Phoenix Suns point guard and surefire Hall of Famer Chris Paul turns 36 next week (May 6), but he probably shouldn’t expect a birthday card from Clippers forward Paul George.
Following L.A.’s 109-101 loss to Phoenix Wednesday night — an outcome that gives the 2nd-place Suns some breathing room over the 3rd-place Clippers as the regular season winds to a close — cameras picked up George and Paul conspicuously NOT shaking hands despite clearly crossing paths.
Did both Chris Paul and Paul George refuse to shake each other's hands? Can't tell here, but it definitely feels like no love lost. https://t.co/P6O7wxOsFI
— Farbod Esnaashari (@Farbod_E) April 29, 2021
And just in case anyone thought that maybe the two superstars didn’t see each other or that they were just being coronavirus-conscious, George left no room for doubt in his postgame media availability. Asked what makes Paul such a difficult opponent to face, the normally low-key but agreeable George paused for a moment before giving a two-word answer:
Whoa. Naturally, had George responded this way about most other players, a follow-up or two would’ve been justified albeit awkward, but because he said it about Chris Paul, the context was already clear.
Simply put, a lot of players around the NBA flat out don’t like Chris Paul. (Sorry, State Farm.)
Rondo (and Others) Don’t Like Paul
For a prime example of another NBA’er who finds Paul less than charming, look no further than George’s teammate Rajon Rondo.
On April 8, in only his third game with L.A. following a midseason trade from Atlanta, Rondo and the Clippers squared off against the Suns at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. The game, which L.A. won 113-103, was undoubtedly physical and chippy, resulting in multiple technical fouls and a couple of ejections, and afterward, Rondo, who admitted to deciphering a Suns’ play call during a crucial possession, refused to even speak Paul’s name.
“No. 3 on the other team yelled it out quickly and loud and I just kind of read it back to my teammates,” Rondo told reporters. “It was the same play they called the night before against Utah.”
Aside from the impressiveness of preemptively blowing up a play in real-time, Rondo’s numerical substitution was a clever reminder that he and Paul were the centerpieces of a notorious flare-up a few years back.
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Back in October of 2018, when Rondo was with the Los Angeles Lakers and Paul the Houston Rockets, Rondo was suspended three games for spitting in Paul’s face and landing a punch before players and officials stepped in. The punch, which came after Paul jabbed a finger in Rondo’s face, was obvious, but Rondo claimed that he didn’t intentionally spit in the first place.
“I had a mouthpiece in my mouth and I exasperated because I was about to tell him to ‘Get the (expletive) out of here.’ Look at my body language,” Rondo told ESPN. “If I spit on you on purpose, I’m going to be ready for a man to swing on me. [I’m not] going to have my hands on my hip and my head look away at someone if I spit on them.”
As far as Rondo was concerned, it was another example of the league wanting to paint Paul as a good guy, despite his reputation amongst the players as an agitator who often resorts to dirty tactics.
“Of course, the NBA went with his side because I got three games and he got two,” Rondo told ESPN. “Everyone wants to believe Chris Paul is a good guy. They don’t know he’s a horrible teammate. They don’t know how he treats people. Look at what he did last year when he was in LA — trying to get to the Clippers locker room. They don’t want to believe he’s capable of taunting and igniting an incident.”
Rondo was referring to a bizarre incident from early 2018, when Paul and several other Rocket teammates approached the Clippers locker room with bad intentions following a raucous end to their game. Paul, who spent six years as a Clipper (2012-16), was reportedly intent on teaching his former teammate Blake Griffin a lesson, and though nothing ultimately came of it, the event was emblematic of the way many former teammates perceive Paul.
Shooting guard Nick Young, a teammate of Paul’s for 22 games in 2011-12 and a free agent at season’s end, said that Paul once taunted him by saying “something like, ‘Remember, I’m the key to your next contract.‘“ And Glen “Big Baby” Davis, who played with both Rondo and Paul in Boston and Los Angeles, respectively, tweeted shortly after the spitting incident that “CP3 is a very bad teammate.”
Big Baby chimes in 🍿 pic.twitter.com/v1UG8ZBcp1
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) October 23, 2018
Even those seemingly without a gripe against Paul admit that he can often rub teammates the wrong way. Former Clipper JJ Redick said that Paul’s style “can grind at you a little bit” though he said it never bothered him. “I always liked it,” said Redick.
Playoff Matchup Could Mean Major Fireworks
Though Rondo, of all the Clippers, has the most public beef with Paul, this is by no means George’s first run-in with the 11-time All-Star. Back in January, when the Clippers and Suns met for the first of three times this season, George had to be restrained from Paul and Suns guard Devin Booker, with Booker reportedly calling Paul several derogatory names.
And following their previous matchup, the one in which Rondo refused to say Paul’s name, George spoke about the Suns’ trash-talking, dismissing it essentially as utter nonsense and beneath him and his team.
“I don’t know what their chirp was about,” said George. “We focused on us. I don’t care what they’re doing over there. I don’t care who they are or what they’re doing. I’m locked in. They can do the chirping, I let them have it tonight. I just stayed in my zone, stayed in my place. But again, I don’t care what they’re doing, we’re focused on us over here, we’re focused on getting better.”
If the Clippers and Suns both survive the first round of the playoffs, there’s a good chance they’ll meet up in the second round. For two talented teams, each with something major to prove — the Suns that they have crossed the threshold from up-and-comers to contenders, the Clippers that they can finally go the distance — the intensity will be sky high and fireworks will almost certainly fly. But hopefully not any spit.