Cade Cunningham insisted he was acknowledging his "people" and not taunting the opposition after he was ejected during the Detroit Pistons' loss to the Phoenix Suns.
The Pistons fell to a 135-108 reverse against the NBA-leading Suns on Sunday as they saw two of their players ejected in the second half.
Cunningham was the first to be dismissed in the third quarter, ending an enthralling battle with Devon Booker, for what referee Kevin Cutler later described as "a physical taunt for pointing at the defender".
Cutler was referring to Cunningham's gesture after he slammed past Jalen Smith and immediately pointed in the 21-year-old's direction, leading to his second technical foul.
But Cunningham – who had 21 points, one rebound and four assists before his ejection – provided a different view after the game as he justified his celebration.
"I had my people right behind the bench," said Cunningham, who finished on 9-for-15 shooting in 24 minutes.
"I went baseline to dunk the ball, and he's right in between me and my people. I probably should've read that situation better. I don't really get into taunting too much.
"Usually I'm chilling after a play. I realised the situation after he tech'ed me [technical fouled] up, but I didn't think I was going to get a tech.
"I let coach Monty [Williams of the Suns] over there, let him know, 'Good game,' and stuff like that."
Detroit trailed by 20 at the time of Cunningham's removal, and that increased to 27 by the end of the game after Josh Jackson was also ejected with 41 seconds remaining.
Pistons coach Dwane Casey – whose side are 10-32, the second-worst record in the league – believes his team must manage their reputation by maintaining strong disciplinary levels.
"He [the referee] said Cade pointed at the guy that he dunked on," Casey said after the game. "I didn't see that part. I thought he was pointing towards his teammate.
"That's why he said he got a technical for and got ejected for, he already had one. I've seen a lot worse things to get ejected for than that.
"The Josh one, I haven't looked at it yet. He said Josh hit, or pushed, or whatever at [Ish] Wainright. I didn't see that part either, I have to look at that.
"We're not in a position as a team to complain. Let me be the bad guy to fight for us.
"As a young team, we shouldn't get that reputation of complaining to officials. Until we get to that level, we have to button up and zip up and play our butts off."
Despite Cunningham's dismissal, the 20-year-old has been in fine form recently – averaging 17.9 points, 5.7 assists and 4.9 rebounds since November 30 (a span of 18 games).
With the Pistons looking to bounce back with a trip to the Golden States Warriors on Tuesday, Cunningham insisted that his team are heading in the right direction.
"We're still locked in," Cunningham added. "We feel ourselves getting better and growing together.
"This is a big road trip that we got to go into. We're going to play some good teams. We're excited to take that challenge on and see what we got."