Rajon Rondo's temper may have added some intensity to the Celtics-Nets rivalry, but it might also cost the Celtics a handful of games without their All-Star point guard.
In the midst of an awful Celtics performance against the rejuvenated Brooklyn Nets Wednesday night at TD Garden, Rondo was involved in a multi-player fracas that spilled into the seats under the east basket. Rondo and two Nets were ejected with 29.5 seconds left in the second quarter of Brooklyn's 95-83 win.
The Nets took the lead midway through the first quarter and cruised to victory, but the story line was Rondo's ejection and a possible suspension by the NBA. That decision should come Thursday.
Rondo's streak of consecutive games with 10 or more assists ended at 37. He finished with three in 18 minutes. He left the arena following the game flanked by a team security guard and did not speak with reporters.
The melee began after Brooklyn's Kris Humphries fouled Kevin Garnett, his arm landing near Garnett's head while he was in midair, forcing Garnett to fall to the floor. Rondo, who rammed into Humphries on two occasions on first-half drives, charged the burly Nets forward, throwing two punches before Jason Terry tried to come between the two.
Rondo continued to charge Humphries and they tumbled into the seats beneath the basket. Several more players became involved but the altercation ended quickly after Rondo and Humphries were separated. Rondo, Humphries, and Nets forward Gerald Wallace were ejected.
It was the third time in the past 10 months that Rondo was ejected from a game. He was tossed Feb. 19 for tossing a ball at official Sean Wright and suspended two games. He was suspended for Game 2 of the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs against the Hawks for bumping into official Marc Davis in Game 1.
"Well, yeah, I don't think anybody should get thrown out of a game," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said when asked whether he was disappointed in Rondo. "So we all have to keep our emotions. Hell, we didn't come to play as a team. That was awful, basketball-wise.
"You know, if I'm Brooklyn and the league, you've got to think we're pretty soft. We're a soft team right now. We have no toughness. That [fight's] not toughness."
Lead official James Capers said, "Rondo initiated everything that preceded after the foul. And when he and Humphries go into the stands, they are involved in a fight. Fighting is an automatic ejection."
Capers also said Wallace was ejected for participating and had a previous technical, so a second meant automatic ejection. Garnett also received a technical foul.
"I thought it was a bad foul because Kevin could have gotten hurt," Rivers said. "He's in the air. He took a bad foul. Rondo saw that and probably overreacted, obviously. I think at that point we were getting our tails kicked and we were probably frustrated. It was a hard foul and unnecessary foul. The play was over and he pushed him down in the air.
"But honestly, I think that's what they think of us. They think they can push you around."
The Celtics, who were trailing, 51-35, at the time of the brawl, were getting embarrassed on the offensive boards, and were allowing the Nets numerous open 3-pointers. Rondo had two previous shots blocked by Humphries, including one in which he took a hard fall following a layup attempt that was blocked.
"It was just a hard foul, I thought the antics afterward were a bit extra but it was a hard foul," Garnett said. "We all back each other up here. This game had a lot of physical parts to it to begin with. You have to protect each other. It's a family around here."
The Celtics were also beset with some injuries. Chris Wilcox left with an illness and Jeff Green sprained his right knee, but returned. And Courtney Lee injured his right arm landing awkwardly after chasing a rebound, but he also returned.
"This ain't the Girl Scouts, this ain't the Boy Scouts," said Garnett. "This is the NBA. It's going to be a physical part of it. And everybody's going to have to adjust to it and you're not going to be able to beat it. That's period. Point blank."
The Celtics appeared frazzled offensively without Rondo. Paul Pierce, an 87-percent free throw shooter, missed five of six in the third quarter, prompting a fan to scream, "C'mon Dwight Howard."
The Celtics committed 17 turnovers, hit one of seven 3-pointers, and allowed the Nets 17 offensive rebounds. Garnett and Brandon Bass led the Celtics with 16 points each. Joe Johnson paced Brooklyn with 18 points and reserves Andray Blatche and Jerry Stackhouse each scored 17.
"We got fired up for one game, against Oklahoma City, and then other than that we let our guards right back down," Rivers said.
"You know, Kevin, Paul, and Rondo and a couple other guys – it's almost like they understand the jersey they're wearing and the pride. And everyone else – and not everyone – it's almost like they think because they put the jersey on that they are something.
"You've got to earn it here. And you've got to understand when we play, every team is attacking.
"It's a big game for them. What I saw tonight, honestly, was I thought Brooklyn looked at this game as a huge game. Huge game. They want to make the playoffs this year, they want to win the division. They've struggled with us for how many years?
"And we showed up to play basketball. That's what I saw."
Gary Washburn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.