It was the Cavaliers' J.R. Smith who was whistled for a flagrant foul for his two-handed push of the Celtics' Al Horford as he was airborne on a layup attempt in the fourth quarter of Game 2 Tuesday night.
Yet, Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said the Celtics are "gooning the game up."
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“We have to be tougher,” Lue said. “I think they’re playing tougher than we are. We’re seeing that. They’re being physical. They’re gooning the game up, and we have to do the same thing. We have to be tougher mentally and physically.”
Smith's shove and Marcus Smart's retaliatory shot in a scuffle with Smith in the immediate aftermath - which led to double-technicals on the two players - are sure to heighten the tensions between the teams as they head for Cleveland for Game 3 Saturday with the Celtics up 2-0 in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Smart called Smith's push "dirty" and said the Celtics and Smith have a history (including a flagrant foul on Smith for a hit on Jae Crowder in the Cavs-C's 2015 playoff series).
"Oh, man, we're out there to play basketball," Smart said postgame. "You know, and I just looked at it: Al is a defenseless person. He's in the air. He can't control how his body goes, and he's not even looking. And you go and take two hands to the back; that's a dirty shot. You just can't allow that to keep happening.
"That's not the first time J.R. has done some dirty stuff, especially playing against us. He's known for it, especially playing against us. We know that. So, you know, it's like a bully: You keep letting a bully keep picking on you, he's going to pick on you until you finally stand up, and that's what I tried to do. One of my guys was down, and I took offense to it."
Smith didn't sugarcoat what he did: "It was a good call. I blatantly pushed [Horford]," he told reporters after the game. "It wasn't like I was trying to low bridge him or something. I just wanted to make sure he didn't get it. It was a good, hard foul. I understand why they gave me a flag there."
As for the Celtics "gooning it up"? The C's didn't dispute they've been getting physical.
"Gooning? That's a good word," Celtics forward Marcus Morris said. "We're doing what it takes. Whatever it takes, every player, 1 to 15, whatever it takes, that's what we're doing. You call it what you want to call it. We're just trying to get the win."
"I don't even know what to say to that," teammate Jaylen Brown said. "I agree, I guess."