HOUSTON – Golden State Warriors forward Andre Iguodala was in the process of choosing his postgame meal among an expansive spread that featured seafood, steak and other fine foods near the entrance of the locker room.
While hovering over the buffet, coach Steve Kerr joined him in surveying the options and asked the 2015 Finals MVP how he was feeling. Iguodala bent down, briefly massaged his left knee and said it was a little sore, but he promised his coach that he would be fine for Game 5 on Wednesday.
The injury is believed to be minor, but the incident that led to it is being viewed quite differently. Members of the Warriors told Yahoo Sports that they believed it was “a dirty play” by Houston Rockets guard Chris Paul.
In the fourth quarter, Iguodala had Paul sealed on his back while boxing out to gather a defensive rebound during the Rockets’ 112-108 win Monday that evened the West semifinals at two games apiece.
When Iguodala elevated to secure the board, Paul moved into the forward when he was in midair and ended up clipping the back of Iguodala’s left knee. A foul was called on Paul, and Iguodala immediately started hobbling and reaching for his knee.
As the series shifts to the Bay Area, tensions are elevating. Paul has been successful at agitating the Warriors, who have failed over the past two games to maintain focus.
There were many physical incidents that took place at the Toyota Center that had the potential to escalate if tempers erupted. And Paul was involved in most of them.
Paul and Kevin Durant were bickering for much of the contest, and late in the fourth quarter, the two mixed it up a bit. In another box-out situation, Paul moderately shoved Durant to place himself in better position to secure the defensive board. Durant took exception to the nudge and followed it up by slinging Paul to the hardwood and standing over him.
Paul scooted back, hopped up and began clapping his hands in delight at getting underneath Durant’s skin. Durant was hit with a personal foul, and he was clearly irritated as he had words for the Rockets’ point guard en route to the other end of the court.
And prior to that altercation, Durant elbowed Paul in the mouth as he swung his left arm around wildly after jumping for a potential offensive rebound. Paul was standing behind Durant on the play and caught what appeared to be an inadvertent elbow before plunging to the floor.
There was no whistle on the play.
“The way both teams are playing with such aggression and intensity, it’s fun to be out there,” Durant said after scoring a team-high 34 points with seven rebounds and five assists. “We’re looking forward to Game 5.”
But that wasn’t the end of the Paul-related altercations. In the third quarter, he got into it with Draymond Green.
Klay Thompson penetrated and found Green alone under the basket, but Paul rotated over and fouled Green from behind, sending the forward to the floor. And while Green was on his back, Paul stared him down and took a step in his direction, resulting in Green quickly bouncing up and shoving Paul in his back. Paul didn’t react, and there was no repercussion.
There was also a third-quarter incident that didn’t involve Paul, as Green was clocked on the side of his head by James Harden. The Rockets star nailed his patented step-back triple over Green, but awkwardly swung his shooting hand to the left and nailed Green on the left side of his head. The forward collapsed to the ground holding his head.
There was no call on the play.
“I told y’all before, I get fouled on James Harden 3-pointers,” Green said after the game. “Y’all thought I was lying. People think I just be making sh-- up.”
Lastly, in the opening quarter, Harden was accidentally elbowed on the top of the head by Durant. The reigning MVP drove to the basket in transition and eluded Thompson, but Durant came from the weak side and blocked his shot.
On the follow-through, Durant’s elbow grazed Harden’s head and the guard fell to the hardwood, grimacing in pain. Durant was in pain, as well, as he held his elbow.
There was no call on the play.
“Very physical [game],” said Eric Gordon, who scored 20 points for the Rockets. “… I just like our intensity. It’s an intense game.”
The Rockets’ P.J. Tucker has feasted on the offensive glass at home in this series, especially in the fourth quarter, when the Warriors desperately needed a rebound to complete a defensive stop.
“I just feel like nobody can box me out,” Tucker told Yahoo Sports after posting 17 points, 10 rebounds (five offensive) and two steals. “That’s something I’ve been doing all my life. I’ve always ate off the boards. It’s something nobody likes to do. People don’t like boxing out, man. It’s tough. It’s hard to box somebody out. I’ve always been a pretty good rebounder, but when I get guards on me, I don’t think they can box me out. It’s just going and getting it. Those are winning plays. Extra possessions might win the game.”
The Warriors have been outrebounded 105-78 in the past two games, a sign of wavering focus and physicality.
“I think it’s just a mindset,” Green said. “I think we’re kind of going to a fight, and we think it’s a fair fight, but it’s not. They’re doing whatever it takes to win and not that they’re doing anything dirty or nothing like that, but they’re doing whatever it takes to win, and we’re just kind of rolling in there, and they’re slamming us.”
It’s Harden, Paul and Tucker playing their roles to the fullest. And it’s why the defending champs are now on their heels. Just last week it looked as if the Warriors were on their way to cruising to the conference finals. Now, it appears that the tight, contentious affair most envisioned is transpiring.
“If ‘rivalry’ is what the NBA wants to call it,” Iguodala told Yahoo Sports. “Whatever they say. I don’t know what [this series] is.”
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