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Once a front-line NBA starter, Blake Griffin relishing his role as an agitator in reserve with the Celtics

Blake Griffin (left) managed to get under the skin of Utah Jazz guard Kris Dunn (No. 11, center), who wound up being ejected after drawing a technical for his confrontation with the Celtics reserve power forward.Winslow Townson/Getty

It’s been an interesting week for Blake Griffin, the Celtics spark plug center who got into two altercations/entanglements over the past two games.

The first was Thursday in a 140-99 rout in Milwaukee, when Griffin fouled Thanasis Antetokounmpo, the brother of Giannis Antetokounmpo. A seldom-used reserve for the Bucks, Thanasis drove to the basket and was fouled hard by Griffin, who then grabbed Antetokounmpo to hold him up.

Antetokounmpo delivered a head-butt. The two players were separated. Jaylen Brown offered Griffin his black mask as a playful joke and Antetokounmpo was ejected for a flagrant foul penalty 2.

Antetokounmpo was suspended for Sunday’s game against the 76ers for his actions. As far as basketball fighting code goes, head-butting is generally off limits.


“No, not in a game,” Griffin told the Globe when asked if he had ever been head-butted. “It’s not [NBA protocol], but it’s all good. I didn’t really feel it.”

Griffin explained why he didn’t escalate the altercation with Antetokounmpo following the head-butt.

“Like I said, it wasn’t one of those head-butts that stunned you,” he said. “It’s like, ‘Why did you do that?’ and if I do something stupid like [retaliate], I’m going to have to pay money for it, so like, why not just let it go? They watched it. We made a free throw. They made a free throw. We scored and the game goes on.

“I’m not trying to be out there to start anything. I wrapped him up and that was like a safe foul.”

Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla said head-butting is definitely not standard in NBA altercations but he wouldn’t deny it’s a tool he’s used.

“I may have done that a time or two to somebody,” Mazzulla said. “That’s not something we go over in training camp. I thought Blake handled it really well, just kind of laughing it off, separating himself from it and being the bigger person.”


On Friday in a 122-114 victory against the Jazz, Griffin tried to grab the ball away from Utah guard Kris Dunn after he committed an offensive foul. Dunn, a former Providence standout, shoved Griffin back and was ejected after drawing another technical foul.

Griffin has turned himself into an agitator, a player who annoys opponents with his hustle and grit. He is not afraid to take a hard foul or a charge to give the Celtics an extra possession. He fully understands his role in Boston after years of being one of the league’s premier players and scorers.

“I’ve said it many times, Blake is one of the best, true professional,” said forward Jayson Tatum. “Accepting this role that he’s in, don’t play for some games. Guys are out and now he starts and plays 25 minutes, 12 rebounds, took some charges. It’s great to see somebody that was essentially at the top of this league and now in a different role and doesn’t have an ego at all, and essentially does whatever he needs to do to help us be a better team and it showed tonight.”

Ten grand in sight

Tatum needs 175 points to reach 10,000 for his career and he would become the 14th Celtics to reach that milestone.

The four-time All-Star would need to go on a tear to reach it this season — 43.75 points per game over the final four — but he should reach that mark in the first few games of 2023-24. Tatum is also set to become the first Celtics player ever to average more than 30 points per game, breaking Larry Bird’s single-season mark.


“Ten thousand is a lot,” Tatum said. “I didn’t know how close I was at, but I’m certain probably not this season but early next season it would be cool just to say I’ve scored 10,000 points. That’s a steppingstone. Hopefully I score a lot more. But that’s pretty cool.”

John Havlicek remains the franchise’s all-time leading scorer with 26,395 points, followed by Paul Pierce (24,021) and Bird (21,791).

Gary Washburn is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at Follow him @GwashburnGlobe.