Pit against a Joel Embiid-less, Tyrese Maxey-less Philadelphia 76ers squad, the Boston Celtics dragged their feet through the mud. For the first half of the game, they struggled with turnovers and allowed the short-handed Sixers free reign in the painted area.
Philadelphia dropped 72 points in the first half, by far the most Boston has allowed in a single half this year. Led by Patrick Beverley and De’Anthony Melton, the 76ers were getting under the Celtics’ skin. All the while, the game was getting under Jayson Tatum’s.
With 3:50 remaining in the first quarter, Tatum picked up his first technical. And with just one second left in the third, he earned his second and was ejected from the contest.
Tatum got dinged with a Flagrant 1 for unintentionally smacking Robert Covington in the face. While the refs were on the way to review the call, Tatum let them hear it. Lead official Bill Kennedy tried to get Celtics assistant coach Charles Lee to pull Tatum away, but the Boston star had one too many things to say, and both of the other refs, Nick Buchert and Phenizee Ransom, threw him out simultaneously.
“Was I surprised? Yeah. I was extremely surprised,” Tatum said post-game. “Y’all all saw what happened. Might not know what I said. I guess whatever I said doesn’t matter at this point. I don’t agree with it. One of the assistant coaches who was there with me, he doesn’t agree.”
Tatum was frustrated with the decision after the game, but he was in good spirits. He recalled having a conversation with Kennedy that the other refs took a disliking to.
“They was ready. They was ready to throw me out,” Tatum said of Buchert and Ransom. “The magic words? Did I cuss? No, I didn’t. I didn’t say a cuss word. If you watch the clip, you probably can read my lips. No hand gestures. Me and Bill was having a conversation, and the other two refs [threw me out].”
Fresh off a dominant win over the Chicago Bulls to wrap up the group stage of the In-Season Tournament, the Celtics seemed a step slow against a hungry 76ers team looking to make up for the absence of their two stars. They played hard, physical basketball, and Tatum’s annoyance slowly built up throughout the game.
The first tech was a sign of things to come, as the second was visible from a mile away. But for as irritated as he was by the Celtics’ struggles and the 76ers’ persistence, he still feels as though his reaction didn’t warrant an ejection.
“I’ve been in the league long enough [and] I’ve seen a lot worse be tolerated for a lot longer,” Tatum said. “For those two to throw me out of the game, I was shocked.”
Tatum, who has spoken out in the past regarding the duty to play in every game possible, noted the guilt he felt for fans who spent money to watch him play just for him to get tossed in the third quarter. He also acknowledged his regret for leaving his teammates to play without him.
However, the Celtics got the job done. Led by Al Horford, Derrick White, and Payton Pritchard, Boston rallied, earning a 125-119 win over the 76ers.
But despite Tatum’s ejection and the consequences that could have come from it, Joe Mazzulla felt it best to support his guy rather than rip into him, stating that he’d “rather see that than nothing at all” in terms of intensity.
“Smiled. Gave him a hug. Laughed it off,” Mazzulla said when asked about the conversation he had with Tatum post-game.
In the end, the Celtics got the win, Tatum got to hit the ice bath a bit earlier, and while the frustration seeped out in the moment, he stands on the fact that it was all blown out of proportion.
“Again, I wasn’t that f****** mad. Don’t put that narrative out there,” Tatum said. “I didn’t throw nothing. I said what I said. There was no magic words. I didn’t cuss. Assistant coach was right there, he heard me. I don’t know. Maybe they didn’t want me to play tonight. They were eager to get me out of there.
“And I walked back calmly. I just sat in my chair, got some ice. I was not mad, I didn’t throw anything. It was like a joke — had to laugh it off. So, no. I didn’t cry. I didn’t throw anything. I got my ice and watched the rest of the game. Watched us win.”