Lakers’ Isaiah Thomas following altercation with Rajon Rondo: ‘I don’t know him’
NEW ORLEANS — Five minutes into his second game with the Lakers, Isaiah Thomas was being escorted out of it, a Lakers security guard gently prodding him toward one tunnel while Rajon Rondo went for the other.
They’ve always been two players heading in opposite directions, these two former Celtics. Thomas arrived in Boston two months after Rondo was shipped out; and after a first-round matchup in last year’s playoffs, Thomas’ team advanced and Rondo and the Chicago Bulls went home.
“I don’t know him,” Thomas said, after a first-quarter altercation in the Lakers’ 139-117 loss led to both players being ejected. “Personally, I don’t know him. I’ve never talked to him. We’ve just battled and competed throughout the years. Every time we battle it’s been a little bit more and more.”
It boiled over Wednesday, as an old beef was given new life in a territorial swirl of hostility and hubris.
“Nothing should’ve made that escalate like it did,” Thomas said.
Rondo won a title with the Celtics in 2008. Last month, he criticized the organization for its plans to honor Thomas with a video tribute in his return to TD Garden, which Thomas ultimately declined so as not to distract from Paul Pierce’s jersey retirement the same night.
All of that was on the table Wednesday, when Thomas checked in to the game with 5:22 left in the first quarter.
“For whatever reason he’s an upset guy about me,” Thomas said. “I don’t know what it is. He kept bringing the tribute up when I was the one that shut the tribute down.”
Thomas said Rondo, who did not speak to reporters, made his intentions clear from the first possession.
“He already had his agenda written down right when I checked into the game,” Thomas said. “It was obvious. Picked me up full court, trying to be physical. It was obvious.”
After Thomas sank a free throw for a flagrant foul on Rondo with 33.3 seconds left in the first quarter, the two became entangled on the ensuing inbounds play. Officials warned Thomas and Rondo twice as play grew increasingly physical, finally assessing a technical foul to each.
While referees sorted those out, Rondo and Thomas continued to talk at each other, earning additional sanctions.
Thomas and his coach, Luke Walton, both questioned the way the officials handled the scuffle, arguing that they let things get out of hand before adjudicating.
“It felt like they were waiting for me to get upset,” Thomas said.
Thomas, a notoriously fiery player, said the technical fouls should be overturned.
“Hopefully, like I said, the NBA sees it, looks at it, figures it out,” Thomas said. “But I definitely need to get those technical fouls rescinded because I didn’t do anything.”
Walton, who was later ejected in the second quarter, said Thomas did everything he could to “not to get caught up in it” before receiving his ejection.
“They let it just keep going and going and going and in my opinion took the easy way out,” he said. “Just waited so they could give a double-T instead of calling it as it was happening.”
After being repeatedly hit in the face before anything was called, Thomas said he turned to the referees and said, “Are you going to control this?”
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Thomas was not alone in the locker room for long. Walton received his own technicals with 1:38 left in the first half and the Lakers trailing by 15 points.
Kyle Kuzma thought he had come up with a steal, but instead was called with a foul. He expressed his displeasure by leaping in the air, earning a technical foul. Walton stormed across midcourt, accounting for the sixth and seventh technical fouls of the first half.
“There was a lot of things that I was frustrated about at that point,” Walton said, “and I just had had enough at that moment.”
Walton retreated to the locker room and sat down next to Thomas.
“I try not to isolate when I am angry,” Walton said, “so I went and found someone to watch the game with.”
It wasn’t pretty.
All-Star Anthony Davis finished with 42 points and 15 rebounds while converting 15 of his 18 field-goal attempts to lead the Pelicans.
The Lakers had fallen behind by 23 points in the first half – while everyone was on hand to see it in person – but battled back to within 48-43 early in the second quarter. The Pelicans answered by pouring in 79 points by halftime and shooting 53.5 percent from the field for the night (14 for 32 from 3-point range).
An 11-0 run cut the Lakers’ deficit to 81-79 early in the third quarter, but the Pelicans answered again and pushed the lead as high as 24 in the fourth quarter. The Pelicans had 35 assists on their 53 field goals.
“We’ve stopped defending,” Walton said. “And that’s a big-time problem, but it’s something that we’ll fix.”
In the Lakers’ last two games since the trade deadline, they have allowed 130 and 139 points, both losses.
“We’ve got to get our mojo back,” Walton said. “We somehow lost it quickly, and the last two games offensively we’ve been fine, we’re just not playing any defense.”
Kuzma led the Lakers with 23 points, while Brandon Ingram added 21. Former UCLA standout Jrue Holiday added 24 points and 11 assists for New Orleans, while Darius Miller scored 19 off the bench on 6-of-8 shooting.
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