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Fight night at LCA! LeBron James ejected for elbow to face of Pistons' Isaiah Stewart

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Detroit — Things got out of hand in the third quarter of the Pistons’ matchup against the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday night at Little Caesars Arena.

Pistons center Isaiah Stewart suffered a bloody gash over his right eye after taking an elbow from LeBron James, which set off a wild scene with 9:18 left in the third quarter.

The two were in contact after a free throw and Stewart approached James and the two had to be separated. The situation escalated when Stewart — with more blood streaming from his face — repeatedly pursued James and had to be restrained.

Pistons center Isaiah Stewart (28) tries to break away from teammates after Lakers forward LeBron James (6) threw an elbow to his face in the third quarter of a game Sunday at Little Caesars Arena.

Chaos ensued as players from both teams, along with security, gathered at center court to try to maintain control. Stewart looked to be calm, but again rushed toward James and he had to be handled by coaches, team personnel and other players. The Lakers won the game 121-116.

“It was a tough play with Isaiah. His eye got cracked all the way open, and he was upset for a reason,” coach Dwane Casey said. “I don't think (LeBron) James is a dirty player.”

After a replay was shown on the video board, the crowd at the arena rained a chorus of boos on James, but the situation remained under control as fans were instructed to stay in their seats and not throw any objects.

The scene was reminiscent of the “Malice at the Palace” incident on Nov. 19, 2004, but in this instance, everything was handled well, and police and arena security kept the situation under control.

Casey said he told Stewart that this isn’t a career-defining incident and that it was a result of his competitive drive and not anything else.

“I told him, 'Don't let this define who you are. It doesn't define your game whatsoever. Just keep your head and don't get a reputation afterwards,” Casey said. “I felt for the young man because he's such a competitor and he plays so hard. He's a great kid, but he felt like he got cheap-shotted across his brow — and on the street, it'd be a different story. It's no reflection on who Isaiah Stewart is whatsoever.”

The Lakers had a different viewpoint on the incident.

“On the free throw boxing out, Stewart tried to get physical with (James),” Lakers forward Anthony Davis said. “Bron did the same thing. Everyone in the league knows Bron is not a dirty guy, accidentally hit him, and as soon as he did it, he looked back at him and told him, ‘My bad, I didn’t try to do it.’

“I don’t know what (Stewart) was trying to do, but I know nobody on our team, one through 15 was having it. We’re going to protect our brother.”

Davis said Stewart overreacted in the situation and that’s what helped to escalate it.

“I’ve never in 10 years seen a player try to (rush at another player) since I’ve been playing. Obviously, we’ve seen it before back in the day, but in recent basketball — it was uncalled for,” Davis said. “(Stewart) got cut above your eye accidentally. It wasn’t on purpose and we weren’t going to allow him to keep charging our brother like that. I don’t know what he was trying to do, but we weren’t going to allow that.”

Lakers coach Frank Vogel said that Stewart initiated the contact on the free throw, which was a foul that wasn’t called.

“It was an unfortunate contact, LeBron had an elbow to the ribcage which was a foul, and he was trying to shed the contact, and had incidental contact and obviously enough for a flagrant two (foul),” Vogel said. “But the reaction was what it was, and I think our guys did a good job protecting a teammate, but not trying to escalate.

“That’s what you want. You want peacekeepers in those situations, and for the most part, I feel like our guys did that obviously, forming a wall around a teammate and standing up for each other without it turning into something uglier, so I commend our guys for that.”

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rod.beard@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard