Since then, Pierce has become a respected leader, a champion, a finals most valuable player and a likely Hall of Famer. He is generally more cool-headed than the guy who was ejected from a first-round game against Indiana in 2005, and more conscious of potential consequences. His memory may be selective, however.
Pierce spoke with remorse on Monday, a day after being ejected in the fourth quarter of a 99-90 loss to the . He said he let down his teammates. He vowed to “do a better job of keeping my composure.”
And, he added, “I don’t think nobody here has ever seen me lose my composure — what I consider losing my composure.”
Composure may be in the eye of the beholder. Pierce surely lost it six years ago, in a Game 6 against the , when he threw a forearm into Jamaal Tinsley in the final seconds of regulation. Pierce was ejected, but the Celtics won in overtime.
Back then, Pierce was a young, frustrated All-Star, trapped on a middling team without enough talent. His world, and to an extent his demeanor, changed two years later when the Celtics acquired and Ray Allen. They won the championship in 2008, and Pierce was named M.V.P. of the series.
At 33, Pierce is nearing elder statesman status, with a better sense of his mission and his importance and the consequences of impulsive behavior. What happened Sunday night, then, was something of a throwback moment.
Pierce earned two technical fouls in 59 seconds, both for reacting aggressively to hard fouls. The second technical, with seven minutes left, brought an automatic ejection.
Pierce had just scored 7 straight points for the Celtics, who were rallying back from a 19-point deficit. They were 13 behind when Pierce headed to the locker room. Without him, the rally sputtered and the Heat claimed a 1-0 lead in the second-round series. Game 2 is Tuesday night.
“I was more disappointed at letting my teammates down,” Pierce said before practice at the . He added: “When you put yourself in a situation that you can control and it hurts your team, that’s what I was most upset about. And I can’t do that. I’m too important to this team to be putting myself in that situation.”
In the first instance, James Jones clobbered Pierce around the shoulders on a jump shot. Pierce bellowed angrily at Jones, then shoved his nose into Jones’s cheek. It fell short of a head-butt, as some initially described it, but the aggression could have prompted additional discipline. Both players received technical fouls.
“I’m definitely worried,” Pierce said of a possible suspension, “because if it’s a situation where it affects my team, then it was very selfish.”
League officials later concluded that his actions did not warrant a suspension, removing one major concern for Boston.
The Celtics contended that Jones should have been assessed a flagrant foul. The league agreed and on Monday reclassified his personal foul to a flagrant foul-1, while also rescinding Jones’s technical foul. The league also downgraded ’s flagrant foul (issued in the third quarter) to a personal foul.
The league took no action on Dwyane Wade’s hard foul on Pierce, which led to Pierce’s ejection. Pierce verbally assaulted Wade after the play.
“I probably overreacted,” Pierce said. “I thought I was fouled excessively on both plays, actually.”
In the immediate aftermath of Game 1, Celtics Coach characterized the Heat’s posture as “chippy,” a description that seemed almost complimentary. But the Celtics have generally been the ones applying the extra elbow or shoulder in recent years.
“I expected it that way, honestly,” Rivers said Monday. “That’s fine by us. We don’t mind that. That makes the game enjoyable. But we didn’t handle it very well.”
Rajon Rondo was hampered by early foul trouble and came apart in the fourth quarter after Pierce was ejected. Garnett, who usually leads the team in snarls and body checks, was a nonfactor, scoring only 6 points.
Rivers said the Heat “hit first the entire game,” literally and otherwise. “I thought they played the game with a better force than we played the game with,” he said. “And that’s something that shouldn’t happen.”