INDIANAPOLIS -- Boston Celtics rookie Brandon Hunter said he was not trying to start a fight with Indiana Pacers star Jermaine O'Neal when he pulled him to the ground in Game 1 of their playoff series.
Speaking for the first time since the altercation, Hunter said he was simply playing aggressively and got tangled with O'Neal under the basket.
"I'm not even that type of player," Hunter said Tuesday in the shootaround prior to Game 2. "I just went in there to be aggressive and try to get a rebound."
The confrontation between the two ultimately led to Indiana's Ron Artest being suspended for Game 2.
In the second quarter of Indiana's 104-88 win on Saturday, Hunter grabbed O'Neal and threw him to the floor. O'Neal got up and immediately confronted Hunter, then drew a technical for yelling at
Celtics guard Ricky Davis.
Artest, who was on the bench at the time, started onto the court when he saw O'Neal lose his composure, but turned and headed back to the bench after about four steps. Nevertheless, the league suspended him for Game 2.
After the game, and the next day at practice, Pacers coach Rick Carlisle and O'Neal both said they believe Hunter was put in the game to bait O'Neal into an ejection.
"They had a young, strong player throwing an MVP candidate on the floor, and it looked like he was doing it intentionally," Carlisle said.
Celtics coach John Carroll strongly denied the allegations.
"Brandon Hunter wasn't sent in the game to do anything because Brandon Hunter didn't even match up with Jermaine O'Neal. He was matched up with Al Harrington," Carroll said Tuesday. "It was kind of an unfortunate situation."
Hunter said he wasn't bothered by Carlisle's remarks and that O'Neal was the one who initiated physical play under the basket.
"To me, whatever, I really don't care what he had to say, how he felt," Hunter said. "I know I didn't do it on purpose. If it had been me trying to foul him on purpose, it would have been a lot
more worse than that."
The Celtics lobbied hard for Artest's suspension and the league obliged on Monday. Carlisle said Harrington would start in his place.
"The league was put in a precarious situation," Carroll said. "If you're trying to keep order in the playoffs, you almost have to do something. And it's unfortunate because I don't think Ron had
a malicious bone in his body. It was a thing that happened, and you knew that he came on the court, and he got off as soon as he could."