Saturday’s exchange of words and fists between Houston’s Chris Paul and the Lakers’ Rajon Rondo was just the latest flashpoint in the All-Star guards’ long-running history.
Clippers coach Doc Rivers, who coached Rondo in Boston for seven seasons and Paul with the Clippers for five, didn’t expect Brandon Ingram’s initial foul on Houston’s James Harden would spill over into a fight resulting in the suspensions of Ingram, Paul and Rondo, but Rivers called it unsurprising his ultracompetitive former players found themselves in the middle of it.
“They’ve had their run-ins,” Rivers said before Sunday’s tipoff against the Rockets, a game Paul missed as part of a two-game suspension handed down by the NBA. “I’m not actually sure what it’s all over.
“I know at one point they both wanted to be known as the best point guard but it’s got to be more than that. There always is and I don’t know what it is but there’s no love lost, there’s no doubt about that.”
The dislike may stem from a 2009 matchup between Paul’s New Orleans Hornets and Rondo’s Celtics. Rondo approached Paul on the court after the game and told him, “I've got a ring, and you're never gonna win one,” according to a Yahoo Sports report at the time.
Paul’s first game back from the suspension will come Friday when the Clippers visit the Rockets. Houston coach Mike D’Antoni took issue with the length of Paul’s suspension.
“If you want to suspend him one I get it just to make a statement, but when you talk monetarily, he's paying three times more than the other guys are paying?” he said. “Doesn't seem to be right.”
Following Ingram’s foul of Harden late in the fourth quarter Saturday, Ingram confronted official Jason Phillips while Paul and Rondo began separately jawing with one another. After Paul put his finger in Rondo’s face, Rondo punched Paul and Paul hit back. Ingram then rejoined the scuffle and threw punches.
Paul contended that before he touched Rondo, the Lakers guard had spit on him. Kiki VandeWeghe, the NBA’s vice president of basketball operations, said the league’s investigation found a replay angle that showed “there was spitting in Chris Paul’s direction.”
“I don’t think anyone wants to be spat on and no one wants to have their finger shoved in their face so both acts were pretty not good and then no one wants to get punched and no one wants to receive punches,” Rivers said. “Spitting has always been, even in like football or anything … that’s a line crossed. Those two acts are the two worst.”
Paul told teammates he’d been spit on Saturday and D’Antoni said he never doubted the assertion.
“Obviously that was pretty disgusting,” D’Antoni said. “… [Paul] was straight-up honest and you know, he was apologetic, he apologized to the team and he didn't want it to happen that way, but in the heat of the moment, when somebody does that, I mean, that's tough, I mean that's really tough.”
The rivalry between Rondo and Paul is "not all bad for our league," Rivers said. He added he didn't include fighting in that sentiment.