When his forearm smacked hard into Tyler Hansbrough’s face, the first thing Kevin Garnett did was grab Hansbrough’s arm, almost apologetically.
It didn’t matter.
Garnett said it was unintentional.
“I came, I was firm, I didn’t mean to get him in the face like that,” Garnett said. “I was actually trying to swipe the ball. They called it what it was. It was a physical game. That’s what it was. Part of the game.”
Hansbrough thought it was dirty.
“I guess that’s his game plan,” Hansbrough said. “That’s how he plays. Definitely thought it was cheap though.”
After looking over the replays, referee James Capers ruled it a flagrant-2 and ejected Garnett with 8:24 left in the Celtics’ 94-75 win over the Pacers Friday night. It had been two seasons since Garnett’s last ejection, when he was bounced for appearing to hit an airborne Channing Frye mid-jump shot.
In this instance, Hansbrough said, “I thought they got the call right.”
At that point in the game, Garnett’s loss was negligible.
“We were up 20,” said Rajon Rondo.
Celtics coach Doc Rivers threw his hands up in disbelief immediately after the ruling, but said he understood.
“Honestly, it was so much crap going on at that point,” Rivers said. “I just think [Capers] has been around the game a long time. I think he was thinking, ‘I’m going to do Kevin a favor and get him out of here, because it was getting chippy.’ ”
So chippy, Rivers said, that he had Brandon Bass at the table ready to spell Garnett anyway.
“I could see that, too,” Rivers said. “I really think sometimes that’s what officials do and you can’t blame them for it if that’s what it was.”
After using eight different starting lineups through the first 31 games, Rivers gave the Rubik’s Cube another twist.
He reinserted Bass into the starting lineup along with Garnett, Paul Pierce, Rondo, and a healthy Avery Bradley, going back to the lineup that pushed the Celtics to the postseason a year ago after losing 17 of their first 32 games.
The Celtics are in a similar hole this season — albeit with many more games left — and there were reasons for putting Bass in and moving Jason Collins to the bench.
“We want to stay as big as possible,” Rivers said. “What we didn’t like [about having] Jason in the lineup now that we’re going to play him every night was that with he and Kevin off the floor we get small quickly. So this way, we can keep a big on the floor at all times.’’
Rivers also hoped the move would jump-start Bass, whose scoring (8.0), rebounding (5.3), and minutes (26.1) are all down from last season.
Bass had 4 points and 8 rebounds in 22 minutes.
Room for Green
Having found a home with the Pacers, Gerald Green can look back on his journey from lottery pick to castaway to reclamation with regrets but also perspective.
“When I came here, I was fresh out of high school, didn’t know nothing but thought he knew everything,” Green said of his time with the Celtics. “Now I just feel like I’m a whole lot smarter, a whole lot better of a person on and off the court.
“I had to take a tough course just because of the things I didn’t do. I wasn’t preparing myself like I should have before games. I wasn’t being the professional I should have been. I had to learn the tough way about going overseas and being a professional.”
Green underachieved in two seasons with Boston after being drafted 18th overall in 2005, then washed out of the league in 2009.
After playing in Russia, an opportunity arose last season, and Green played 31 games with the Nets.
Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com