One team in the Western Conference finals is getting a dose of good news heading into Game 3 of the series in Los Angeles. One team is getting a dose of bad news. Alas, it is the same team: The Clippers, who are already down, 0-2, and will be without Kawhi Leonard again because of his knee injury. Now they will also have to deal with the return of Suns star Chris Paul, who was out for the first two games of the series because of the league’s health and safety protocols.
Paul had been exceptional in the Suns’ sweep of the Nuggets, averaging 25.5 points on 62.7% shooting, with 10.3 assists and 5.0 rebounds. Paul, of course, spent six seasons with the Clippers, unable to bring the team to championship contention as was expected, a failure for which he has taken the brunt of the blame.
But that is only one undercurrent of Paul’s position in this series. More significant might be his career-long beef with Clippers point guard Rajon Rondo, which has led to fisticuffs multiple times. With Paul returning, the series already getting physical and the Clippers in a desperate situation, Rondo vs. Paul could easily get ugly again.
Rondo vs. Chris Paul Dates Back More Than a Decade
The personal animus dates at least as far back as 2009, when Rondo was coming off a Celtics championship and Paul was playing for New Orleans. After the two were given technical fouls for an in-game confrontation, Paul tried to go after Rondo in the tunnel the game and was blocked by Celtics coaches.
Paul delivered a postgame zinger to Rondo, saying, “Rondo is a lucky guy, to play with guys like Pierce, (Ray) Allen and (Kevin) Garnett.”
The two had been linked for a while going back to trade rumors around Rondo and Paul that began even before the Celtics won in 2008. Ray Allen, according to former Boston center Kendrick Perkins, pushed the Celtics to swap Rondo for Paul.
That deal came up again when Paul was seeking his exit from New Orleans in 2011, but the Celtics pulled back because they could not get a commitment to re-sign from Paul. Allen later claimed that coach Doc Rivers stopped the trade because he did not want his friend, Monty Williams (oddly enough, the Suns’ coach now), to have to coach Rondo.
After a deal to the Lakers was nixed, Paul was traded to the Clippers instead.
Rondo has always taken to heart the way his role on that 2008 Celtics team has been diminished by history, so his disdain for Paul is long-festering.
Chris Paul Claimed Rondo Spit on him in 2018
It exploded in October 2018, when Rondo was a Laker and Paul was with the Rockets. Rondo got into the face of Paul, and Paul responded with a finger to the face of Rondo as he was shouting and pointing, after the two got tangled up. Paul claimed Rondo spit on him. Punches were thrown.
Have a look:
This, though, will mark the first time Rondo and Paul have ever set foot on the same court during the postseason. And it will happen at a time when tensions are already high between Phoenix and the Clippers, highlighted by the nose injury suffered by guard Devin Booker in Game 2 after whacking heads with L.A.’s Patrick Beverley.
Game 2’s stunning ending was also capped by DeMarcus Cousins shoving Booker, which was caught on video and earned Cousins a technical foul.
Alongside Cousins, Beverley and forward Marcus Morris, Rondo will not be alone among Clippers willing to get into a tussle. He is likely to get a decent amount of time, having logged 39 total minutes in the first two games of the series. And he will enter Game 3 with an old nemesis on the other side.