SAN ANTONIO — Marcus Smart knew he would get a call from the NBA if he kept it honest after the Celtics’ 108-87 win over the Charlotte Hornets Thursday night. While it was a triumphant night for the team and a hero’s return for Kemba Walker, it was a difficult night for Smart.
He collected five fouls and got into a testy exchange with coach Brad Stevens and assistant coach Jay Larranaga after picking up his fifth foul with 5:57 left in the third quarter and the Celtics leading, 66-54.
Smart barked at official Leon Wood about an offensive foul call and when Stevens yelled at him to maintain his composure, he snapped back.
The two reconciled but the NBA fined Smart $15,000 for his postgame comments about the officiating, which a four-minute session explaining how he feels slighted and singled out by NBA officials. For example, Smart was shoved out of bounds by Charlotte’s Miles Bridges, who was called for a technical foul with 8:50 left in the game.
“A lot of calls that they called, I didn’t understand where the fouls were,” Smart said. “It seems whenever I get the ball and I’m on offense, I can’t get a call. With the Bridges push, I told them, ‘If it was me, you’d probably throw me out of the game. So you clean it up or I will. I allowed y’all, I gave y’all time, y’all keep telling me let us handle it.’
“But at some point as a player, as a man, you gotta protect yourself. If nobody else is going to protect you, you’ve got to protect yourself. If I gotta lose a little bit of money, I’ll lose a little bit of money.”
Smart has accumulated $285,848 in fines during his NBA career through various infractions — technical fouls, fights, obscene gestures, and ejections.
As for the exchange with Stevens, Smart said he was frustrated at what he believes is a double standard regarding how he is officiated.
“I was telling him, especially when everything is going that way, they’re just picking and they’re picking and it’s like they’re eyeing on me and they’re doing it on purpose,” he said. “At some point you’ve got to step in and say something as a coach but since you won’t I’ve got to. I understand from Brad’s standpoint but at the same time as a player’s standpoint, you gotta step in.
“Me and Brad, that’s our relationship, I’ve been with him six years so we have those little moments and it’s over. And we go on to the next one.”
Stevens has not carried such exchanges beyond the game in the past and such was the case Thursday. All was forgiven. It was Marcus being Marcus.
“Obviously I don’t think he agreed with the call before,” Stevens said. “We need Marcus and I’ve told him a number of times how much we need him. But this is the part of Marcus that I love, his fire, his competitiveness. If there’s a moment there he’s upset with us, that’s part of it. We move on pretty quickly. We’ve been together a long time and I’ve been yelled at before and that’s OK. I love him and I trust him and I’ll give him every opportunity.”
Smart has earned a reputation around the NBA as a tenacious defender and fiery player. He grew frustrated Thursday in guarding Charlotte sixth man Devonte’ Graham, who drew two fouls against Smart in the first half. On the second, Smart believed it was an offensive foul, so seconds later, he defended Graham closely and drew a foul of his own, dramatizing the contact to his face.
Smart was called for a third foul on Graham (fourth overall) with 6:08 left in the third period and then an offensive foul just 11 seconds later, which prompted the exchange with Stevens.
“I don’t back down from any challenge,” he said. “Like I said, if I have to lose a little bit of money to show that, to protect myself then I’m going to lose a little bit of money.”
When asked whether it may be best to remove himself from the game if he feels on edge or agitated, Smart said: “I never say that. When a player is going through something like that, when you take him out, if just fuels the fire for him. Let him play and let him get through it. It’s going to pass. But taking him out, you just allow that to build up. I’m never like I need to take a break, I want to keep playing.
“I’ve been here for six years. I know what I’m doing. Let me play.”
Smart said he is definitely treated more harshly by officials because of his history.
“They definitely treat me differently. Everybody sees it,” he said “I’m not going to sit here and talk about it because talking about is going to lose me money. The game’s over so I’ve calmed down but I’ve got to keep playing like I said. If they won’t protect me, I will.”