LOS ANGELES — Memphis Grizzlies forward Dillon Brooks believes the perception of him as a “villain” factored into him being called for a flagrant foul 2 and ejected early in the third quarter of Saturday’s Game 3 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers.
Brooks, who declined to comment after the game, explained after Sunday’s practice at USC’s Galen Center that his left hand striking LeBron James‘ groin was an accident as he attempted to steal the ball as the Lakers star dribbled up the court.
Brooks said he never received an explanation from referee Marc Davis, the crew chief, for the flagrant 2 calls but speculated that his reputation influenced the decision, as well as Philadelphia 76ers star James Harden being ejected after striking the groin area of Brooklyn Nets forward Royce O’Neale in Game 3 of that series.
“The media making me a villain, the fans making me a villain and then that just creates a whole different persona on me,” Brooks said. “So now you think I intended to hit LeBron James in the nuts. I’m playing basketball. I’m a basketball player. So if I intended — and that’s whatever is in the fragrant 2 category — if you think I did that, that means you think I’m that type of person.”
Brooks won’t face a suspension or any additional penalty for the foul following a review by the NBA, sources told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. The league reviews all flagrant fouls.
“I knew I wasn’t going to be,” Brooks said. “They can’t dictate this series like that. Marc probably had to call that cause of what happened [in Game 3] with James Harden, and that’s just unfair. I get penalized, and I can’t help my team try to make a comeback in the second half.”
It was Brooks’ third ejection this season, matching the Boston Celtics‘ Marcus Smart and the Sacramento Kings‘ Malik Monk for the most in 2022-23, including the playoffs, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. Another of Brooks’ ejections this season was for striking Cleveland Cavaliers star Donovan Mitchell in the groin area during a Feb. 2 loss, which also resulted in Brooks being suspended for a game.
It also was the second career postseason ejection for Brooks. He committed a flagrant 2 that injured Golden State’s Gary Payton II in Game 2 of last season’s Western Conference semifinals and was suspended by the NBA for the next game.
“I’ve been dealing with this [for] two years now,” Brooks said. “It is what it is. The fans can talk s—, whatever they want to. It doesn’t matter to me. I’m going to keep playing my game and get better and better each and every day and as long as my career goes.”
Brooks welcomed the wrath of Lakers fans with blunt comments about James after the Grizzlies’ Game 2 win, when he had a verbal confrontation with James in the third quarter.
“I don’t care — he’s old. You know what I mean?” Brooks, 27, said then of the 38-year-old James. “I was waiting for that. I was expecting him to do that Game 4, Game 5. He wanted to say something when I got my fourth foul. He should have been saying that earlier on. But I poke bears. I don’t respect no one until they come and give me 40.”
Brooks gave brief answers when asked about his verbal provocation of James after Sunday’s practice. But he definitely didn’t take back any of his words.
“Am I saying anything that’s not facts?” Brooks said.
James, a four-time champion and four-time MVP, has averaged 24.7 points on 50.8% shooting, 10.7 rebounds and 4.3 assists in the series to help the Lakers take a 2-1 lead. Brooks has struggled offensively in the series, averaging 11.3 points per game on 32.5% shooting, including 5-of-20 from 3-point range.
Brooks had an especially poor Game 3, going 3-of-13 from the floor as the Lakers schemed defensively to sag off of him and fans booed Brooks every time he touched the ball. He was adamant that the atmosphere had no impact on the poor performance by Memphis, which trailed by 26 after the first quarter, the largest first-quarter deficit in NBA playoff history.
“I’ve been talking all year,” Brooks said. “We just didn’t hit shots at the beginning of the game.”
‘Villain’ label played role in ejection