In their seven-game series, the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers fought back and forth, neither side giving so much as an inch to its hated rival. So it only seems fitting that the two sides reportedly tried to keep things going behind closed doors after Saturday's Game 7.
Multiple sources close to the situation confirmed to USA Today's Sam Amick that a number of Clippers and Warriors players had to be separated in the tunnel following LA's 126-121 victory. The win gave Los Angeles a 4-3 win in the teams' emotional best-of-seven series.
No punches are believed to have been thrown, but the altercation featured at least three players from both sides. Clippers Chris Paul, Matt Barnes and Glen Davis and Warriors Marreese Speights, Jermaine O'Neal, Stephen Curry and Steve Blake were named by Amick as being involved.
Speights, who scored 10 points and grabbed two rebounds in 10 minutes Saturday, was said to be the chief aggressor. The reserve big man was boisterous on the floor and exchanged in numerous back-and-forths with Clippers players in Games 6 and 7, in which he emerged from a series-long fog to contribute key bench minutes.
Paul, who has an established sour relationship with several Warriors, was prominently involved as well. Amick's report says his mere presence—not anything he may or may not have done—escalated the situation. Although police on hand at Staples Center were called to assist in breaking up the altercation, there were no arrests made, and it is not believed the situation got physical.
Later, Golden State players were said to have been irritated by loud cheering and celebrations going on—ostensibly by Clippers players—as they prepared to pack up their season. One irritant, believed to be a Los Angeles assistant coach, allegedly made repeated taunts into the Warriors locker room.
Doc Rivers later spoke about the altercation with Marc J. Spears of Yahoo Sports:
While details are still emerging about what incited the altercation, it comes as no surprise that either team would be emotional following Game 7. The Clippers and Warriors were fashioned as preseason championship contenders and have a heated rivalry that's festered since Paul's arrival three seasons ago.
Each of the series' seven games had bouts with chippiness, and Saturday was no exception. Hard fouls on drives and verbal sparring were commonplace in a game where Paul had 22 points and 14 assists as the Clippers scored 39 fourth-quarter points to advance.
It also didn't help that the two sides were battling with emotion-heightening off-court storylines.
The Clippers may have put the series away earlier had it not been for Donald Sterling, their exiled owner who was banned for life from the NBA for racially laced comments he made to his then-girlfriend. The weight of Sterling's comments—along with a near-boycott of the playoffs by NBA players—hung over all involved.
Even Saturday, in the biggest game of their season, the Clippers had to deal with the distraction of Sterling's wife, Shelly, being in attendance. While their focus remained intently on basketball, one would have a hard time blaming the locker room for a postgame emotional release following the win.
"I just thought with all this stuff, this team just needed this win," head coach Doc Rivers told reporters. "This was a hard week. It feels like two months. I just needed to be able to smile and laugh and cheer, and be proud of something. And I was very proud of my players."
While the Warriors dealt internally with the Sterling fallout themselves—they had planned a dramatic boycott of Game 5 had the disgraced owner not been banned—they had their own behind-the-scenes issues to handle.
Speculation has run rampant about head coach Mark Jackson's future since he fired/reassigned two assistant coaches late in the regular season. Jackson has had one of the most successful runs in Warriors history in his short stay, but bold and high-priced moves from ownership have sent expectations skyrocketing.
"You get the feel that no matter what happens, our coach won't be our coach next year," O'Neal told reporters after Game 6. "You just get that feel. But we are willing to give all we've got for this group, for that coach, and hopefully whatever that will and whatever we've given is good enough to take us as far as we should go."
Given the support Jackson has inside the Warriors locker room, the myriad tensions for both sides were bound to bubble over. The team has already picked up Jackson's option for the 2014-15 season, so the higher-ups theoretically have time to sit and mull over his status.
But expect the coach's representation to put pressure on the Warriors as soon as next week. With numerous high-profile jobs opening and Jackson wanting to avoid lame-duck status next season, any inertia on the extension front could spell a departure.
Either way, with the Clippers due in Oklahoma City for Game 1 of their conference semifinals series Monday, let's just be glad the situation did not escalate further. The last thing this team—or the NBA, for that matter—needs is yet another off-court distraction taking away from what's been an excellent postseason.
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