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Kevin Garnett ejected after head-butting Dwight Howard in Nets' loss to Rockets

Kevin Garnett #2 of the Brooklyn Nets walks

Kevin Garnett #2 of the Brooklyn Nets walks off the court after he was ejected in the first quarter against the Houston Rockets at Barclays Center on Monday, Jan. 12, 2015. Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

Jay Z arrived in his customary courtside seats next to the Nets' bench near the end of the first quarter, too late to see the fireworks between the guy who initially wanted to be in Brooklyn and the guy who had to be persuaded to waive his no-trade clause to come here.

Dwight Howard's day -- one that began with him hoisting shots inside the Nets' arena for the very first time -- had just gotten more intriguing, thanks to a dust-up with Kevin Garnett.

The two became angry at each other during a brief altercation with 7:53 remaining in the quarter, with Garnett head-butting Howard and getting ejected.

But after James Harden's 30 points and six assists helped the Rockets hand the Nets their season-high sixth straight loss, 113-99, Howard's frown gave way to another expression -- a devilish grin that would've made the Cheshire Cat jealous.

"Kevin's a passionate player," said Mason Plumlee, who led the Nets (16-22) with 24 points, 10 rebounds and 10-for-11 shooting. "He's always on edge and that's what's made him great. The whole thing to me was something out of nothing. But after that, it'd be good to come out and get a win . . . Those are the kind of games as a team you want to win, and we didn't do that."

As many in the crowd of 16,115 still were settling in, Howard got fouled by Garnett while driving the baseline. Garnett wasn't pleased, giving Howard a slight shove with his right arm. Howard retaliated by hitting Garnett in the upper chest area with his left hand.

That enraged Garnett, who fired the ball at Howard's back. Incensed, he took two steps in Howard's direction before head-butting him, sparking a brief confrontation. Howard swiped at Garnett with his right hand and the two had to be separated as Garnett mouthed several choice words.

"I don't know," Howard said when asked how the scuffle began. "It doesn't matter. We won the game. That's all that matters."

But how did that head butt feel?

"I don't know," Howard said. "Maybe you should try MMA to see how it feels."

Garnett, who didn't make himself available to the media, and Howard each got slapped with a technical foul after a lengthy video review by the officials. Garnett also was given the heave-ho, leaving his teammates to fend for themselves while they tried to break out of one of their roughest stretches of the season. Howard was allowed to remain in the game and had eight points and five rebounds in 28:15.

"They said that it didn't look like Howard threw a punch," Nets coach Lionel Hollins said. "They said it was a half-punch or open-handed. It wasn't much of a punch in their mind when they looked at it.''

Asked if he agreed with the assessment, he said: "It doesn't matter whether I do or not. That was the decision that was made and we all have to live with it."

Just as the Nets had to live with Howard's decision to opt back into the final year of his contract with the Magic in 2012 when some thought he'd be signing with them as they began their stay in Brooklyn. Howard initially made it known that this was his preferred destination, only to inexplicably postpone his eventual free agency by a year.

"It was something at the time I thought would be the best move, but everything happens for a reason," he said. "I was looking forward to one day being in Brooklyn at the time, but I found a great home in Houston . . . One thing I try to do is live without regrets. There was a point in time I thought this was the best place for me to play basketball. I think when I opted in, that kind of changed everything."

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