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Friday, March 7
Updated: April 15, 12:42 PM ET
Police look at four men who abruptly left building

Associated Press

BOSTON -- Noxious fumes apparently resulting from a prank with pepper spray disrupted the game between Boston and the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday night and forced the Celtics to bolt from their bench, gagging and coughing.

J.R. Bremer
J.R. Bremer, right, and his teammates had a tough time breathing Friday.

Boston police were looking at FleetCenter surveillance video with the goal of identifying four men who abruptly left the building before fans and Celtics players began having trouble breathing. The game was resumed after a nine-minute delay, and Boston won 83-72.

No one sought medical attention at the FleetCenter's emergency medical station.

"The greatest concern is what the element is that has been released on the public," said Paul E. Johnson, the NBA security official assigned to Boston. "Is it dangerous? Is this some kind of terrorist attack? Obviously, that's what's on everybody's mind. .

"Thank God, it was just a prank. Or that's what it appears to be."

Celtics coach Jim O'Brien was visibly troubled by the incident, and he did not want the game to continue. Asked if he was concerned it might be related to terrorism, O'Brien said, "Of course."

But referee Hue Hollins decided to continue the game.

"I could feel it was strong, but it didn't last long," he told a pool reporter. "We really didn't see any danger in continuing."

The incident, combined with the Clippers' eighth consecutive loss, spoiled the Boston return of Los Angeles coach Dennis Johnson, who won two titles with the Celtics in the 1980s and had his No. 3 retired by the team.

What started as a moving reunion between Johnson and his fans turned bizarre after three quarters when the Celtics bolted from their bench.

"Everybody started coughing," center Mark Blount said. ``I felt like I was going to throw up, man."

There was no odor. Police and security checked the area about three rows behind the bench, but didn't appear to find anything.

"They all complained about the same thing: throat and eyes but no smell," said Johnson, the security official. "It dissipated very quickly."

Last month, when the national terror alert level went from yellow to orange, fans had to go through metal detectors when entering the FleetCenter. The practice was discontinued when the alert level was lowered, but some fans are still subjected to random screening.

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