After months of waiting, LeBron James finally made his debut with the Lakers in Los Angeles on Saturday night.
Naturally, the energy at the Staples Center was electric — Lakers fans couldn’t help themselves.
While James was the main focus in the battle against the Houston Rockets, a fight late in the fourth quarter stole the attention away from his home debut — and resulted in three ejections.
Rajon Rondo, Chris Paul, Brandon Ingram fight late
With four minutes left in the game, Rockets guard James Harden drew a foul while driving to the hoop, making a layup over Lakers forward Brandon Ingram to put the Rockets up by 109-108. Ingram, though, didn’t like the call. The 21-year-old quickly shoved Harden in the back, drawing a technical foul.
While a scrum assembled in the lane, and Ingram still chirping, Lance Stephenson ran in, grabbed Ingram and walked him away from the situation — likely in an effort to de-escalate it.
Suddenly, with players spread out across the court, Lakers point guard Rajon Rondo and Rockets point guard Chris Paul were face to face in the lane. Paul could be seen pointing his finger into Rondo’s face, shoving him slightly. Rondo responded by throwing a punch, and Paul then threw two punches back.
Ingram, seeing what had happened, ran into the pile from across the court and threw a punch of his own. From there, a brawl ensued.
Ingram, Paul and Rondo were all ejected from the game after officials reviewed the incident. The three will likely face suspensions and fines from the league as soon as Sunday — since the Rockets play again on Sunday night.
Paul later said the incident started because Rondo had spit in his face. While that has yet to be seen on video, Paul can be seen wiping off his face right before the two started fighting.
Chris Paul told our broadcast crew this all started because Rajon Rondo spit in his face. When the second replay cycles through you can see Chris wiping his face before he goes at Rondo. pic.twitter.com/2DxPjWdYCu
— Rachel Nichols (@Rachel__Nichols) October 21, 2018
Paul was still incredibly angry after the game, too, because a member of Rondo’s family apparently made “inappropriate” comments to his wife, Jada, in the stands after the fight, according to Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle.
Chris Paul was still so angry after the game, multiple individuals said, because a member of Rajon Rondo's family made "inappropriate" comments to Paul's wife, Jada, in the stands after the altercation.
— Jonathan Feigen (@Jonathan_Feigen) October 21, 2018
Rockets forward Carmelo Anthony also confirmed after the game that there was a “spitting incident,” which he called “unacceptable.”
Carmelo Anthony confirms there was a spitting incident. Says it’s blatant disrespect. “You don’t even do that in the streets”
— Taylor Rooks (@TaylorRooks) October 21, 2018
“It was bullshit. Plain and simple. Unacceptable,” Carmelo Anthony said. Both Melo and Harden were upset with Rondo’s alleged spit on Chris Paul.
— Marc J. Spears (@MarcJSpearsESPN) October 21, 2018
According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Lakers officials are backing Rondo’s “contention that he didn’t spit” on Paul, while the Rockets are insisting that he did.
Sources: Lakers officials watched tape and are backing Rajon Rondo’s contention that he didn’t spit on Chris Paul. Meanwhile, CP3 and Rockets are insisting that Rondo did spit. “Lot of history between them,” one source connected to both players says.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) October 21, 2018
The Rockets held on to their slight lead after the fight to take the 124-115 win, spoiling James’ opener in Los Angeles and picking up their first win of the year.
Harden, Paul dominate first half
Before the fight late in the game, Harden and Paul were dominating offensively — especially in the first half.
Harden dropped 23 points, going 6-of-13 from the field, in the first half. Paul was right behind him with 19 points and seven assists.
The Lakers simply couldn’t stop the duo — who were consistently reaching the free throw line, too. Harden went 8-of-10 from the charity stripe, and Paul went 7-of-9. By comparison, the Lakers went just 4-of-7 from the free throw line as a team.
That aggressiveness kept the Rockets out in front at the break, sending them to the locker room with a slight 66-62 lead.
Paul had 28 points and 10 assists when he was ejected, shooting 9-of-17 from the field. Harden led the Rockets with 36 points and seven rebounds, shooting 10-of-19 from the field and 50 percent from behind the arc.
The Lakers’ balanced box score
James, expectedly, led the Lakers with 24 points, five rebounds and five assists, shooting 9-of-22 from the field. The Lakers, though, shared the workload fairly evenly, as six others scored in double figures.
Center JaVale McGee dominated down low for Los Angeles, racking up 16 points and six rebounds while shooting better than 63 percent from the field. Lonzo Ball looked great from the 3-point line, shooting 4-of-8 from that range — half of the Lakers’ three-point buckets — en route to a 14-point night off the bench.
Ingram had 12 points before he was ejected, and both Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart added 11.
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