BOSTON — Grant Williams grew frustrated after an offensive foul call moments earlier. He tried to draw one of his own, rose to his feet and darted past official Cheryl Flores, who he subtly collided with.
“I saw block, and kind of got up and tried to run off in disagreement, and then I look up, and I’m like, ‘oh crap, I’m about to make contact.’ So I tried to avoid (contact), and that’s when my glute hit her hip,” he said.
The contact drew Williams an ejection and suspension, the first of each he could remember from his basketball career. He’s going to try to interact less vocally with officials going forward, something he struggles with as someone who needs to make his voice heard. Williams tried to apologize to Flores through union back channels, since players can communicate with referees off the floor.
He denied intentionally brushing Flores, which crew chief Marc Davis accused him of doing in his pool report following the game. Williams will miss Friday’s game against the surging Cavaliers, with Joe Mazzulla indicating will force Boston to test out more of its depth while sticking to the team’s speed and skill advantages over a bigger Cleveland team. Williams stayed on the practice floor longer than most of his teammates on Thursday, running the floor with assistant coaches and getting shots up on either end of the floor.
“You never want to let your team down, it’s something that I feel like I did,” Williams said. “When it comes to the punishment, it’s just. I made a mistake, so for me, it’s something I probably won’t challenge. Especially the fact that one, it’s a female referee, and two, it’s not something we want our players to be doing in the league. No matter whether it was inadvertent or not, I gotta be better, I gotta be more mindful and conscious of my surroundings and conscious of my mental state, and not letting anything affect me during the game.”
The incident followed a frustrating night for Jayson Tatum, who picked up an early technical foul, his second of the season, for waving off a goaltending call in the third quarter. Tatum and Joe Mazzulla tried to point out a similar reaction by Nikola Vucevic, shaking the ball over his head following a foul call near Flores. Davis indicated incessant complaining along the sideline and a refusal to leave the floor left him with no choice but to eject Mazzulla. The NBA later rescinded the second technical foul on the head coach.
Mazzulla spoke with Williams on Wednesday after the suspension, saying he’s in a great place and trying to refocus the team on its surroundings and the time and place. He didn’t think Tatum’s preseason ejection as reflective of any issues from last year. In that sequence, Williams also received a technical, quipping afterward that he told the official to ref the game not his emotions.
Suspended head coach Ime Udoka began the season asserting the the Celtics wouldn’t be a team that complained, benched Williams in the preseason for doing so and pleaded for his team to let him handle interactions with referees to mixed results.
Tatum complained both after the loss on Monday and on Twitter about players being unable to show emotion, while the NBA Referee’s Association, players and the league reasserted conduct standards under a Respect for the Game initiative to ease tension with officials at all levels.
The NBARA’s post indicated players and coaches cannot swear, clap their hands, punch the air, wave off, run away or towards an official or complain excessively without receiving a tech. The latter could result in a warning, alongside gestures mimicking calls and other arm motions. Players can look at the jumbotron, briefly ask questions or disagree civilly.
The NBA issued 11 technical fouls on Thursday, fined Masai Ujiri for his interaction with a referee and Steve Nash got ejected from his team’s loss against the Nets. Klay Thompson got ejected from the Warriors’ loss to the Suns on Tuesday.
While a league-wide trend challenges players and coaches, the Celtics rank fourth in total fines received so far. Grant, however, doesn’t see his interactions with officials as distracting to himself or the team, and hopes this incident doesn’t impact the reputation he’s tried to build with the referees.
“Sometimes it’s less so I’m disagreeing with a call, and I’m just communicating,” Williams told CelticsBlog/CLNS Media. “Most referees know that, and that’s the relationship that we’ve built throughout the years. They’re comfortable and that’s why they let me go all the time. I’m known to be that, and known to be that type of player, but in the moments where I am becoming absorbed, more so I have to be more absorbed in the game itself, and be absorbed in what’s going on around me.”
“Not letting things that I’m doing myself affect my mental. Being more positive, taking a moment to step back and take a deep breath, that helps a lot. That helps any player, any player that plays with passion and emotion knows that. I have so much love for the game, you kind of get overwhelmed sometimes. I’m not saying it won’t happen again, it’s just a matter not letting that become a reoccurring thing.”