It started with a swipe by Jason Terry. It ended with Terry being held back from going after J.R. Smith.
In between, Smith retaliated with his right elbow, one that caught Terry square in the face and drew a Flagrant-2 foul from the referees. That meant an automatic ejection for Smith, and could have repercussions for Game 4 on Sunday, when the Knicks will try to close the Celtics out after a 90-76 win on Friday night at TD Garden. The win put the Knicks up, 3-0, in the first-round series.
An incensed Terry had to be restrained by teammates; he seemed intent on going after Smith. Smith, however, headed straight for the sideline. He didn’t attempt to engage Terry, and seemed contrite after the game.
“I was trying to draw the foul,” Smith said. “He reached in one time. I thought he was going to reach in again a second time. I was going to try get a quick shot off, but they made a call that the refs saw. Not really much I could do about it.”
As soon as the elbow connected with 7:06 to go in the fourth quarter, Terry fell on his back, and the referee entered the picture. Smith was gone, headed down the tunnel.
“He’ll learn from it,” Knicks coach Mike Woodson said. “I don’t think he was trying to hurt the kid, I thought he was trying to clear space. But they saw it differently and he had to exit the game. That’s something he’ll learn from, and I’m going to stay in his ear and make sure he learns from it.”
Doc Rivers, meanwhile, was asked to comment on the incident. As he said, “I hate doing it, you know that.”
“I don’t know,” Rivers said. “I wish I was playing. I didn’t like that. They were up. I’m going to stop. I’ve already given up money.”
Rivers was already fined $25,000 this week for labeling the referees’ calls on Kevin Garnett “horrendous” after Game 2.
And while his coach was trying to hold back from speaking his mind, Terry held his tongue entirely. The guard didn’t speak to the media after the game.
It was the second time in six weeks that Smith has been called for a Flagrant-2. On March 11, Smith came down hard on Golden State’s Harrison Barnes, catching him in the face and chest. Smith said he thought that was just a hard foul, and the call was eventually changed from a Flagrant-2 to a Flagrant-1.
Smith finished Friday night with 15 points, tied with Raymond Felton and behind Carmelo Anthony’s 26. He added four rebounds and three assists, playing 24 minutes before he was told to head to the locker room.
“I don’t really know,” he said when asked if the ejection was warranted. “I’m not really the judge of that. I’m going to let them do what they do. I’m really trying to stay away from getting into it with the officials. I’ve got to keep my head.
“It was a bad basketball play on my behalf just because I got kicked out of the game. My team needs me. Just got to get ready to play Sunday.”
The question, though, is whether he will be playing on Sunday. Flagrant fouls are reviewed by the league, and could mean more discipline in the form of a fine or suspension.
“I’m going to prepare like I’m playing,” Smith said. “Hopefully I do play. It wasn’t anything intentional. I think they should go back and watch the video. I think they’ll see that.”