Dillon Brooks is one of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA, but his best skill may actually be getting under opponents’ skin, as Jarred Vanderbilt found out first hand on Monday night. This time, Brooks got the last laugh, as Vanderbilt was ejected in the second quarter of the Houston Rockets‘ 135-119 win over the Los Angeles Lakers.
After Austin Reaves got into lane for a tough bucket, Brooks gave Vanderbilt a bit of a nudge and the Lakers forward responded with a shove of his own. That earned Vanderbilt his first technical, and he wasn’t done just yet. As Brooks was walking away, Vanderbilt followed him and poked him in the back of the head for some reason. That was enough for a second technical and an early trip to the showers.
Vanderbilt’s frustration seemed to stem from a play a few possessions prior where he drove to the basket and Brooks pushed him in the back. Brooks was whistled for a foul on the play and Vanderbilt took a hard fall into the basket stanchion.
Brooks faced no further punishment for either incident with Vanderbilt, but later in the game he was whistled for a Flagrant 1 foul after hitting LeBron James in the face.
James, who has a well-documented history with Brooks, was uninterested in discussing the incident. “Next question,” he said, when asked about it.
Anthony Davis, however, did have some thoughts. In sticking up for Vanderbilt, Davis said that Brooks should have been tossed as well.
“It’s bogus,” Davis said. “You take a hard foul, that’s part of basketball, but you not gonna push someone in the back when they have no control of their body in the air. He should have got ejected for that and then him and Bron had their, whatever. From what I saw, it was a blatant hit on Bron to the face. The refs saw it differently. It is what it is.”
Lakers coach Darvin Ham wasn’t upset with Vanderbilt for putting the team in an early hole, and he also complimented Brooks’ competitive nature as a player. “It’s hard to control yourself, man,” Ham said. “Being competitive is one thing — Dillon Brooks is one of the most competitive players that our league has. [He] competes at a high level.”
Still, he took umbrage with how the situation played out. “… Maybe Dillon Brooks shouldn’t have been in the game either. It’s unfortunate. I salute and my hats off to Vando for [sticking] up for his teammate, [for sticking] up for himself and his team. It is what it is.”
This has been a frustrating season for Vanderbilt, who did not make his debut until December due to a heel injury and struggled in his initial return. He has looked better in recent weeks, however, scoring in double digits in four of his last five games entering Monday. During the Lakers’ dramatic double-overtime win over the Golden State Warriors on Saturday, he finished with 14 points, nine rebounds, five assists and four steals in 41 minutes.