The spark they've been missing?

BOSTON -- Before Saturday, the Celtics and Heat didn't have any playoff history. But in the fracas that ensued in the waning moments of Boston's 85-76 Game 1 triumph, this series ratcheted up to an intensity typically reserved for Celtics-Lakers.

Tempers flared after Paul Pierce tumbled to the ground in front of the Miami bench with an apparent right shoulder injury with 40 seconds to play. Miami's Quentin Richardson stood defiantly over Pierce and suggested he was exaggerating the injury, to which Kevin Garnett took umbrage, expressing it with an elbow to Richardson's head when pushing and shoving ensued.

After the game, Richardson sounded off on Pierce and Garnett, calling them "actresses" and summing up his feelings on the pair by saying, "I don't like them, and they know it."

The Celtics have enough troubles now, because if the NBA follows precedent, Garnett -- who was assessed with two technical fouls and was ejected -- is likely to be suspended for at least one game for the elbow incident.

But it might be Richardson's tirade that leaves the biggest mark on this series.

"I was trying to get over there to take the ball out of bounds and [Garnett] started to talk to me, so I talked back," Richardson said. "I don't have any business talking to him; he was on the ground crying. I don't know what was going on -- two actresses over there, that's what they are.

"I just get surprised by people's actions when I know them better than that. They're not those characters they portray. They're not who they say they are, Garnett and Pierce -- they're good basketball players, and that's about it.

"I said to Jermaine [O'Neal], he's OK because I knew nobody touched him. Is he taking another break like he does so many times? Sometimes he falls like he's about to be out for the season, and then he gets right up; that's all I said."

Pierce is known for his exaggerated reactions to injuries at times. Lakers fans often point to the "magic wheelchair" from Game 1 of the 2008 NBA Finals, when Pierce injured his knee and had to be carried off the court before being pushed to the locker room in a wheelchair.

He ran back onto the floor soon after and hit a pair of 3-pointers while scoring 22 points in a 98-88 triumph that helped propel Boston to a championship.

But Pierce has battled right shoulder issues since the end of March, suffering what he termed a "stinger" in a loss to San Antonio on March 28, then enduring the same injury two days later at practice.

So when Pierce hit the floor Saturday, Garnett said, he was genuinely concerned for his team captain.

"I saw Paul grab his shoulder, as a stinger or whatever, so I tried to, immediately I called [Celtics trainer] Ed [Lacerte] over," Garnett explained. "I tried to give him some room and I just saw [Quentin Richardson] standing over him talking nonsense. I asked [Richardson] to give him some room, and before you knew it, mayhem started. That situation, man, I know these two [Richardson and Pierce] have competed against each other in the past and have history from bumping heads a little bit. I was just trying to give him the common courtesy for an injured player, that's all. Nothing more, nothing less.

"I have no beef with Q; I know him personally. I thought what he did was a bit disrespectful, standing over a guy hurt, you know, and talking nonsense. Before you knew it, it all just broke out. I gotta use my head, but all I saw was Paul hurt, and that's all I cared about at that time."

Referees reviewed the fracas on the court and ultimately issued five technical fouls, with individual penalties to Udonis Haslem, Glen Davis and Richardson, while Garnett drew the double technical and immediate disqualification.

Referee Joe DeRosa released a statement after the game on Garnett's ejection; the way it's worded suggests that further punishment from the league won't be too far behind.

"[Garnett] was ejected for throwing an elbow that made contact with Quentin Richardson," DeRosa's statement read. "He had already had one technical foul for taunting with Quentin Richardson before that. Then, as the altercation went on, he threw an elbow that did make contact with Richardson, which was his second technical foul and he was ejected."

DeRosa added that even if the elbow had not landed, Garnett would have been ejected, saying: "Yes, that's what the video replay that we saw looked like, that he clearly made contact with Richardson. But even if he had not, he still would have been ejected for a second technical foul for throwing an elbow."

The NBA has handed out one-game suspensions in the past for players throwing elbows, including one to Dwight Howard on April 29 during last year's playoffs against Philadelphia.

Ray Allen earned a one-game suspension for elbowing Anderson Varejao in the groin on April 14, 2009.

It's unlikely the punishment will result in more than a one-game penalty. Kenyon Martin landed an elbow fracturing the left eye socket of Melvin Ely in December of 2007, but received only the one-game suspension.

After the game Rasheed Wallace, of all people, tried to defuse the situation.

"I don't care about that, dog," Wallace said. "That wasn't a key factor in this game today, that little scuffle. Don't try to blow it up; it's already squashed.

It's unlikely that Wallace, one who's never hid his feelings, will sing the same tune after seeing Richardson's comments.

This series just got an infusion of energy. But it's the team that harnesses that emotion best that will advance to the next round.

As the Celtics brace for the possibility of losing their starting power forward for a pivotal Game 2 -- a Heat win would shift the series back to Miami in the favor of the fifth seed -- we're left to wonder whether they will they wilt after succumbing to emotion or rally behind it.

Boston has long needed a spark this season and simply hasn't found one. Saturday's dust-up might light a fuse that has seemed flame-retardant throughout the 2009-10 regular season.

Maybe this is what shakes Boston from the doldrums, especially after playing 30 uninspired minutes to start Saturday's game and rallying from a 14-point deficit with less than seven minutes to go in the third quarter.

Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said: "A lot of that is how the series is gonna be. And some of it has nothing to do with the game -- a lot of that has nothing to do with the game. It's gonna be heated."

Maybe it's what finally galvanizes this Celtics group. Because if this won't, nothing will.

Chris Forsberg covers the Celtics for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.