Although the Los Angeles Lakers overcame a 17-point deficit to grab a much-needed win over the Detroit Pistons Sunday, the bigger story of the game was a skirmish that took place in the third quarter between LeBron James and Isaiah Stewart. While James and Stewart were fighting for position during a free throw, James swung his arm back and hit Stewart directly in the eye, which caused things to escalate from there.
James was assessed a Flagrant 2 foul, which resulted in an immediate ejection, while Stewart’s reaction to the hit from James led the officials to eject him from the game after giving him two technicals. James and Stewart didn’t talk to the media after the game was over, but players and coaches from both sides addressed the issue, with Anthony Davis pointing out that James tried to tell Stewart he didn’t mean for that to happen.
“Everyone in the league knows LeBron’s not a dirty guy,” Davis said. “In fact, when he knew he hit him, as soon as he did it, he looked back at him like, ‘Oh, my bad. I didn’t try to do it.'”
In the video you can read James’ body language as someone who likely didn’t intend on Stewart’s eye to get bloodied up like it did. Intention aside, it still led to a pretty bad dustup between the two sides, which also resulted in a technical foul on Russell Westbrook.
Lakers coach Frank Vogel highlighted the fact that Stewart initiated the contact, which led to James’ reaction.
“[James] had an elbow [from Stewart] to the rib cage, which was a foul and he was trying to shed the contact,” Vogel said. “And had incidental contact that was obviously enough for a flagrant 2.”
It’s clear that both players were tangled up as they were trying to box each other out for the rebound, but things certainly got out of hand in a way that shouldn’t happen. Pistons coach Dwane Casey echoed Davis’ sentiment about James not being a dirty player, but his actions certainly led to Stewart’s temper flaring.
“It was a tough play with Isaiah,” Casey said. “His eye got cracked all the way open, and he was upset for a reason. So, I don’t think James is a dirty player, but again, it got them going.”
We’ll have to wait and see what suspensions the league hands down for this incident, which given previous instances of something like this happening could be around two or three games for James punching Stewart. On the Pistons side, Stewart could also see a suspension for continuously trying to run at Lakers players as a reaction to being socked in the eye. Whatever happens, it likely won’t be good for either team, and for the Lakers missing LeBron for any portion of time isn’t ideal.