HOUSTON — After Jared Vanderbilt was ejected in the first half of Monday's 135-119 loss to the Houston Rockets for a run-in with Dillon Brooks, several members of the Los Angeles Lakers defended Vanderbilt's actions against Houston's Rebel forward.
With 11:03 left in the second quarter, Brooks fouled Vanderbilt on a dunk while Vanderbilt was in the air. Shortly after, Austin Reaves made a pull-up jump shot with 10:17 to go in the second, and Brooks put his arm around Vanderbilt while he was under the rim. Vanderbilt shoved Brooks in the chest with his forearm, drawing a technical foul from referee Eric Dalen.
Moments later, Vanderbilt poked Brooks in the side of the head and was assessed another technical by team captain Curtis Blair and ejected from the game. A Lakers player told ESPN that Brooks called Vanderbilt a “p—y” during the exchange.
“He's going for a wide-open dunk [Brooks] put him on the back,” Anthony Davis said. “It wasn't a safe play. Guys hurt like that. You need to know what type of player you are [Brooks] There is [The referees] Let it continue [Brooks] Kind of triggered. He talks and he says the tips, the players and at the end of the day, we're men.
“No man is going to talk to another man like he talked to Vando. So Vando did what he had to do.”
Vanderbilt left without speaking to reporters.
Brooks said the Vanderbilt run-in increased. “I feel like he might feel like I made a dirty play,” Brooks said. “When he thinks like that, he likes to pump. That's basketball. We bump and fight. I feel like he took it a little too much.”
After a Vanderbilt shutout and the Lakers trailing 46-36 early in the second quarter, the Rockets took control and went up by 30 points midway through the third half. LA trailed by 24 heading into the fourth, and LeBron James tried to instill a sense of staying in the game despite the Lakers having to travel to Atlanta for the second night on Tuesday.
With the Lakers trailing by 16 with 5:45 to go, Ja'Sean Tate missed a layup and Brooks got behind James and hit the Lakers star in the face. After a video review by the officials, Brooks was called for a flagrant foul for contact. When asked earlier this season about the lucrative contract Brooks signed in Houston, James, who praised Brooks' competitive fire, brushed off a reporter's question about Brooks after the game.
“Next question,” James said.
Lakers coach Darwin Hamm said both Brooks' push on Vanderbilt and the hit on James were enough to get him ejected on their own, in his estimation.
“It's one thing to be competitive,” Hamm said. “But … the risk of injury to players from certain sports — I looked at it again [on video] Before I came here, [Brooks] Pushes him back, a guy in the air. Aerial, unprotected. Then Bronn's play, Bronn goes to the basket and it's a double move with his hands. A hand tries to deflect the ball, it goes back and then across [James’] the face
“So Dillon Brooks shouldn't have even been in the game.”
Davis echoed his coach's view on both plays.
“I mean, you're making a tough mistake,” Davis said. “It's part of basketball, but when you're not controlling their body, you're not going to blatantly shove them in the back when they're in the air. He should have been ejected for that. Then you know him and Brian. [collision] From what I saw, LeBron was a blatant slap in the face.”
“My hat's off to Wando,” Hamm said of how he responded by confronting Brooks.
Brooks told reporters that he continues to bring an “alpha dog mentality” to games and has made changes in how he handles himself since leaving the Memphis Grizzlies to join the Rockets.
“Last year, I let it go too far,” Brooks said. “Now, I feel like I have a bit more control over it. There's energy that comes from knowing that certain things you do, you can take it far. And play within the lines.”