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ATLANTA -- Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo said he did not intentionally bump referee Marc Davis in the closing moments of Sunday's 83-74 loss to the Atlanta Hawks in an Eastern Conference quarterfinals matchup at Philips Arena, an incident that got him ejected from the game and leaves him facing a possible suspension.
Rondo bumped Davis while protesting a foul call against teammate Brandon Bass. Rondo's initial outburst earned him a technical foul -- one he says he deserved -- but he defended himself after the game, saying he knows better than to initiate contact with a referee, particularly at this time of the season.
"Obviously I was upset about the call and I said some words to Marc," said Rondo, who finished the night with 20 points and 11 assists. "I deserved the first tech and, as I was walking, I thought (Davis) stopped, my momentum carried me into him -- I even think I tripped on his foot. I didn't intentionally chest-bump him. But that's what it appears to be."
The Celtics, who trailed by double digits for much of the game, had whittled Atlanta's lead to 78-74 with 41 seconds to play. Atlanta's Joe Johnson had lost control of the ball and both the Hawks' Josh Smith and Boston's Kevin Garnett dove to the floor in a scramble for the loose ball. Smith came up with it and Bass was whistled for his sixth foul when he tried to reach around Smith's flailing body to force a jump ball.
Rondo erupted when Davis whistled the play dead and called the infraction against Bass. As Davis turned to signal the initial technical foul to the scorer's table, Rondo pursued and bumped into Davis' back. Davis immediately signaled for another technical and the automatic ejection.
"It doesn't matter what I thought," Rondo said when asked what made him so upset. "I thought Josh had traveled. I thought it was a jump ball. But that's not my job. They made the call and it's what it is."
Now Rondo will wait to see if the league will hand down further punishment. The NBA rulebook states, "Any player or coach guilty of intentional physical contact with an official shall automatically be suspended without pay for one game. A fine and/or longer period of suspension will result if circumstances so dictate."
The question is whether Rondo intentionally initiated contact with Davis.
"It's out of my control," Rondo said. "Obviously, I want to be there for my teammates, but other than that, I have no control right now."
Getting in some immediate lobbying, Celtics coach Doc Rivers saw things a bit differently than the replay showed. Not surprisingly, he doesn't think Rondo deserves a suspension.
"I'm always worried, but I would be surprised if that happens," Rivers said. "I thought Rondo was walking toward Marc, and Marc turned back toward him, and that's when Rondo bumped him. ... That's all it was, in my opinion. But we'll see."
Smith said he was definitely fouled as he scrambled for the loose ball with Bass.
"That was the right call they made," Smith said of the potentially series-altering play. "I'm not sure what happened with Rondo. That will be up to the league to see what he did wrong. You never know what's going to happen, but we'll definitely factor him in going to tomorrow."
Asked if he said anything to his teammates, Rondo answered, "They all thought that I was obviously in the wrong. But it may seem that I bumped him, but like I said, I didn't intentionally chest-bump him. I know the rules. Like I said, my momentum carried me into him. I thought he stopped and that's what it appeared to be."
The league handed down at least three one-game suspensions this season for making contact with a referee, on Orlando's Hedo Turkoglu (vs. Chicago on March 8), Phoenix's Robin Lopez (vs. Toronto on Jan. 24) and Lakers coach Mike Brown (vs. Utah on Feb. 4).
Garnett said he didn't see the bump, but supported Rondo. He also said the Celtics will be ready to play if their point guard is unable to dress for Game 2.
"It affects us a lot," Garnett said. "(Rondo is) our leader. At the same time, whatever the decision is or whatever the results are, we have to be able to play without him and we will be prepared either way."
Said captain Paul Pierce: "I don't think (the contact) was done purposely, but that's up to the league at this point to make a decision, hopefully we'll have him for Game 2. If not, we have guys in this room that are more than capable of stepping in."
Two years ago in the opening round of the playoffs, the Celtics played without Garnett who was suspended from Game 2 of a series against the Miami Heat. Rondo was suspended two games earlier this season for throwing a ball at a game official.Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.