A common complaint about this version of the NBA is that the league lacks exciting rivalries. It’s not like the 80’s where Magic Johnson’s Lakers battled Larry Bird’s Celtics in what seemed like a battle of heavyweights throughout the decade. It also is not like the 90’s where the Pistons were rivals with the Bulls and Lakers and Celtics and every team in the league.
This generation of the NBA looks tame compared to those eras. And many will agree with that statement. However, very surprisingly, a new rivalry has gone under the radar but last night brought it to the forefront and now stands as one of the game’s current great rivalries.
This pair has brewed up for years now and last night felt like the animosity between the two sides had finally come to a climax. However, surprisingly, this rivalry has been years in the making.
It started on a night in May where the Clippers were supposed to achieve their greatest accomplishment in franchise history, a trip to the Conference Finals. The team had defeated the San Antonio Spurs in an epic seven-game series in the round before and were even favored against the Houston Rockets, who were the higher seed in the series.
After going up 3 games to 1, the Clippers looked like they were going to run away with the series, especially after two double-digit blowouts at the Staples Center in Games 3 & 4. A Rockets win in Game 5 seemed like it was just an extension on the Rockets’ expiration, especially after the Clippers went up by 20 in the second half. However, a Rockets’ unit comprised of the most unlikeliest cast of heroes, all of whom minus Trevor Ariza are ex-Rockets, completed one of the most bizarre comebacks in NBA history, going from down 20 to up 10.
The Rockets would go on to win Game 7 and stop the Clippers at the cusp of their most successful season in franchise history. Of the team’s 2015 roster, only Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, and Austin Rivers remain, but that core still remember the pain the Rockets brought them in that series, and it has lingered to the present day.
Fast forward to this past April, and the Clippers are bounced from the first round of the playoffs for the second consecutive year and have not won a playoff series since defeating the Spurs in 2015. Chris Paul, the team’s best player, is looking for a new home and wants to be able to get to where the Clippers could not, the Finals.
The team that gave him the best chance to do that was his former foe, the Rockets. With Paul’s status as a future Hall of Famer, he’s one of the few that can decide his own fate and people will revolve around what he wants to accomplish. And the Rockets, also looking to take a step in the right direction, pulled the trigger by sending seven players to the Clippers for one CP3.
With such a huge haul going to the Clippers, the team now has four Rockets from last year’s playoff team who made an improbable march to the Conference Semifinals.
The two teams have seven players that have played for the opposing team at some point in their career: Chris Paul, Luc Mbah a Moute, Eric Gordon (who ironically was traded for Chris Paul in 2011), Patrick Beverley, Sam Dekker, Montrezl Harrell, and Lou Williams, who is supposedly better than Chris Paul.
Look, Sweet Lou is a great player and has the Clippers on a good run as of right now, but he is not better than future Hall of Famer CP3. Let’s simmer down these hot takes.
When the schedule was announced for the current season, December 22 was a date both teams had circled, a meeting in Houston on national TV. It was linked up to be both Patrick Beverley’s return to Houston and Chris Paul’s first game against his former team. Unfortunately, both point guards were injured prior to the game and missed the highly-anticipated contest. The game did not go without fireworks, however.
As many of us now, a sixth foul should have been called on rookie Jawun Evans but was called on Lou “Better than CP3” Williams and shifted the momentum of the whole game. James Harden wound up getting ejected late in the fourth quarter of the game and Mike D’Antoni was issued a technical foul as well. The Clippers ended up winning the game and the Rockets filed a protest of the game. Eventually, the protest was withdrawn but the Rockets felt like they did not get a fair shake. The fallout from that game poured into last night when CP3 found himself in the visiting locker room against the Clippers.
Last night, the Rockets were simply outplayed by the Clippers and could not drain their threes. It’s hard to win a game when a team shoots 40 percent while the opponent makes 55 percent of their shots. But last night’s game was incredibly chippy. The Clippers played like they were pissed off, and naturally, they should have been. Half of them were playing the team that did not want them anymore and the rest were playing a team led by their former leader who “ditched” them for a better team.
The Clippers were the Rockets’ younger brother in 2015 and this past summer when the team brought in CP3. Now, the Clippers are retaliating and team was angry and they let it out last night. The team did not play with a chip on their shoulder, they played with a whole bag of chips.
Emotions are bound to get in the way when two teams have a complex history on and off the court. And that’s exactly what happened last night.
Everyone got competitive and got mad. All of the stuff on the court led by what seemed to be Blake Griffin and Austin Rivers, two of Chris Paul’s ex-teammates, led to what happened off the court. If the Rockets play any other team in the league, the locker room pandemonium does not occur.
The bad blood between the two teams is real. Last night proved that a lot of wounds are still very fresh and that a lot has yet to be settled.
The future of the rivalry still has a lot to look forward to as well. How will the Rockets react when the team heads back to Los Angeles? Will Montrezl Harrell continue to play the Rockets better than every other team in the league? How will Patrick Beverley play in his first game against his former team?
The rivalry still has a lot of life left in it and a lot to look forward to. February 28 is now a date that many viewers have circled because they want to see the “rematch.” It is not a rematch, it’s another round of a heavyweight fight that has been going on for years.