Los Angeles Lakers fans poured into Staples Center ahead of the home opener against the Houston Rockets on Saturday, invigorated to usher in the new “Showtime” era with LeBron James as the star. What happened was a different type of “showtime”. In the fourth quarter several members of these teams had multiple physical altercations and oddly enough, the fracas did not dim the excitement but fostered it.
“The atmosphere was great,” commented James. “The fans were extremely excited. We gave them everything that we could. I wish we could have given them more, gotten that win, but it was very electric.”
With 4:14 left in the final quarter, the Rockets maintained a one-point lead over the Lakers, 109-108. Brandon Ingram was called for a foul as James Harden aggressively drove to the basket in transition. Ingram, frustrated by the call, proceeded to shove the reigning MVP and exchange words with both the referee and Harden.
“The [altercation] was unfortunate,” Lakers coach Luke Walton remarked.
Moments later, Rajon Rondo and Chris Paul engaged in what began as a verbal dispute. Paul alleged that Rondo then spit on him, which caused the NBA Players’ Association president to respond by shoving his finger into Rondo’s face. Rondo then punched Paul and a melee ensued with both players exchanging blows. Ingram also threw a punch and was charged with a personal foul and two technical fouls in the altercation. Ultimately, all three players were ejected from the game. The two Lakers’ starters were later assessed with multi-game suspensions, three for Rondo and four for Ingram while Paul received a two-game suspension.
“I was wrong for my teammates, but I also stepped up for teammates and that’s what I’m going to do 10 times out of 10,” Brandon Ingram said of his involvement in the fight.
Rondo was asked at practice if he addressed his teammates about the incident. Though he had few comments about what transpired, he did say, “Everyone knows who I am, my team and I think they still respect me for what I do and what I bring to this team.”
When the fight erupted, fans sitting courtside occupied by the return of some of Hollywood’s elite including longtime season ticket holder Jack Nicholson, could be seen leaping from their seats appearing as though they wanted to protect the team. “Ron-do” chants immediately roared throughout the arena even as his ejection from the game was announced. Before getting tossed, Rondo contributed a double-double with 13 points and 10 assists.
The penalties imposed were costliest to Paul who was fined $491,782 who tallied 28 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds before his ejection. Rondo will be docked a total of $186,207 in salary, while Ingram’s total came to $158,816.
James’ home debut as a Laker was overshadowed by the fourth quarter transgressions, though he managed to score 24 points and added five rebounds and five assists. He nailed an 18-footer two minutes into the first quarter and received one of many ovations from the sellout crowd.
“If there wasn’t the fight, we probably would have won that game,” Lakers center JaVale McGee commented. McGee, who has been a consistent bright spot for the team added 16 points and six rebounds in the Laker’s home debut.
In an exclusive report, the L.A. Sentinel learned of an alleged additional altercation in the stands that transpired between Rajon Rondo’s girlfriend and Chris Paul’s wife.
Following the fight, the Rockets finished the game on a 15-8 run including a key three-pointer that Harden made with 1:12 left to propel the Rockets to their first win of the season. Harden finished with a game-high of 36 points. He added seven rebounds and five assists in the Rockets’ win.
The Lakers dropped to 0-2 on the season in what James described as the team’s second “winnable” game.
“That’s what we want, chances and opportunities to win,” commented Walton. “We’ve been there and had both those games.”
Though the Rockets defeated the Lakers 124-115 at home, the energy James described as “electric” in Staples Center persisted. The Lakers launched a Showtime inspired promotional video narrated by longtime Laker fan Ice Cube. Just one of the many ways, the Los Angeles Lakers have built upon the new found energy and hope surrounding the franchise.