Let's start here: The play you see above — Paul Pierce setting a screen on Dwyane Wade, then exchanging some heated words with him — is not enough to merit ejection from any basketball game, let alone Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. Taken alone and on its own merits, the choice to run Pierce for a hard pick and some extracurricular conversation, no matter how salty, would be horrendous. That decision would be worthy of the scorn that was heaped on referee Ed Malloy in the moments after the controversial fourth-quarter play.
The thing is, you can't take this play alone and on its own merits, because Pierce didn't get chucked for it alone and on its own merits.
The double-technical called on both Pierce and Wade for their little tete-a-tete was the Boston Celtics captain's second T of the game, coming less than a minute after the first, which he earned for headrubbing/facenuzzling Miami Heat sharpshooter James Jones after a hard foul on a Pierce jumper. (Check out a video clip of the first T after the jump.)
As we all know, NBA rules stipulate that any player who racks up two technical fouls is automatically disqualified. That, and not a horrifically egregious overreaction to one bout of jawing, is why Pierce got tossed.
Sure, you can argue the merits of the tech if you want — while we don't know precisely what Pierce and Wade said to one another, Malloy or anyone else within earshot to get the ref's whistle moving, the mere physicality of the pick sure didn't seem to warrant major discipline.
UPDATE: According to Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, crew chief Dan Crawford told a pool reporter after Game 1 that Pierce's second technical was levied because the Boston forward lobbed "a verbal taunt. He directed profanity at Wade. And in the rule book, that is a verbal taunt." In an unrelated story, Kevin Garnett has just been given 1,438 technical fouls for verbal taunting and will not play NBA basketball again until 2016.
The call may indeed have been weak, but Pierce put himself in a position to have a weak call made by getting riled up and pressing Wade just after their collision. My man Eric Freeman put it well on Twitter: "It is possible for Pierce to be dumb and for it to be a bad call." In situations like these, there's usually more than enough blame to go around.
Plus, as WEEI.com's Paul Flannery wrote on Twitter just after the ejection, "Pierce could have avoided the whole scenario by not letting James Jones get into his head." If he doesn't get the first tech for butting up against Jones, he's still playing down the stretch; if he maintains his composure like a captain and a 12-year veteran with 106 games of playoff experience is supposed to, this isn't an issue at all.
Instead, Pierce got overheated and earned an early trip to the showers, ending his night with 19 points on 6-for-14 shooting, seven rebounds, two assists and four turnovers in just under 35 minutes of work, and leaving his team shorthanded for the final seven minutes. The Celtics trailed 87-74 when Pierce was disqualified, and while they made several small runs, they never drew closer than seven as Miami pulled away to score a 99-90 victory and get out to a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference Semifinals.
After struggling in four meetings with Boston this season, Wade was spectacular, hitting 14 of 20 field-goal attempts to post 38 points in 37 minutes. Jones gave Erik Spoelstra a major lift with 25 points off the Heat bench, hitting five of seven 3-point attempts and all 10 of his free throws. Ray Allen (25 points on 9-for-13 shooting) led the Celtics.
Game 2 tips Tuesday night at 7 p.m. in Miami.