SACRAMENTO, Calif. – In a calm, precise motion, Brad Stevens secured the lid on the marker that he used to draw up plays on a dry erase clipboard.
Then the Celtics coach placed the marker and the clipboard down on the scorer’s table and began walking toward Marc Davis.
Stevens had been barking at Davis for most of Saturday night here, unhappy with Davis’ officiating during the game between the Celtics and Sacramento Kings.
But with 35.7 seconds left in the fourth quarter of his team’s 105-98 loss to the Kings at Sleep Train Arena, Stevens had one last thing to say, the tipping point coming after Davis had ejected one of Stevens’s players, Gerald Wallace.
Stevens did not run toward the well-muscled official, who stood only a few feet away. Stevens did not remove his dark jacket. He did not raise his hands or his voice.
The coach who is well known for keeping his composure held onto it, and what he said to Davis was brief but also pointed and direct – he got his point across.
And almost as soon as Stevens said his piece, Davis blew his whistle, but by then, Stevens had begun to turn his back to Davis and walk in the other direction.
For a brief moment, Stevens turned his head back to Davis as Davis raised his right arm, pointed his right index finger and threw it forward, tossing Stevens out of the game. Celtics fans stood to cheer, and many Kings fans roared as well.
Stevens started on his way, having earned his first NBA technical foul and his first ejection at any level.
“It was surprising, but I’m happy for him,” Wallace said. “Welcome to the NBA.”
Then Stevens stopped. He turned back around and raised his left hand and waved it, trying to gain the attention of Sacramento head coach Mike Malone.
“Good game,” Stevens said multiple times, adding, “Be safe.”
Phil Lynch, the Celtics’ director of team security, joined Stevens, and the two walked off the court and disappeared into the tunnel toward his Celtics’ locker room.
Stevens’ face remained as still as stone, hiding the anger that burned within.
“Bottom line is, I know…” Stevens began.
Then he stopped.
“I’ll just avoid talking about it,” he said. “That’s probably the best thing.”
Stevens said he didn’t know what Wallace said to Davis to earn a second technical foul (and thus an ejection) after Wallace was whistled for fouling Kings guard Isaiah Thomas. “He was a little frustrated because I was right and he was wrong,” Wallace said of Davis.
But Stevens’s forced exit, while surprising, capped off a physical game that featured 47 combined personal fouls, four technical fouls, one flagrant foul and two ejections. Aside from all the fouls, the game featured big swings.
Playing their third game in four nights, the undermanned Celtics, who were without starters Rajon Rondo (rest), Avery Bradley (ankle) and Jared Sullinger (mild concussion), charged back from a 16-point deficit to tie the score at 85 with 6:23 left in the fourth quarter.
The Kings then used a 12-4 run to seize control. They held on from there.
“One thing I will say is I’m really proud of the effort those guys put in,” Stevens said.
The Celtics (19-38) lost their fourth consecutive game and for the fifth time in six games. They’re 0-12 on the road against Western Conference foes.
The Celtics and Kings also flip-flopped spots in the standings – Boston now has the fourth-worst record in the NBA while Sacramento (19-36) has the fifth-worst.
Jeff Green had a hot-cold night but led the Celtics with a game-high 29 points on 25 shots. Humphries added 19 points and Jerryd Bayless scored 16.
Seven Kings scored in double figures, led by 22 points from Rudy Gay. Center DeMarcus Cousins struggled, finishing with 13 points and 7 rebounds. Thomas had 21 points and a career-high 12 assists.
But the physicality overshadowed any individual performances. The intensity ramped up late in the first half, when Humphries and Cousins were each issued technical fouls after fighting for a rebound.
Several hard fouls followed from there and players continually tussled after the whistle. It seemed late in the game that a fight might break out at any moment, especially between Cousins and Humphries, who went at it all night long.
Cousins nearly earned a second technical foul several times in the fourth quarter after yelling at the officials as he complained about Humphries.
“Who is that? Next question. I’m not going to give him the attention,” Cousins said.
“We were just playing,” Humphries said. “I don’t really want to comment on that.”
The tension seemed unusual because when the teams met in Boston earlier this month, the only back-and-forth was between two players who have a history.
“The only time it was chippy in Boston was me and Bayless,” said Thomas, the Kings’ point guard, “but today it seemed like it was everybody, even the refs.”
Speaking of the officials, Wallace said. “I felt like they were protecting players, especially on their team. They do stuff and don’t get called and we were getting called for petty things.
“I spoke my mind, but at the end of the night, they had the momentum, they rode it in the fourth quarter and they were able to get a win.”
Wallace added, “They got to do what they wanted to do, and we weren’t allowed to do it.”
And so the Celtics lost again, but they made it interesting, and Stevens made history.