DETROIT – The Detroit Pistons have taken all kinds of lumps during the first few weeks of the season.
Their fiery second-year center who played high school basketball in Rochester, wasn’t about to back down from the one he got on Sunday, even if it came from the world’s most famous athlete.
LeBron James whacked Isaiah Stewart in the face, resulting in a bloody mess that required eight stitches. Stewart, who also attended elementary school in Rochester, reacted with rage and needed to be restrained multiple times during a third-quarter fracas between the Los Angeles Lakers and Pistons.
“His eye got cracked all the way open,” coach Dwane Casey said. “He was upset for a reason. I don’t think that James is a dirty player but it got them going, instead of continuing the momentum that we had.”
The altercation occurred early in the second half with the Pistons holding a 12-point lead. They eventually pushed that advantage to 17, but the Lakers roared back for a 121-116 victory.
Stewart sustained a large cut under his right eye during a Jerami Grant free throw while battling for position between James and DeAndre Jordan. Stewart was knocked to the floor. Once he got up, he immediately exchanged words with the long-time superstar and then tried to go after him.
James and Stewart were both ejected, James for a Flagrant Foul 2 and Stewart for his “multiple unsportsmanlike acts,” according to lead official Scott Foster. That referred to his repeated attempts to get into a fistfight with James and other Lakers.
The next step will come from the league office, which will decide whether any further punishment is warranted. Casey stated his case that his second-year center was punished enough.
“He shouldn’t be facing anything,” Casey said. “Not getting off the court in time, the league will have to decide on that. The man got eight stitches, or whatever the number of stitches it is, across his forehead. … He was upset, blood running down his face. I don’t see ramifications from the league from that standpoint, except for him just (not) leaving the court, maybe. I thought that’s why he got ejected out of the game. To me, that’s enough punishment.”
Cade Cunningham was one of the players who restrained Stewart.
“Trying to stop him from maybe getting into trouble, something like that,” Cunningham said.
Lakers big man Anthony Davis said James was trying to apologize to Stewart.
“Everyone in the league knows LeBron is not a dirty guy,” Davis said.
Stewart said he first played organized basketball as a 10-year old, when he was a student at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. School No. 9 in the city of Rochester. He left the Rochester City School District for McQuaid Jesuit, a private school in Brighton, a suburb of Rochester. Stewart was listed at 6 feet-7 inches tall as a 14-year old.
“He’s a kid you won’t see very often around here,” McQuaid basketball coach Jack Leasure said during Stewart’s freshman year of high school.
Stewart remained at McQuaid through his sophomore year, then followed advice in 2017 to seek stiffer competition and help his then already rising status as a player sought after by well-known college basketball teams.
A two-time Democrat and Chronicle All-Greater Rochester team member, Stewart ended up at La Lumiere, a prep school in LaPorte, Indiania, which was ranked No. 1 among high school basketball teams in the country by USA TODAY High School Sports.
Kentucky University, Syracuse, Michigan State and University of Washington all welcomed Stewart during official recruiting visits to their schools.
Playing in the USA Basketball system also helped Stewart in the college basketball recruiting scene, and he was considered a top 10 prospect in the nation by some, when he committed to play at Washington, coached by former Syracuse assistant Mike Hopkins.
Stewart, who was 6-9 and 250 pounds as a freshman at Washington, played one season with the Huskies before entering the NBA Draft. The Portland Trailblazers made Stewart the No. 16 overall pick in the 2020 draft, before trading the hard-working center to Detroit.
Cunningham notched his first career triple-double against the Lakers, but that was overshadowed by the fracas and the comeback by Los Angeles.
Davis and Russell Westbrook were ruthless in their own way, combining for 27 points, nine rebounds and nine assists in the fourth quarter, when the Lakers outscored the Pistons 37-17. Davis also had three blocks and two steals in the late going.
The Pistons shot 3-for-18 and had no assists in the last 12 minutes after recording 27 assists in the first three quarters.
“Maybe we just got bored with moving the ball,” Cunningham said.
What could be less boring is what will happen the next time Stewart, who wasn’t made available to the media, faces the Lakers. It just so happens the next Lakers-Pistons matchup is this coming Sunday, in Los Angeles.
“The sooner we can get it behind us,” Casey said, “the better.”
Casey advised Stewart after the game to not let the sight of him in a bloody rage, getting desperately held back from starting a brawl, be a defining moment in his young career.
“Just keep your head and don’t get a reputation afterward,” Casey said of his talk with Stewart. “I felt for the young man because he’s such a competitor, plays so hard. He’s a great kid but … he felt like it was a cheap shot across his brow. On the street, it would be a different story. It’s no reflection on Isaiah whatsoever.”
Contributing: Democrat and Chronicle reporter James Johnson