With four minutes, 43 seconds left in the first quarter of the Los Angeles Lakers' Sunday visit to the Toronto Raptors, Lakers center Dwight Howard was whistled for a technical foul. Howard had just made a baseline drive against Raptors defender Aaron Gray, which he attempted to finish with a left-handed lay-in; it missed, Toronto rebounded and Howard, upset that no foul was called against Gray, clapped in frustration at referee Ken Mauer, who promptly rung Howard up.
The problem with early technicals like that is that they leave players with very little room for error; just one more momentary slip or misunderstanding later on and you're looking at a second T and an automatic ejection. With that in mind, let's fast-forward to the closing stages of the second quarter.
After an and-one layup by Metta World Peace had drawn the Lakers within two scores just before halftime, Howard and Raptors forward Alan Anderson got tangled up coming off their spots on the block, and remained connected as they headed up-court. There was some bumping, some jostling and perhaps even some tussling; there was, in Mauer's view, enough to warrant double technicals on Anderson and Howard. That made two on Dwight, which meant, in the words of Tas Melas, he gone:
On one hand, Howard doesn't get the early gate if he doesn't complain about the first no-call. On the other, though ... man, that's a rough way to get chucked before the second half, isn't it?
Howard had scored just five points and grabbed two rebounds in 17 minutes of play prior to his ejection. The Raptors took advantage, leading throughout the second half and opening up a 19-point advantage in the fourth quarter before the Lakers made a late run, eventually finishing with a five-point home win behind big games from Jose Calderon (22 points and nine assists), Landry Fields (18 points on 11 shots, 10 rebounds, four steals, great defense on Kobe Bryant), Ed Davis (18 points on 13 shots, eight rebounds, stout post play) and the aforementioned Anderson (14 points, eight assists and three steals off the bench).
It's not like the Lakers owe the loss entirely to Howard's absence or anything — while Toronto shot 56.1 percent from the floor and 73.7 percent (14 for 19) in the restricted area in the second half, they also shot 53.5 percent and 90.9 percent (10 for 11) at the rim in the first half — but they sure would've preferred to be able to have their starting center available against the Raptors' active front line and dribble penetration. After the game, the Lakers sure didn't seem too thrilled at the circumstances behind Howard's exit, according to Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News:
A quiet Dwight Howard didn't smile as he walked down a hallway toward the team bus. [...]
"I don't want to talk about it," Howard said after posting five points on 1-of-3 shooting and two rebounds in only 17 minutes. "Not tonight." [...]
Several officials talked with Kobe Bryant after halftime about the ejection.
"An official told me, 'Well, he should just walk away.' I said, 'Which direction should he [walk]?'" Bryant said. "Should he turn around and just walk to the bench? He's walking down to the other end of the court, to get back on offense. There's nothing he can do."
Howard told ESPN Los Angeles' Dave McMenamin that the officials "didn't explain" why he'd been T'd up and that he felt like he'd done nothing worthy of an ejection. Teammate Metta World Peace, no stranger to quick-trigger, reputation-fueled Ts, agreed:
"That technical was bad," he said. "That technical, I think it was a mistake. That's OK. [The referees] made a mistake. They made a mistake today giving Dwight the tech because the other guy [Anderson] initiated it."
The grabbing and clutching sure seemed to start with Anderson, and Mauer's punishment — on both Ts, really — seemed to outstrip the severity of Howard's crimes, which make you think that if L.A. appeals Howard's techs, the NBA would at least consider rescinding them. Then again, as a player who ranked among the league leaders in technicals in each of his last three full seasons with the Orlando Magic — most of which were generated by complaints about officiating, like the first one on Sunday — the league might not give Howard the benefit of the doubt so readily.
With Howard out for the second half, Pau Gasol found himself playing plenty of minutes at the five spot; he promptly poured in 18 points on 8 for 11 shooting and grabbed three offensive rebounds. It's almost like Gasol should be playing down low with his back to the basket at the center position rather than 20 feet away from the rim as an oversized stretch four. Weird, huh?
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