Chris Paul made his return to Staples Center Monday night, facing the Los Angeles Clippers as a visiting player for the first time since orchestrating a trade to the Houston Rockets this past summer.
It turned out to be a far more memorable night than anyone could’ve ever anticipated — and barely because of anything that happened on the court during the Clippers’ 113-102 victory.
By the time the night was over, there had been an altercation between Rockets Coach Mike D’Antoni and Clippers star Blake Griffin; a pair of ejections; an attempt by the Rockets to storm the opposing locker room (complete with secret passageways and diversionary tactics); and shade thrown in all directions in postgame interviews — all of which was watched breathlessly in real time on Twitter, giving berth to a seemingly endless series of comedic responses.
While the game was chippy throughout — not exactly a surprise, given the way Paul left and some of the things that have spilled out about the relationships on all sides in the months since — but the real fun began with 3:44 remaining in the fourth quarter, when Rockets guard Eric Gordon drove to the hoop for a layup with Houston trailing by eight, only for it to be blocked by Wesley Johnson. Multiple Rockets — not to mention TNT color analyst Reggie Miller — immediately realized the block was actually a goaltend, and registered their frustrations with the referees. That included D’Antoni, who was near midcourt making his case.
As he turned to run upcourt, Griffin noticed, and signaled to the referees, apparently to do something about D’Antoni being on the court. Griffin then ran along the sideline and appeared to make contact with D’Antoni as he went by.
Griffin — with Paul guarding him — then caught a ball in the post, made a spin move around him and scored while drawing a foul on Rockets center Clint Capela. Meanwhile, D’Antoni talked to an official next to him and pointed at Griffin the entire time.
Once the play was whistled dead following the foul, the Rockets were again infuriated by a call — this time that Griffin’s basket counted, instead of being a foul on the floor. As several players went over to the officials to voice their complaints, Griffin and D’Antoni began having words about whatever happened previously, with D’Antoni — quite clearly — saying, “F— you. I’m out of the way.”
This was just the beginning.
As the Rockets tried to mount a comeback in the final 90 seconds, Griffin got into three spats with Houston players in about six seconds. First, Trevor Ariza grabbed hold of Griffin’s spandex legging as he was driving past him and held on until it ripped. Then Gordon bumped Griffin while trying to trap him on the sideline and fouled him. Griffin, though, kept playing, jumping in the air, spinning and hurling the ball off Gordon’s back to try to save it from going off him out of bounds. Finally, Ariza shoved Griffin after he missed the second of his two free throws following Gordon’s foul.
At this point tempers clearly were boiling over, and as Capela dunked at the other end, Ariza was next to the Clippers bench jawing with injured guard Austin Rivers. Griffin noticed, walked over to Ariza and started jawing with him. Both were ejected.
Even Jerry West — now in the Clippers’ front office — got involved, coming to the court to find out what was happening from another player involved in the Paul trade, Clippers guard Patrick Beverley.
If only everyone watching at the time knew what was going to happen next.
It was time for the postgame news conferences. But it quickly became clear that this was not going to be an ordinary media session.
It began with tweets from reporters on the scene, who initially described a confrontation between Paul and Houston’s other star guard, James Harden — who didn’t even play in the game.
That set the Internet alight, with everyone wondering what, exactly, could have happened to cause the two teammates to go at one another. It quickly was discovered, however, that something very different took place.
Before long, reporters began telling the story of what really happened: Several Rockets players tried to gain access to the Clippers’ locker room, which are accessible from one another by some back hallways. It turned out that four players — Paul, Harden, Ariza and Gerald Green — had attempted to get in, only for security to rebuff them.
Now this was getting good. Players storming the locker rooms, and doing so using back hallways and secret doors!
But wait — there’s more!
So what was already a wild story — the Rockets storming into the Clippers locker room — was given a new element: diversionary tactics!
Now, a couple of things about all of this. First, as anyone who has never been around the NBA for more than a moment knows, none of these guys were ever actually going to fight with one another. Heck, it was only about 12 hours earlier that Kyle Lowry and Ben Simmons had threatened to go at one another at the end of the Toronto Raptors-Philadelphia 76ers game, one of several wild things to happen during this Martin Luther King Day slate.
Second, and most interestingly, this wasn’t the first time the Clippers had been involved in a situation like this. Back in 2014, after the Golden State Warriors and Clippers had played an emotional seven-game series that saw the Clippers eventually win Game 7 at Staples Center, the two teams had words after the game in similar fashion.
But whether they were actually ever going to fight or not wasn’t even the point at this point. There had been all of this craziness during the game, and then it had somehow been topped by even crazier craziness after it, with the Rockets using Paul’s knowledge of Staples Center to try to get into the Clippers locker room and get after them.
And with that, Basketball Twitter was off and running, delivering a nonstop stream of ridiculous tweets, GIFs and memes depicting how people envisioned all of this might have gone down.
There were even political jokes about Capela being from Switzerland:
At one point, the police were even called, leading to this incredible reaction from the inimitable “Inside The NBA” crew as they tried to take all of this in:
We still haven’t heard from any of the players and coaches, though. And don’t worry — they had plenty to say. I mean, how could they not?
Let’s start with both coaches. When asked about what happened, this is all Clippers Coach Doc Rivers would say: “Let’s put it like this: our team was in our locker room. That’s all I’ll say. I’ll let you do the rest of the investigation. I will say their entire team was not in their locker room. You’re going to have to figure it out from there.”
D’Antoni, meanwhile, was asked about what happened with Griffin multiple times, and had the same response: “You mean after he hit me?”
He then summed up the entire night with this line: “Boys will be boys.”
That’s definitely one way to put it.
But wait — there’s more!
Of course Paul eventually had to be interviewed after the game. And when he was, he didn’t miss an extremely easy chance to throw massive shade at Griffin.
“They’ve got Lou Will. Lou Will is the guy,” Paul said, referring to another player involved in the trade that sent him to Houston, Lou Williams, who had 31 points to lead all scorers Monday night. “That’s the go-to guy, the guy they should play through and stuff like that.
“He’s having a great year, and he’s tough, man. He’s tough.”
Meanwhile, as Paul was throwing shade at Griffin, Beverley was throwing shade at Paul on Twitter himself:
That was followed up by the Utah Jazz asking the Twitter account for their arena, Vivint Smart Home Arena, for some architectural renderings:
Then Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey chimed in, pulling retired Clipper Paul Pierce into the fray and reminding everyone of the last night that was even remotely this crazy on Basketball Twitter back in July of 2015, when the Clippers held DeAndre Jordan “hostage” at his home in Houston as they convinced him to remain with them instead of doing what he’d originally said he was going to and sign a max contract to join the Dallas Mavericks.
Rivers got into the act, too, making light of the fact he was unable to play while all of this was happening:
And, finally, Griffin came in with what was, undoubtedly, the best tweet of them all:
With that, everyone signed off for the night, waiting to see what further discipline will await all involved as the week progresses. The NBA will undoubtedly investigate the incident, with fines a certainty and some suspensions possible, as well, depending on how seriously the league takes the possibility that there was an attempt to get into the opposing locker room to start a fight.
And everyone will also keep Feb. 28 — the day the Rockets will make their second and final visit of the season to Staples Center to face the Clippers.
Oh, and there’s this, too: if the playoff standings stay as they are right now, the Rockets and Clippers would meet in the first round of the NBA playoffs.
And, after Monday’s insanity, who wouldn’t want to see that?