The Celtics haven't created this much drama for the Lakers in years.
Late in the first quarter of the Lakers' 139-117 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans, a verbal exchange got two former Celtics — Lakers point guard Isaiah Thomas and Pelicans point guard Rajon Rondo — ejected from the game.
Did Rondo mention the infamous video tribute the Celtics considered playing for Thomas during his recent return to Boston?
Thomas grinned in the locker room after the game.
"Yeah, he brought it up," Thomas said. "For whatever reason he's an upset guy about me. I don't know what it is. He kept bringing the tribute up when I was the one that shut the tribute down."
Hot tempers and corresponding ejections marked the Lakers' first half against the Pelicans. By halftime, Lakers coach Luke Walton, Thomas and Rondo had all been ejected. By then the Pelicans had also taken a commanding lead by exploiting the Lakers' suddenly backsliding defense. New Orleans led 79-66 at halftime, with 31 points from Anthony Davis, who finished with 42.
With the loss, the Lakers fell to 23-33 while the Pelicans improved to 31-26.
The first set of ejections came as the first quarter closed, after Rondo clashed with Thomas. At first it was Rondo playing physical defense against Thomas, even striking him in the face at least twice. The two seemed to separate without incident, but Rondo wasn't finished, leading to a verbal exchange that caused both players to get ejected.
"It felt like they were waiting for me to get upset," Thomas said. "I got hit in my face three times, and the third time I got hit in my face I reacted and tried to tell the refs, 'Are you gonna control this?' Hopefully, like I said, the NBA sees it, looks at it, figures it out, but I definitely need to get those technical fouls rescinded because I didn't do anything."
According to a Pelicans spokesperson, Rondo left the locker room before reporters were allowed inside.
Rondo and Thomas both played for the Celtics, in different eras. Rondo spent eight years with the Celtics and won a championship in 2008, beating the Lakers in the Finals. Thomas spent two seasons with the Celtics and led them to the conference finals last season, where they lost to the Cavaliers.
The Celtics traded Thomas to the Cavaliers on Aug. 31, and planned to do a video tribute for him when the Cavaliers visited the Celtics this past Saturday. But the Cavaliers visit came on the day the Celtics planned to retire Paul Pierce's jersey, and Pierce objected to sharing his spotlight.
The idea offended Rondo, too.
"What has he done?" Rondo told the Worcester Telegram and Gazette. "…This is the Boston Celtics. This isn't the Phoenix Suns — no disrespect to any other organization — but you don't hang conference titles. Do we hang going to the conference finals? What do we hang here?"
Thomas eventually told the Celtics he did not want a video tribute that day because he did not want to take away attention from Pierce, and the whole issue became irrelevant once Cleveland traded Thomas to the Lakers three days before the day in question.
Thomas didn't agree with Rondo's concern, anyway.
"Patrick Beverley got one in Houston," Thomas said. "Chris Paul got one with the Clippers. It's like, they didn't win no championship, but it's just a respect thing. … I know he played on Paul Pierce's team. He's gonna always have Paul Pierce's back, which is fine. I didn't lose sleep over it."
Thomas said Rondo had an "agenda" against him throughout Wednesday's game. He noticed Rondo's physical play immediately after checking into the game with 5:22 left in the first quarter. Thomas, who played less than five minutes in his second game with his new team, went to the locker room disappointed.
"I thought Isaiah did everything he could to not get caught up in it and they let it just keep going and going and going and in my opinion took the easy way out," Walton said. "Just waited so they could give a double-T instead of calling it as it was happening."
It was still on Walton's mind when he was ejected with 1:38 left in the half.
Kyle Kuzma was called for a foul after he thought he notched a clean steal. Kuzma protested and was assessed a technical foul. As it happened, Walton ran onto the court near the Pelicans bench and shouted to the official: "Are you [expletive] kidding me?"
Referee Mike Smith assessed Walton with his seventh and eighth technical fouls of the season. Among coaches, Walton trails only Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer, who has nine technicals.
He and Thomas watched the game's second half together.
"I try not to isolate when I am angry," Walton said. "So I went and found someone to watch the game with."