If you're anything like me, you probably weren't paying super close attention to the final seconds of Monday's matchup between the Houston Rockets and Utah Jazz. That's because Utah's last lead in this barn-burner was 2-0; the Rockets led by double-figures for the final 33-plus minutes of this game, by 20 or more points for all but 59 seconds of the second half, and by 30 or more for the final six minutes. On a seven-game night, you've got to keep your head on a swivel, and there didn't seem to be much reason to swivel back to this game with Houston cruising to a 38-point victory without All-Star center Dwight Howard, who sat out with mild left ankle sprain.
Luckily, Rockets beat man Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle gave us all a head's up as to what to watch for via Twitter:
That was an interesting way to end a pretty dull game. Garcia angry when Lucas stole ball from Canaan while he was dribbling out the clock.— Jonathan Feigen (@Jonathan_Feigen) March 18, 2014
Ooh, anger over a closing-seconds steal? Rockets wing Francisco Garcia and Jazz third-string point guard John Lucas III getting agitated over the breaking of an unwritten rule? Let's swivel back and check out the fireworks!
[lone, sad Roman candle fizzle]
The genesis of the "squabble," for the record:
The Rockets led by 38 points with less than 15 seconds left, and were aiming to just run out the clock and head home with a victory. As Rockets rookie reserve Isaiah Canaan dribbled, Lucas sidled up to him, knocked the ball loose from behind and began to race toward Houston's basket. The Rockets chased him down, prompting Lucas to give up the ball; the clock expired; the Jazz lost by the aforementioned 38-point margin. Veteran swingman Garcia didn't much appreciate Lucas' endeavor, planting a forearm in the point guard's chest in front of Utah's bench. Lucas shoved back, then raised his hands and got loud; Garcia momentarily squared up, too. He didn't have to worry about protecting himself very much, though — Lucas' lone act of aggression was a downward punch that came up a fair few feet short of Francisco. After that, they were separated, and it was all over.
It was less the sort of score-settling donnybrook favored by Marcin Gortat than the industry-standard "now we talk tough with several feet of space separating us, circling and briefly shadowboxing without ever showing an inkling of interest in meeting in the middle," instigated by a little-used veteran who's frustrated by a bunch of things and didn't exactly handle it with aplomb. From Jody Genessy of The Deseret News:
"I just feel like built-up frustration, maybe for the whole year,” Lucas said. “It just triggered something and it triggered me to do what I had to do."
After Jazz assistant Sidney Lowe stepped between his player, Francisco and their clinched fists, the 31-year-old Lucas headed to the locker room. While exiting the court, Lucas, a Houston native, barked out something about “my city” in Garcia’s direction.
Lucas then hit the showers where the rushing water helped cool him off.
Sure, he was upset that the Rockets were up by about 40 points and were “showing off” by shooting a couple of 3-pointers and a long jumper (all Canaan) in the final 1:30. But a calmer Lucas, who has one of the most cheerful and bubbly personalities on the team, admitted that “it was messed up on my part” to steal the ball while an opponent was dribbling out the clock.
“There’s some stuff that you do and that you don’t do,” he said, “and maybe that was one of the things that you don’t do.”
As for his brouhaha with 6-foot-7 Garcia, the 5-foot-10 Lucas wishes it wouldn’t have happened. But he also didn’t like getting smacked in the side.
“When he came in, I threw the ball out and I was walking off and he threw a nice little ‘bow in my ribs,” Lucas said. “I was always taught if … somebody hits you, you can go right back at them. I don’t back away from nobody.“
Well, you kind of backed away from Garcia. Far enough for that one "punch" to come up way short, at least.
Both Lucas (for the square-off and "punch") and Garcia (for the shove that set things off, and for raising his hands, too) could face some sort of discipline from the league office for the "altercation," because even though absolutely nothing of consequence happened, both players took actions that could have resulted in the type of negative thing that the NBA typically aims to avoid. Lucas, for his part, looked to get ahead of the process and in control of himself with a post-game social media apology:
I picked a great game to have my mom in the crowd. Utah, I apologize. I just hate losing, I always will.— John Lucas III (@Luke1luk) March 18, 2014
Yeah, we can see that, John. And yet, with the late-game steal, Lucas managed to take the biggest L of the night — and in "his city," no less.
If the clip above isn't rocking for you, feel free to check out the "scuffle" elsewhere, thanks to Ben Golliver of The Point Forward.
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