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CLEVELAND — Cavaliers star LeBron James was ejected for the first time in his 15-year career during Tuesday night’s 108-97 win over the Miami Heat.
James, playing in his 1,082nd career game, was tossed with 1:59 remaining in the third quarter and the Cavs leading 93-70.
After getting a steal, James dribbled upcourt and missed a layup, then argued with referee Kane Fitzgerald that Heat forward James Johnson fouled him on the attempt. Fitzgerald assessed James with a single technical foul and ejected him from the game.
“I got fouled all the way up the court, from the time that I stripped him, all the way until I got to the rim,” James said of the sequence leading up to his ejection. “I said what I had to say and then I moved on, but he decided I should get [ejected]. It is what it is. We got the win, and that’s what’s most important.”
Fitzgerald explained the rationale behind his decision to a pool reporter after the game.
“It was a culmination of a couple different acts,” Fitzgerald said. “Immediately after the no-call, he turned and threw an air punch directly at me, and then he aggressively charged at me, and then he used vulgarity in my ear a few times.”
Fitzgerald added that there was “nothing at all, nothing that I’m aware of” that built up between him and James throughout the game prior to the run-in late in the third quarter that fed into the ejection.
At the time of the ejection, James had 21 points on 10-for-16 shooting, 12 rebounds and 6 assists but had attempted only one free throw.
“I think I’m one of the league leaders in points in the paint. I drive just as much as anybody. At this point, it’s almost like they’re trying to turn me into a jump shooter,” James said of how he has been officiated this season. “I can’t be a jump shooter. I’m not a jump shooter. I watch games every single night and I see jump shooters going to the line multiple, double-digit times every night, and I’m not a jump shooter and I get fouled just as much as everybody else, so it’s going to the line one time, three times or four times, that’s not what it’s about.”
Coming into Tuesday, James’ 5.6 free throw attempts per game were a career low, while his 19.3 field goal attempts per game were the most he has put up since 2009-10.
James also came into the night ranked third in the league in field goal attempts behind James Harden and Damian Lillard, but while Harden and Lillard rank first and second in the league in free throw attempts, respectively, James is just 14th.
As for paint attempts, James entered Tuesday with 176 shots within 3 feet of the basket, behind only Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Milwaukee Bucks?star forward averages nearly three free throw attempts more per game than James.
Last season, several Cavs teammates spoke out on James’ behalf when he wasn’t receiving the calls they felt he deserved.
Asked about arguing with an official when the Cavs were up by 23, James said, “I’m trying to win every possession. I don’t care if we’re up 23 or we’re down 23. I want to win every possession.”
Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue did not protest the ref’s decision.
“Yup,” Lue said. “Should have got thrown out. Yup. … I really don’t know what he said. He got kicked out. Want me to go against the ref? No, he got thrown out. He’s out.”
Lue later joked that James getting thrown out was one way to easily manage his star’s minutes from getting too high.
Dwyane Wade?was surprised to see James on such a short leash with the official.
“I mean, I just thought it was quick,” Wade said. “I mean, a player like him, you give him the benefit of the doubt. He says something, you give him a tech, kind of walk away and let him calm down. That’s it. That’s all I got on that.”
Wade was asked if he’d ever seen James that mad before in their five seasons as teammates.
“You know what, yes. I just ain’t never seen him get ejected,” Wade said. “But I’ve definitely seen him that mad before.”
New York Knicks center Enes Kanter, who clashed with James earlier this month after James referred to himself as “the King of New York,” might raise James’ ire even more with the way he reacted to the ejection on his Twitter account.