Booker’s ejection, Eubanks’ altercation overshadow Suns’ win vs. Pistons

Feb 14, 2024, 11:12 PM

Head coach Frank Vogel and Jusuf Nurkic #20 of the Phoenix Suns react to referees J.T. Orr #72 and ...

Head coach Frank Vogel and Jusuf Nurkic #20 of the Phoenix Suns react to referees J.T. Orr #72 and Karl Lane #77 after Devin Booker #1 was ejected for a double technical foul during the first half of the NBA game at Footprint Center on February 14, 2024 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

PHOENIX — Wednesday’s 116-100 Phoenix Suns win over the Detroit Pistons sure was a bizarre way to send a team off to the All-Star break.

Prior to the game upon his arrival to Footprint Center, Suns center Drew Eubanks said he got in an altercation with Pistons center Isaiah Stewart that resulted in him getting sucker-punched by Stewart.

“Basically we were walking in, words were said and we got face-to-face, and then (Stewart) just sucker-punched me,” Eubanks said in the locker room pregame.

Stewart was already ruled out for the game due to a left ankle sprain and was not on the bench while Eubanks played 18 minutes.

This actually affected the game.

At the 6:36 mark of the first quarter, Suns guard Devin Booker was walking off the court toward the bench for a timeout and he was given a technical foul as he sat down. It did not appear to be too passioned of a discussion and he was hardly animated. A few members of the Suns went over to the referees to try to get an explanation.

The replay showed Booker having a handful of words with the official but nothing extended that would lead to a traditional technical foul.

After the technical free throw, Booker pointed in the opposite direction he was walking and the closest official to Booker ejected him.

Suns head coach Frank Vogel was furious and got his own technical foul immediately after.

“They just said they asked him to stop whatever his complaint was and he didn’t stop so they T’d him up and then he said something else to the other official and they ran him out,” Vogel said of his perspective on it.

“Total BS to take a star player out of the game. I’ve seen worse than what he did on a nightly basis. Not, ‘I’ve seen it before.’ I see it every night. So, unprecedented. Those are good officials that were on the game tonight but that was certainly uncalled for and BS.”

We’ve all seen players ejected before but for it to occur in the first quarter for a star player that was hardly demonstrative, it’s a high bar to clear in terms of what was said by Booker to warrant the ejection. The pool report from the crew chief deemed Booker’s first technical foul was for continual complaining while the second was for “disparaging remarks.”

The situation essentially boiled down to an officiating crew aware that there could be more on-court tension than usual due to the Eubanks incident, predictably inspiring an ultra-tight whistle. This contest wasn’t even in the zip code of chippiness or intensity and there were still 16 foul calls in the first quarter.

Kevin Durant said as much unprompted, noting he was surprised by the decision and that Booker was talking to him on the second T.

“I guess he said something that ticked the ref off but they were on edge before the game anyway because of the situation,” Durant said. “They didn’t want things to escalate, they thought it might escalate with our team and theirs but that’s not even the type of team we are. We just try to go out there and talk with our game. You seen it early on. They was trying to just let us know that they gonna control the game. I can understand it, I can see it from their perspective but I just thought that was too quick of a tech. Both of them.”

Especially since the Malice at the Palace, officiating crews are known to get an early handle on a game that has prior events occur that could lead to some kerfuffles on the floor. With that in mind, the ejection was fairly absurd, and Phoenix is fortunate it didn’t happen on a night with a competitive opponent. The fans that paid to see Booker were not so fortunate.

An 18-0 Suns run that spanned from the late first quarter to the early second put Phoenix up 24. Detroit recently renovated its roster at the trade deadline, with four new players in the rotation. For the NBA’s worst team, it showed.

Without Bradley Beal (hamstring) and Booker getting just five minutes and change in, extended minutes came for two-way player Saben Lee. He played well, contributing 16 points, six rebounds, two assists and four steals.

Phoenix led by 29 at halftime. We are familiar with that coat of malaise on teams going through a whole lot of losing, and these Pistons were covered in it with a week off in sight.

Durant was 8-of-13 from the floor for 25 points and was the lone Suns starter to get more than 13. Phoenix shot 32.3% at 3-point range and had 28 assists to 23 turnovers. The whistle and Detroit’s proclivity for fouling was a perfect match for a giant Suns night at the line where they were 36-for-44 (81.8%)

The Pistons produced a 38.4% mark on field goal attempts.

Phoenix heads into the All-Star break 11 games over .500 at 33-22. It has been a good recovery from the Suns over the last six weeks (19-7 since Christmas) and they’ve needed it. The Dallas Mavericks (32-23) have won six straight while a loss for the Golden State Warriors (26-26) snapped their five-game streak. The Los Angeles Lakers (30-26) are also playing better basketball as of late, applying pressure to the play-in race that won’t just be occupied by the Suns, New Orleans Pelicans (33-22) and Sacramento Kings (31-23) behind of the distinct top-4 in the West.

Vogel said postgame Beal will have the procedure on his broken nose that had previously been reported as a possibility. It will not interfere with his rehab for the hamstring injury.

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