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BOSTON -- Jeff Green, then with the Oklahoma City Thunder, happened to be flipping through television channels back on Jan. 28 when he stumbled upon the national broadcast of the game between the Boston Celtics and Phoenix Suns.
Even as a casual observer, he couldn't help but be intrigued by the intensity of a nonconference game that saw tempers repeatedly flare, culminating with Boston coach Doc Rivers and forward Kevin Garnett getting ejected during the Celtics' worst loss of the 2010-11 season.
It's a good thing Green, dealt to Boston last week, got that glimpse, or the emotions on display Wednesday night during his TD Garden debut might have seemed odd.
|Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo were fired up until the very end of Wednesday's game against the Suns, when Rondo was fouled in final second.|
"I had seen how heated it was," Green said. "I was talking to [Garnett] before the game and [the Celtics] were ready for this game. That's why they came out so intense in the first couple minutes."
Garnett, whose dust-up with Channing Frye in the first meeting led to not only his ejection but a critique of his on-court decorum by Suns coach Alvin Gentry in the days that followed, responded Wednesday night by connecting on 12 of 14 shots for 28 points, his season high, to go with 11 rebounds in a 115-103 triumph.
Garnett flat out abused Frye, hitting his first five shots while putting up 12 first-quarter points in less than 10 minutes of action. That helped Boston build an early double-digit lead that ballooned as high as 29 in the third quarter, by which time Garnett had done all his damage.
"I didn't like the way I played the last time we played the Suns, so I made it a point this time to play better, and that's what I did," said Garnett, who then shot his eyebrows skyward a few times as if acknowledging he had given a stock answer when clearly this game meant more than your typical Wednesday joust.
Pressed on the hailstorm of criticism he received from Phoenix (and beyond) for a low-blow on Frye, Garnett sounded off a bit on the Suns.
"I don't really care [about what Phoenix said], but don't make stuff up, especially when it's not true," Garnett said. "I'm far from dirty. I play the game really hard, I play with my heart, and I'm never going to make excuses about that. So who cares what they're talking about?"
Try as he might to ignore it, Garnett reached his boiling point late in Wednesday's game when, according to multiple Celtics, Gentry injected himself into verbal warfare from the bench, directing his venom at Garnett.
Garnett got tagged with a technical foul for barking back with 16.2 seconds remaining. He played coy afterward, but took a not-so-veiled shot at Gentry and Co. when asked about the tech.
"Oh, Alvin Gentry was asking me for tickets for the first round of the playoffs and I told him I'd hook him up," Garnett said.
Asked if it was uncommon to hear an opposing coach barking at a player, Garnett nodded and said, "Very uncommon, but they're an uncommon team."
Even Rivers, who typically strays from all the extracurricular talk, made a point in his postgame remarks to express disappointment in how the final seconds played out. (Rajon Rondo also drew a last-second foul while trying to put up a final shot.)
Rivers also didn't hide from the fact that his players were extra motivated for the game.
"I think all our guys were [motivated]," Rivers said. "That's what the explosion early was about. And the tech at the end of the game, I thought that was not a great tech, in my opinion. I thought [the Phoenix] bench, their coaches were talking, which I don't think you should ever do if you have a suit and tie on and actually can't play. I don't think you should be doing a lot of talking to the players on the floor. It's just my opinion."
Gentry shrugged at a question about whether Garnett's play stemmed from the attack on his character.
"I don't know, you have to ask him that," Gentry said. "I'm sure if it is, Doc hopes he gets pissed off at every coach in the league. I don't see anything. I think we're making a big deal out of nothing. In the grand scheme of things, it's one game that we play, and he played great, [so] you've got to give him credit. He played great defensively, and offensively made everything going to the basket, made some jump shots. He's tough to guard in those situations."
"Those situations" might as well have been referring to times when Garnett has extra motivation -- not that he typically needs any.
Few things draw better results out of Garnett than verbal sparring with an opponent. Just ask the likes of Joakim Noah, Charlie Villanueva or any of the other so-called "nobodies" on whom Garnett has taken out his aggression this season.
Rivers didn't have to worry about getting his troops inspired for Wednesday's game. He could tell from the pregame walk-through that their intensity was on point. It only faded after the Celtics had built a 29-point lead in the third quarter, allowing the Suns to make things interesting until the final moments.
Rivers wouldn't take the bait when asked if the Suns did Boston a favor by yapping. But the answer was obvious.
"Well, I don't know if they did or not, but we were definitely alert," Rivers said. "You could see it in the shootaround. You know, it's rare that I say, 'Well, we're going to play well' before a game. Half the time when I say it, I'm wrong.
"But I was right today."
Chris Forsberg covers the Celtics for ESPNBoston.com.