Joe Mazzulla quipped about not knowing how much technical foul fines cost when asked ahead of the preseason opener if he’d be the head coach who interacts with officials. He’ll know now.
Crew chief Marc Davis sent rebukes toward the Celtics while sticking to the rulebook in a pool report explaining decisions to eject Mazzulla and Grant Williams in Bostons’ loss to the Bulls. He called comments by Mazzulla unsportsmanlike and deemed Williams’ contact with official Cheryl Flores intentional after she called a blocking foul. Williams responded by rising, running past and grazing Flores.
Jayson Tatum picked up a second technical foul in four games to spark the tense third quarter, swinging his arm following a goaltending call. Nikola Vucevic’s reaction to a foul call after halftime got deemed in the heat of the moment, shaking the ball over his head. Davis emphasized the blocking foul call that set off Grant’s passionate response was correct. The Celtics lost, 120-102, blowing an 19-point first quarter lead while caught up in the calls.
Mazzulla admitted the need to keep his composure post-game. Tatum defended players showing emotion. Echoing similar comments from his past. He addressed individual calls and their validity rather than a growing trend that Boston might have a microscope on its interactions with officials. Mazzulla and other Celtics brushed off that notion in Montreal weeks ago after Tatum got ejected from a preseason game, and now it’s impacting the regular season.
“Right is right and wrong is wrong,” Tatum said. “If you’re gonna call a tech on me for that, anybody can see that what Vuc did probably should’ve been a tech if that’s what we’re doing tonight. We are adults, we are professionals, but it’s a competitive sport. We should be allowed to show emotion to a certain degree, and it just sometimes feels like you can’t. I guess that’s what Joe was probably upset about.”
Suspended Celtics head coach Ime Udoka asserted around this time last year that his team would not be one that complained to officials, period. He benched Grant during the preseason to make a statement the team struggled to hear all season. Tatum, Grant, Marcus Smart and even Udoka picked up technical fouls at the wrong time, like before half in a four-point loss to the Warriors in December, or didn’t get back in transition while complaining.
That cost the Celtics again on Monday in a loss where Chicago beat the high-powered Boston transition offense, 14-10, on the break. Smart shared some frustration after halftime as the Bulls ran away with a 35-15 third quarter after winning the second by 20 points.
The Celtics had held up preventing transition scoring through three games by hitting shots on offense, but went cold and showed the continued damage their league-worst defense against put backs and 28th-ranked allowed efficiency to pick-and-roll ball handlers could do to their efforts. Chicago cut Boston’s lead to single-digits by the end of the first.
“We took our foot off the gas, I guess,” Smart said. “They started making shots, we started missing shots, and I guess it started to affect us on the defensive end. We can’t have that, no matter whether we’re making shots or not, we’ve got stay consistent on the defensive end and we’ve got to help each other out.”
Mazzulla’s growing propensity to avoid timeouts didn’t help matters as Chicago’s run grew to 30-9 across more than seven minutes of game time before the Celtics called their first timeout of the game. It’s another way he’s differentiating himself from his predecessor, who’d favor halting runs early in their development with timeouts. Sometimes less than one minute into a game.
The interim head coach told CLNS Media that Tatum’s ejection in Montreal didn’t concern him despite reflections to last year’s complaining. Grant shared his comment to the officials that night, “ref the game not your emotions,” that earned him a technical, and three piled up on Tatum as he left the floor in an untimely manner.
Tatum didn’t speak after that game, later acknowledging that what bothered him most from the ordeal was that Celtics fans in Montreal missed more opportunity to see him play.
“That was the first time I ever got thrown out of any sporting event,” he said. “…it’s preseason, so I didn’t get fined any money. I learned my lesson.”
Tatum has only acknowledged the emotion of the game as the biggest issue in his efforts to avoid interactions with officials. One nearly cost the Celtics a game against the Bucks, Tatum hanging his head realizing he botched a breakout coverage on Wes Mathews, who hit a three that Derrick White barely prevented with a take foul last postseason. Those fast break bailouts no longer exist.
Now, the Celtics are battling for their reputation with officials. And despite reverence Draymond Green alluded to when he wasn’t ejected from Game 2 of the Finals, Boston has to earn its own. It’s worth wondering if anybody’s left to tell them how to do so.
“Anybody can get riled up, we’re playing an extremely competitive sport in front of thousands of people, millions of people watching on TV at a very fast pace,” Tatum said. “It’s not like we’re robots. It would be impossible to think nobody show any type of emotional reaction, and sometimes it kind of feels like you can’t show a reaction, or you get penalized for it. It’s a lot of grey area. So that’s why certain things are techs, certain things are not depending on each game, I guess and who’s reffing. That can be the tough part as a player or coach. Whether you’re an outspoken person or a soft spoken person, that atmosphere in competition, you just show emotions.”