In the immediate aftermath of the contentious Rockets-Clippers game Monday, reports indicated that former Clipper Chris Paul led a group of Houston teammates, including James Harden, down a secret tunnel at Staples Center to enter the Los Angeles locker room and confront Blake Griffin and Austin Rivers.
It remains unclear whose idea it was to do that, but on Wednesday, the NBA described Paul and Harden as “peacemakers” while it handed two-game suspensions to the other Houston players involved in that expedition party, Trevor Ariza and Gerald Green.
“To go into another team’s locker room immediately after a game, totally inappropriate and very provocative for the players to do that, and so that’s a dangerous situation,” Kiki Vandeweghe, the league’s vice president of basketball operations, told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. “It really is.”
However, Vandeweghe declared that, after an investigation in which the NBA spoke to over 20 people and looked at surveillance video footage, Paul and Harden were judged to have been trying to de-escalate tensions. The league also declined to hand out a punishment to Griffin, who earned Mike D’Antoni’s wrath when he collided with the Rockets coach during the game and who was ejected, along with Ariza, with just over a minute left in the contest.
“We interviewed a lot of people from both sides. Both those guys were peacemakers,” Vandeweghe said of Paul and Harden. “Both of them tried to diffuse the situation out in the hall. They were trying to get … their teammates out of the locker room. They were both in that vein. And that came from both sides. We feel comfortable that was their role and as such there wouldn’t be any penalty.”
Wojnarowski had previously reported that Ariza was described by witnesses as “the first one through the door, with Paul lingering in the back.” According to the report, when the Clippers realized the four Rockets had breached their locker room, they sprang to their feet and dared the quartet to move in farther, before security and team officials “converged” and pushed the Houston players back toward the visitors’ facility.
Ariza and Green are set to miss upcoming Rockets game against the Timberwolves and Warriors, teams that, as with Houston, are in the top four in the Western Conference standings. Before his suspension was announced, Ariza claimed that “nothing happened,” saying (via the AP), “You guys had a lot of different stories about what happened, none of them which were true.”
Referring to the multiplayer trade that sent Paul from the Clippers to the Rockets in the offseason, Ariza added (via the Houston Chronicle’s Jonathan Feigen), “Half of those players in that locker room were on our team last year. Everybody is pretty friendly. I’m pretty friendly with everybody that I know. People I don’t know, I don’t really talk to.”
As for Paul’s role in masterminding the raid, it made initial sense because he had played in Los Angeles for six seasons, so he could have been expected to know his way around Staples Center. However, as some pointed out Wednesday, Ariza, who played two seasons for the Lakers earlier in his career, could also have known about the back corridor they used to gain access to the Clippers’ locker room.
Vandeweghe said of the corridor (via Feigen), “Everybody knows about it. Players come in and out. Teams have food there, equipment, X-rays and MRI machines are back there.”