While the Celtics deserved to lose Monday against the Chicago Bulls because of their lack of rebounding, defensive intensity, and shot making, the officiating took center stage because of four Boston technical fouls in the second half.
Interim coach Joe Mazzulla and forward Grant Williams were ejected, while Jayson Tatum picked up his second technical of the season for waving his hand in frustration after being called for a goaltend.
From the early going, it was apparent the Celtics weren’t going to get the benefit of the whistle; at halftime the Bulls had attempted 19 free throws to their three. It’s prudent to examine exactly what happened, and determine whether the Celtics were shortchanged by the officiating.
Williams’ ejection was the most egregious, coming after being called for a block on Zach LaVine. The background story is Williams had been called for an illegal screen by first-year official Cheryl Flores on Alex Caruso. The screen was hard, and Caruso crumbled because he didn’t see Williams, but Williams believed he was set.
On the next play, Williams thought he took a charge from LaVine and angrily rose when he was called for the block. He made contact with Flores, who made the call. Flores immediately ejected him. Williams had to be escorted to the tunnel, with more choice words for Flores.
“After it is correctly judged a blocking foul on Williams, he jumps up and approaches official [Cheryl] Flores and makes intentional physical contact with her,” lead official Marc Davis said in the postgame pool report, “and he is ejected as per rule for this sportsmanship act.”
The officials considered the contact intentional though it appeared Williams didn’t see Flores as he was protesting the call. The NBA could levy discipline if they rule Williams intentionally made contact with Flores; no decision was released Tuesday.
The Tatum tech at the 7:21 mark of the third quarter essentially led to Mazzulla’s ejection. Tatum thought he blocked Ayo Dosunmu’s layup without goaltending and waved his arm in frustration. Official Natalie Sago called Tatum for the tech, which led to Mazzulla’s issues a few minutes later.
At the 4:53 mark, Chicago’s Nikola Vucevic was called for a foul on Jaylen Brown. After the call, a frustrated Vucevic grabbed the ball and motioned forward forcibly with both arms, Flores needing to move to avoid being hit.
It was then that Mazzulla screamed to Sago, who was standing across the floor, about why Vucevic wasn’t treated similarly for his frustration. Davis called Vucevic’s action “a heat of the moment reaction with no overt act,” ruling it “does not violate the Respect for the Game guidelines.”
Mazzulla stepped on the floor, but during the stoppage of play when Brown was about to step to the free throw line. Mazzulla had been yelling at Sago prior; Davis intervened when he heard Mazzulla doing it again.
“After previously being warned at 4:53 in the [third] quarter, he comes onto the court making unsportsmanlike comments and is assessed his first technical foul,” Davis said. “He does not get off the floor and continues to point and complain and is assessed his second technical foul and is ejected as per rule.”
Davis wasn’t the subject of Mazzulla’s anger, but still stepped in and called the technical fouls. The question is whether it was attributed to Mazzulla’s inexperience. Would Davis have called those techs on Gregg Popovich or Erik Spoelstra?
Mazzulla took the responsibility for being ejected, but he did have the right to know why Vucevic wasn’t called for a similar technical for slamming the ball in anger as Tatum was when he waved his arms.
“Anybody can get riled up and we’re playing an extremely competitive sport in front of thousands of people and millions of people watching on TV,” Tatum offered as an explanation for his emotion. “It’s not like we’re robots. It would be impossible to think nobody shows any kind of emotion or reaction. Sometimes it kind of feels like you can’t show a reaction or you get penalized for it. There’s a lot of gray area.
“Certain things are techs, certain things are not depending on each game and who’s reffing it.”
Tatum said he was stunned when the technical was called.
”Yeah, I was looking away, looking at the crowd away from the play,” he said. “That’s my confusion when Vucevic catches the ball and he jumps, but he didn’t slam it. I wasn’t necessarily trying to argue for him to get a tech, but he didn’t get called. If I’m going to get called for that, then it’s got to be the same [for Vucevic]. I don’t think what he did was a tech. I don’t think what I did was a tech.
“I’m turned away, not even looking at Marc, looking into the crowd and then [Sago] called it. And I’m just like, here we go again. Anybody could see what Vucevic was doing was a tech if that’s what we’re doing tonight. You should be allowed to show emotion to a certain degree, and sometimes it feels like you can’t. I guess that’s what Joe was probably upset about.”