The Kings hadn’t picked up a technical foul since trading DeMarcus Cousins over the All-Star break. It came Tuesday night – and from an unlikely source.
Rookie center George Papagiannis earned his first technical foul in the first quarter of the Kings’ 129-104 win over the Phoenix Suns, the result of a scuffle with Suns rookie forward Dragan Bender in which the two 7-footers had to be separated.
With the Kings on offense, Papagiannis got tangled up with Bender fighting for position under the basket. As Bender was whistled for a personal foul, the two came face-to-face and had to be pulled apart.
A heated Papagiannis continued to bark in Bender’s direction as Kings guard Garrett Temple pushed him back toward the sideline.
“I was just trying to get my hand out of (the grip of) Dragan,” Papagiannis said after the game. “And he just turned around, he came to my face. I had to protect first myself. And then I saw three players from the Phoenix Suns coming to me.
“I’m not going to back down. If you want to have a fight, they’re going to have a fight. We have a team, they have a team. It is what it is. I didn’t try to do anything. I just tried to get my hand off him. That’s it.”
Officials reviewed the play and assessed technical fouls to both Papagiannis and Bender, as well as one to Phoenix rookie forward Marquese Chriss, who appeared to direct words at Papagiannis.
In his first NBA season, Papagiannis, the 19-year-old from Greece, has come off mostly as a soft-spoken young player dipping his toe into a new league. In his confrontation with Bender, another 19-year-old from Croatia, Papagiannis dived in headfirst.
“I’m not surprised, actually,” Kings center Willie Cauley-Stein said. “Pop’s crazy.”
“You’ll see,” Cauley-Stein said. “Pop’s mean, yo.”
Papagiannis did not deny his teammate’s characterization.
“They know really what I am,” Papagiannis said. “I may be quiet sometimes, but they say the quiet (people) just have a fire inside them. All my teammates, if it was like a real fight, they would back me up, they would protect me. That’s it.”
Tuesday’s dust-up settled fairly quickly, and both Papagiannis and Bender played the rest of the game without incident. The more lingering effect may be on Papagiannis’ pocketbook.
“I don’t know what the fine is, what’s that, $2,500?” coach Dave Joerger said, smiling. “But since it’s the first fine since the (Cousins) trade, the first technical foul since the trade, we’re going to triple it to $7,500.”
Amid laughter, Joerger continued: “I like the spirit. You know, guys get into it, oops, oops, shove, shove, and you move on. But I appreciated it. In fact, I appreciated their guy, too. You know what, stand up. ‘This is my space, no excuse me it’s my space, and what’d you have for dinner last night.’ And move on.”