Detroit — In one of the Pistons’ marquee games of the season, facing LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers, most of the attention wasn’t on the game.
Instead, it was on a bloody scene between James and Pistons center Isaiah Stewart, which led to James being ejected and an altercation being defused before things calmed down.
The incident overshadowed a pretty good basketball game, as the Pistons played well, but couldn’t hold a 17-point lead and fell, 121-116, in a thrilling matchup on Sunday night at Little Caesars Arena.
Jerami Grant had 36 points, four rebounds and three assists. Cade Cunningham became the youngest player in franchise history to record a triple-double, with 13 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists, for the Pistons (4-12).
The Pistons had a double-digit lead at the 9:18 mark of the third quarter, when Grant was at the free-throw line and James made contact with Stewart with what looked to be an elbow. The situation was under control initially, but Stewart later had a big gash over his right eye.
He approached James and the two had to be separated repeatedly. Stewart appeared to be under control, but he charged at James several times before having to be restrained by teammates and staff.
Eventually, the situation was under control without any fan involvement or further incident. James was assessed a flagrant-2 foul after the officials reviewed the play and Stewart also was ejected after getting two technical fouls.
“It was a tough play with Isaiah. His eye got cracked all the way open, and he was upset for a reason,” Pistons coach Dwane Casey said. “I don’t think (LeBron) James is a dirty player, but it got them going. Instead of us continuing with the momentum we had, it kind of got them going a little bit.”
Casey said he thinks that Stewart shouldn’t face any further punishment from the league aside from the ejection.
“He shouldn’t be facing anything (from the league). Not getting off the court in time … the league will have to decide that, but the man got eight stitches — or whatever the number of stitches is — across his forehead and I don’t even know if he knew who had hit him,” Casey said. “He was upset and blood running down his face. I don’t see any ramifications from the league from that standpoint, except from just not leaving the court in time, maybe. I thought that’s why he got ejected out of the game, so to me, that’s enough punishment.”
The Pistons play the Lakers in Los Angeles next Sunday, and they have three games on the schedule this week before then. Casey is more focused on getting refocused.
“We have three games before we play them again, I’m worried about Miami the next game (on Tuesday),” Casey said. “I’m not thinking about that incident. As soon as we can get it behind us, the better.”
Russell Westbrook (26 points, nine rebounds and 10 assists) and Anthony Davis (30 points, 10 rebounds and six assists) led a feverish comeback by the Lakers (9-9) in the final stretch. Westbrook scored 15 and Davis 10 in the fourth quarter, after the Lakers started the period with a 15-point deficit.
The Pistons had 27 assists through the first three quarters, but they didn’t record an assist in the final period, and with the sluggish ball movement, they couldn’t keep up, especially without Stewart, their leading rebounder.
“You’ve got to know that their max player (Davis) is going to turn up the juice and turn on the physicality. Our learning experience is that we’ve got to learn to respond,” Casey said. “The ball stopped moving and we were trying to go in and take some of those guys off the dribble and that’s a hard task and that’s a hard learning experience for us.”
The Lakers opened with a 14-2 run, with six points by Westbrook and a pair of 3-pointers by Carmelo Anthony (18 points), who went 5-of-8 on 3-pointers. The Pistons still led, 101-98, and Grant made three of four free throws on the next two possessions, but Westbrook answered with a dunk and a 3-pointer.
Frank Jackson (15 points) followed with a 3-pointer, but Westbrook got another lay-in to keep it within two points. The Lakers had another run, with a jumper by Davis, a lay-in by Westbrook and a dunk by Westbrook, to take the lead, 113-111 with 2:18 remaining.
Grant made one of two free throws and Davis made another jumper to extend the lead to three.
The Pistons got within one after two more free throws from Grant, but Talen Horton-Tucker scored on a lay-in and Davis — who also had five blocks and four steals — made a defensive stand with two blocks on Cunningham in the same possession. On the ensuing possession, Westbrook found Davis for a reverse lay-in and a five-point lead.
Grant scored and the Pistons were within three points with a chance to tie it with 5.9 seconds remaining, but they turned the ball over and Davis made two more free throws for the final margin.
“We did a lot of good things today, but it’s just another step that we need to take. We made some progress, but now we know we’ve got to close out fourth quarters better,” Cunningham said.
“I’m happy to see that I was able to accomplish something like (a triple-double) — it’s big time — but winning the game is even greater than that. I’m still going to go home kind of sour that we lost.”
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