seemed ready to sweep the best-of-seven series.
But the Hawks held serve at home to tie the series two games apiece and guarantee themselves another home game.
"The biggest thing is guys are just playing, playing freely," Williams said. "No one expected us to win any games. But we came to Atlanta and got two games. Hopefully we can get one in Boston."
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press