Jazz guard John Lucas III and Rockets forward Francisco Garcia squared off during a post-game altercation following Houston's 124-86 home victory on Monday.
The near-fight occurred after an unusual late-game situation. With Houston leading by 38 points and the shot clock turned off, players on both teams began to mill around as Isaiah Canaan dribbled out the clock. Sensing an opportunity for a steal, Lucas sauntered over behind Canaan and poked the ball free from behind before taking off up the court. The Rockets gave chase, forcing Lucas to pass the ball and the clock ran out before the Jazz could get off a final shot.
Shortly after Lucas passed the ball, Garcia shoved him with a forearm in front of the Jazz's bench. Lucas responded by using both of his hands to shove Garcia in the chest, and he then squared up with both fists as he shouted at Garcia, who briefly raised his own fists as well. Lucas threw one punch at the air before the two players could be separated, and the Toyota Center booed as Utah left the court.
Afterwards, the Deseret News reported that Lucas was upset by the fact that Houston was "showing off" by hitting two three-pointers in the game's final three minutes while they held a 30-plus point lead, although Lucas did admit that he shouldn't steal the ball in that situation.
"I stole the ball and I dribbled it out ... and [Garcia] came in and threw a cheap shot at my rib," Lucas told the paper. "I just pushed back and it escalated. ... I don’t back away from nobody. ... Night in, night out, you’ve got to play with passion. I take pride in this game. ... I play with my heart on my sleeve."
Lucas finished with two points (on 1-for-7 shooting), two assists, one rebound and one steal in 12 minutes on the night. The steal that prompted the altercation was Lucas' first since Feb. 7, a span of 38 days.
After taking a little time to cool off further, Lucas posted an apology on Twitter.
"I picked a great game to have my mom in the crowd," he wrote. "Utah, I apologize. I just hate losing, I always will."
This whole mess can be filed multiple times under the "two wrongs don't make a right" heading. Lucas didn't really need to steal the ball to retaliate for the alleged showboating. Garcia didn't really need to shove Lucas to retaliate for the stat-padding steal. Lucas didn't need to shove Garcia in retaliation for the initial shove, and he certainly didn't need to punch the air for no particular reason.
The league's unwritten sportsmanlike standards covering late-game situations are there for the benefit of all participants. That includes Lucas, who never would have been in position to take a shot from Garcia -- cheap or otherwise -- had he simply accepted the loss like a professional or expressed his frustration to the Rockets without trying to pull one over on Canaan. No amount of losing and no margin of defeat can justify his late-game antics, and it's hard to find major fault with Garcia, who was sticking up for his teammate and didn't deliver a truly flagrant blow.
As with any altercation, especially one involving a punch, the Lucas/Garcia exchange will surely be reviewed by the league office. Lucas could face a fine and/or a one-game suspension due to the aggressive nature of his show and the fact that he threw a punch, even if it only hit air. Garcia's shove and response wouldn't seem to be enough to justify any sanction but we'll have to wait to see how this one shakes out.
Once the dust had settled and the court had cleared, Houston snapped a three-game losing streak to improve to 45-22. Utah's fifth straight loss dropped their record to 22-46.