October 22, 2018
Once the fists started flying late in the fourth quarter, LeBron James’ home debut with the Los Angeles Lakers was relegated to the undercard.
A sprawling fight that included the normally mild-mannered Chris Paul and Brandon Ingram stole part of the spotlight on LeBron’s official landing on the West Coast. The Houston Rockets stole the rest with a gritty victory.
James scored 24 points, but Paul, Ingram and Rajon Rondo all were ejected after trading blows late in the Rockets’ 124-115 win on Saturday night. Paul (two games), Rondo (three games) and Ingram (four games) have all received suspensions over the incident.
The penalty was costliest to Paul, who was fined a total of $491,782. Paul is president of the NBA Players’ Association. He began serving his suspension on Sunday night and wasn’t at the arena when the Rockets played the Clippers. Rondo will be docked a total of $186,207, while Ingram’s total is $158,816.
Houston coach Mike D’Antoni disagreed with the severity of Paul’s penalty.
“It’s just not equitable,” he said. “If you wanted to suspend him one (game) I get it, just to make a statement. Then you’re talking monetarily, he’s paying three times more than the other guys are paying for missing games? That doesn’t seem to be right.”
Before the late drama, James got several big ovations from a tremendously lively sellout crowd in his first home game since joining the Lakers as a free agent. “The atmosphere was great,” James said. “The fans were extremely excited. We gave them everything that we could. Wish we could have gave them more with this win, but it was very electric.”
But perhaps that energy and a flagrant foul by Houston’s James Ennis III against Josh Hart earlier in the fourth quarter contributed to the shocking fight that broke out just before the end of the game.
The Rockets were clinging to a 109-108 lead when Ingram was called for a foul while trying to defend an aggressive drive by James Harden, who finished with 36 points.
Furious with the call, Ingram shoved Harden and then confronted referee Jason Phillips after getting a technical foul.
In the ensuing group argument, Paul stuck a finger into the face of Rondo, who responded by punching his fellow point guard. Ingram then threw punches in the melee. James attempted to break up the fight by grabbing Paul, his friend. Paul claimed Rondo caused their fight by spitting on him.
“Unacceptable,” Houston’s Carmelo Anthony said. “We all know what happened. Ain’t no need to keep going back and forth about that. What happened was unacceptable. It shouldn’t have happened.”
Rondo’s teammates said they didn’t know whether Paul’s claim was accurate. Lakers coach Luke Walton said his players were playing with extra aggravation after Ennis clotheslined Hart on a flagrant foul earlier. “I felt like the other team was trying to provoke us, and we fell for it,” said the Lakers’ Lance Stephenson, another peacemaker in the brawl.
When tempers cooled after a nearly 10-minute break, Houston finished the game on a 15-8 run. Harden hit a key three-pointer with 1:12 left to propel the Rockets to their first win of the season.
“We played amazing tonight, and I feel like the fight probably put us back,” said JaVale McGee, who had 16 points and six rebounds in his own Lakers home debut. “If there wasn’t the fight, we probably would have won that game.”
James also had five rebounds and five assists to go with his 24 points, but he went one for eight in the fourth quarter, missing all three of his three-point attempts. “Yeah, James was James. That’s what he does,” D’Antoni said. “I thought it was a great game. It had some intensity and quickness, and how fast it was.”