BOSTON — Doc Rivers wants the Boston Celtics to be tough — not violent.
The message came too late for Rajon Rondo.
The Celtics point guard was ejected from Wednesday night’s game against the Nets when he retaliated for a hard foul against Kevin Garnett by shoving Brooklyn forward Kris Humphries into the courtside seats. Rondo, Humphries and Nets forward Gerald Wallace were ejected, and Brooklyn held on to win 95-83.
“All that stuff, that’s not toughness,” Rivers told reporters, calling his team soft. “That foul was a hard foul. It was an unnecessary foul. The play was over and then he pushed him down in the air. But I think that’s what they think of us: They think they can push you around.”
Joe Johnson scored 18 points and Andray Blatche had 17 points and 13 rebounds as the Nets opened up a 21-point, first-half lead and took advantage of the loss of the Celtics’ All-Star to win for the ninth time in 11 games.
Garnett had 16 points and 10 rebounds, and Paul Pierce added 14 points for Boston. Rondo had three assists before he was kicked out, ending his streak at 37 games with double-digits — tied for second-longest in NBA history.
The Nets led by eight after one quarter and scored 19 of the first 25 points in the second to make it 47-26. Boston cut the deficit to 14 points and trailed by 16 when Garnett took an off-balance jumper from the right baseline and Humphries leveraged him to the floor with his left arm.
Rondo trailed the play with a two-handed shove that sent Humphries into the courtside seats.
“Kevin could have gotten hurt. He’s in the air. He took a bad fall. And so Rondo saw that and probably reacted, and over-reacted, obviously,” Rivers said. “I can’t get in anybody’s head. But at that point we’re getting our tails kicked and we’re probably frustrated.”
Wallace soon entered the fray by shoving Garnett. Nets point guard Deron Williams said Humphries, who did not speak to reporters after the game, had scratches on his head and neck.
After the game, Humphries posted a picture of his scratched left shoulder with the comment: “Anyone know where I can quick get a Tetnis shot in Boston?”
While the rest of the players remained by their benches, coaches and officials tried to break up the skirmish.
“I think guys just try to defend themselves,” Nets coach Avery Johnson said. “I think the league should really take that into account. Because I don’t know if guys can just walk away all the time. They’ve got to kind of protect themselves.”
The referees went to the scorer’s table to watch the incident on replay, and their verdict was announced over the public address system: Two technical fouls for Humphries, one for Wallace — his second of the game, ending his night — and one for Garnett.
Rondo was simply ejected.
“Rondo initiated everything that proceeded after the foul,” crew chief James Capers said in a pool report provided to reporters. “And when he and Humphries go into the stands, they are involved in a fight. Fighting is an automatic ejection.”
Rondo left the Celtics locker room before it was opened to reporters, and was unavailable for comment.
“We all back each other,” Garnett said. “We take a lot of pride in putting on this jersey. I know I do. This ain’t the Girl Scouts or the Boy Scouts. That’s what it is. It’s the NBA. You’ve got to get used to it.”
When the free throws were done, Boston trailed 51-38, and the Celtics never got closer than nine points after that.
Rondo has had a history of petulance, including a one-game suspension during the opening round of last year’s playoff series against Atlanta after he chest-bumped referee Marc Davis while complaining about a call in the final minute of a Boston loss.
During the 2011-12 regular season, he was suspended for two games for throwing a ball at an official.
“Usually he goes after the refs,” Rivers said. “This was another guy, so this was better.”
He has also come under criticism for selfishness this season for re-entering a 20-point loss to Detroit in the fourth quarter to keep his streak alive.
Notes: Rondo’s streak of 10 or more assists dated to March 11 of last season. That ties John Stockton for second-longest in NBA history. Magic Johnson holds the record at 46 consecutive games in the 1983-84 season. … U.S. Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman was in attendance. … Rivers said Johnson is one of his best friends. The two had dinner together on Tuesday night. … Garnett tied John Havlicek for 18th on the NBA career list with 1,270 games played. … Pierce passed Bob Pettit for 13th on the NBA’s all-time list for free throws made with 6,183. … Celtics F Jeff Green sprained his right knee in the second half but was able to return. Boston F Chris Wilcox left the game due to illness. … The teams next meet on Christmas Day in Brooklyn. … The Nets were playing their third game in four days.