For three quarters, the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers were locked in a tight battle in what was quite likely the most purely entertaining contest of the NBA's five-game Christmas schedule. Then, for a few moments at the end of the third quarter and beginning of the fourth, the bad blood between the two teams arose in several very noticeable ways.
The big incident, which demands a little context, is that Clippers star Blake Griffin was ejected after receiving his second technical foul following a minor tussle with Warriors center Andrew Bogut. The circumstances of their altercation are open to interpretation, but a look at the action helps.
Assigning blame for the incident is fairly tough and will likely depend on one's rooting interests. While jostling for rebounding position off a missed Matt Barnes three-pointer, Bogut appears to instigate matters by shoving Griffin near the shoulders and neck. However, Griffin escalates things by locking his arm into Bogut, ensuring that the players would have a tough time disengaging. Their tussling continued for several seconds, but no significant damage was done. It seemed like a fairly harmless incident that could be solved with double fouls.
Yet, after reviewing video at the scorer's table, the referees assessed both players with technical fouls. It was Bogut's first, but Griffin's second, which earned him an automatic ejection and forced the Clippers to play the vast majority of the fourth quarter without their top scorer and perennial All-Star.
Given the circumstances, it's likely that the resourceful Bogut knew what he was doing when he engaged Griffin. The Clippers forward was handed his first tech following the third-quarter buzzer for stepping close to and exchanging words with Draymond Green after the Warriors forward elbowed him in the neck during Klay Thompson's desperation heave.
Green was rightfully given a flagrant-2 foul and immediately ejected, but Griffin's technical — an iffy call in itself — put Griffin in a precarious position. Any star player with a single tech becomes a target, especially in an era when officials issue technicals for all manner of activity in the hopes of stopping major fights before they start. It may seem like a little much to eject a player for the transgressions of stepping into an opponent's face after an elbow, saying something to him, and later tangling with another opponent, but such is the state of the NBA in late 2013. The league doesn't want players to fight, and the ejection of a marquee star is an acceptable cost.
The Clippers, meanwhile, appeared to miss Griffin, getting out-scored 30-25 in the fourth quarter on their way to losing 105-103. In the final moments, Klay Thompson blocked Chris Paul's running shot from behind with 1.0 seconds on the clock, and Jamal Crawford's quick-draw three-pointer at the buzzer fell well short.
On top of all that, the teams skirmished after the final horn. Although ESPN cameras caught the incident fairly late, Paul appears to walk with the ball while standing quite close to Bogut, who proceeds to knock the ball out of the point guard's hands in some combination of triumph and disdain. That set off a meeting of several coaches and players, with ever-active Clippers wing Matt Barnes and Warriors assistant coach Brian Scalabrine exchanging minor shoves as both attempted to play peacemaker. Again, no major blows were attempted, but it was a bizarre scene.
We should all do our best not to exaggerate the impact of a series of incidents that featured no real fights, but it's become increasingly clear that the Clippers and Warriors do not like each other. On October 31, the Clippers declined to share chapel services with the Warriors — a virtually unprecedented diss — prior to their first matchup of the season. That very exciting game featured several dust-ups, and the enmity seems only to have ramped up since.
For those wondering, these teams play twice more this regular season: January 30 in Oakland (a nationally televised TNT game) and March 12 in Los Angeles. Both games figure to be worth your time.
(Second and third videos via GIFD Sports)
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