It's not often that an NBA tussle can feature no punches thrown, no forceful shoves, very little physical contact between players, and still evoke memories of the Malice at the Palace. That last night's contretemps between the Lakers and Pistons did exactly that is perhaps a testament to the Detroit connection, or to the blood around Isaiah Stewart's eye. Really, though, what briefly brought back memories of the Malice was Stewart's long, prevailing desire to kick someone's ass.
That someone being LeBron James. Stewart was overcome with violent desires in the third quarter, after James whacked him on the face while the two were battling for rebound positioning during a free throw. I'm going to show you a clip of the whole incident from start to finish, but this is one of those events that needs to be analyzed from multiple angles in order to be appreciated, so get ready for that.
Stewart was obviously very bloody and mad for several minutes, but it's hard to see in that clip exactly what James did that got him so angry. Let's go to the alternate angle:
That's a whack! An intentional whack! The very kind of thing that is guaranteed to make any NBA player instantly enraged. It did look like James, perhaps a little sheepishly, tried to apologize to Stewart after realizing what he'd done, but that only made Stewart angrier. What's truly remarkable about all of this is just how long Stewart was able to stay enraged despite not really receiving any further provocations from anyone on the Lakers. He even resorted to the "No, no, it's cool, I'm fine now. Sike!" maneuver several times in order to break away from the army of people trying to hold him and calm him down. It was Stewart's desire that birthed the true highlight of the game, in which the Pistons power forward recreated Marshawn Lynch's Beast Quake run on his way towards the Lakers:
Sorry, Cade Cunningham, but arm tackles aren't going to work against a guy with that kind of cutback ability and running power.
James and Stewart were obviously ejected from the game, and after a smattering of techs were handed out—Russell Westbrook is still wondering why exactly he got one—the game resumed. Before the fracas, the Lakers were losing by double digits and looked to be on the way to earning their most embarrassing loss yet in a season that has been full of bad vibes and embarrassing losses. But the LeBron-less Lakers took complete control of the game, outscoring the Pistons 37-17 in the fourth quarter and winning the game, 121-116. To hear DeAndre Jordan tell it, it was Stewart's attempted rampage that galvanized the Lakers and allowed them to get the win. From ESPN:
"The altercation, it could have done two things: It could have made us unravel. Or it could have brought us together, and I think it did just that. It brought us together," Lakers center DeAndre Jordan said. "We were down, we could have easily folded, let go of the rope, but we didn't. We continued to fight, and we knew, obviously, with LeBron out we had to all step it up even more."ESPN
I mean, sure. Or maybe the Pistons really suck.