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Tomase: Celtics need to get refs out of their heads before Game 6

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Marcus Smart

Turnovers are frustrating and missed free throws are annoying. But what's homicidally infuriating about watching the Celtics collapse at the finish line of the NBA Finals is the complaining.

The story of Monday's Game 5 loss was a massive performance from Golden State's supporting cast and a malfunctioning Celtics offense down the stretch. The C's couldn't stop Andrew Wiggins and the starters, undone by fatigue, couldn't make a shot in the fourth quarter while committing a series of turnovers in the style of keys fumbled down a manhole.

If that were it, we'd just have to acknowledge that Golden State's experience is making the difference while hoping that maybe the gassed Celtics can get hot enough in Boston on Thursday to force an anything-can-happen Game 7.

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But there's more to the story, and this is the part that makes the team look terrible before a national audience. In a physical game that featured the refs letting both sides play, the Celtics complained. A lot.

Head coach Ime Udoka earned a technical foul in the first quarter. Marcus Smart drew an absolutely inexcusable T in the fourth and then allowed himself to be baited into a reckless offensive foul that effectively sealed the game.

Jayson Tatum spent half the game flapping his arms like a flightless bird, Grant Williams checked in just long enough to immediately whine about a stupid, unnecessary foul, and even Celtics benchwarmers could be seen imploring the starters to race back on D instead of arguing no-calls with the Warriors in transition.


"Yeah, not our best moment," Al Horford told reporters. "As you guys know, I feel like we've been able to fend those things off, especially throughout the playoffs. For whatever reason tonight I feel like it got to us.

"It's one of those things that we kind of brought it back. We were able to focus back in, but we can never let that get to us. We can't let that affect our game, the way that things are being played."

Even at their best, the Celtics can be preoccupied with the officiating. But when a game is slipping away for reasons almost entirely of their own doing, ref-blaming should be beneath them.

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Instead, they're repeat offenders. It's the one area where Udoka's hard-ass approach and just-keeping-it-real rhetoric fails to square with his team's behavior.

The worst sequence, by far, involved Smart. With the Celtics in danger of collapsing, he dove to sell a Klay Thompson push-off. Thompson barely extended his arm from the left wing and Smart ended up almost under the basket at the feet of official Tony Brothers, who just stared at him like, "Nice try." Thompson splashed the wide-open 3-pointer to put the Warriors up eight with 9:30 left. That's what you get for gambling on one of the greatest shooters in history.

On the very next possession, Draymond Green fouled Jaylen Brown for a side out. The Celtics desperately needed to staunch the bleeding, and now they were at least nearing the penalty. But Smart, who'd had an entire timeout to cool down, instead kept barking, earning a technical that gave Jordan Poole a free point.

Down nine, the Celtics inbounded to Smart, who petulantly swatted at Poole's face. If he made any contact, it was of the butterfly kiss variety, but no matter. Poole sold it theatrically and then nailed a 19-footer on the other end. Game, set, smack my head in frustration.

The ill-timed loss of composure harkened back to the dark early days of the season, when the Celtics routinely pointed fingers before Smart clumsily called out his All-Star teammates for what became a come-to-Jesus moment.

As they prepare for Game 6 with elimination on the line, we should accept that they might not have enough to hold off the three-time champions. There's no shame in losing to Stephen Curry. But part of learning how to win involves corralling emotions, and so we'll end with a plea:

Focus on the Warriors, not the officials. Give yourselves a chance.