Everyone should have known Rick Pitino would not be happy after last night's game at Continental Airlines Arena. His team's good fortune fizzled on the arena's copycat parquet. The Celtics lost to the Nets, 108-100.
Be careful what you say.
"Don't put anything in my face, guys," Pitino snapped to a camera crew sending a brigade of microphones near his noggin. Silence. Someone wanted to ask about the 1:27 mark of the third quarter. That was when official Greg Willard gave Pitino his first technical for protesting a call. Someone wanted to know about the second technical, the one that led Pitino to leave a load of curses at Willard's feet before he left the court. Someone wanted to know why the Nets shot 56 free throws to the Celtics' 25. Someone wanted to know what Pitino thought of Antoine Walker's ejection for an elbow to the face of Chris Gatling one minute into the fourth.
But there was silence.
"If you have questions, ask," the angry man said, "because I'm not gonna make up the questions."
The coach went on to say that he was upset with the foul disparity. There the Celtics were, shooting 54 percent in the first half and only ahead, 56-53. Why just a 3-point lead? Well, because the Nets had 30 free throws in the first half, a staggering number. Pitino was also annoyed that his team's 76-64 third-quarter advantage was whittled away and replaced with an 83-79 deficit at the time of his ejection.
"Obviously, the referees aren't making up calls," Pitino fumed. "But I thought Andrew DeClercq got pushed out of bounds, and more important, I felt I had to sit Travis Knight the whole first half even though I didn't see one foul." But Knight was whistled for two quickies in the first and played only 10 minutes.
Uh-oh. Someone just asked about the John Calipari-Pitino matchup. Why did they do that?
"Come on, let's grow up," he said. "This is pro basketball. Those days left in seventh grade, coaches vs. coaches. This is a players' league. Stop with the silliness. I didn't beat John Calipari for the national title. Kentucky beat UMass."
Actually, that was in a semifinal game. But who was going to mention such a small detail? This was a night when everyone stepped to the court with their attitudes in full display. Bernie Fryer gave Walker a technical in the second quarter for laughing. Jayson Williams (27 points, 13 rebounds) and Pervis Ellison were given double technicals for battling in the post. And less than a minute into the fourth, Walker was given a flagrant foul 2, the most severe, for elbowing Gatling in the nose.
Gatling was guarding him close on the perimeter and Walker either tried to create some space or send a message to him. Depends on whom you ask.
"It was disrespectful of him to throw it," Gatling said. "We have the same agent and had dinner together at the All-Star Game, so I don't know what the problem is."
At the time, Walker, who will lose $ 10,000, said he didn't think he touched Gatling.
"That's his view," Gatling said. "I was the recipient."
"It looked like I hit him," Walker said. "But it looked worse than it really was. I'm going to appeal it."
Pitino said he thought it should have been an offensive foul or double foul, not a flagrant 2. But this was Attitude Night, and the officials gave no indication of giving either side the benefit.
So, when Walker left with his 21 points, the Celtics trailing, 86-81, there was no one to go to. It didn't help that the Celtics went nearly seven minutes without a basket in the third and were outscored during that time, 20-5.
Someone asked Pitino if the Celtics needed to be more physical.
"You look at Travis Knight, Walter McCarty 18 points, and Pervis Ellison," he said. "That doesn't conjure up images of the Oakland Raiders in their prime."
He was lightening up at that point. There was a faint smile. He knows all is not lost. The Celtics play the Nets at the FleetCenter tomorrow. And there may be such a thing as a rivalry again.