In comments made to the Houston Chronicle, Vandeweghe said that Clippers players and Staples Center staff members corroborated accounts stating that Harden and Paul were merely acting as peacemakers. Vandeweghe also said that Capela’s role in the incident was a complete fabrication, as security camera footage showed that Capela never approached the locker room doors.
Potentially playing into the league’s decision to suspend Ariza was the fact that this was not his first attempt to enter another team’s locker room. In December 2016, after Houston defeated the Mavericks in Dallas, Ariza was reported to have waited outside the Dallas locker room in an attempt to confront Salah Mejri, who he claimed had made derogatory comments about Ariza and his family.
As for the episode in Los Angeles, drama was to be expected after the awkward breakup between Paul and the Clippers. In the days after he was traded last summer, Paul made comments about the team’s culture that clearly irked Coach Doc Rivers and others.
“Listen, when you leave, you should just leave, honestly,” Rivers told reporters in October. “I don’t think you have to try to burn the house down or justify why you left. That’s what I would say to it. I like our culture.”
With that in mind, it was almost surprising that it took until the fourth quarter of the close game for things to get out of hand.
With 3 minutes 30 seconds left in the game, the Rockets disputed a foul call against Paul, which led to Griffin exchanging angry words with Rockets Coach Mike D’Antoni. D’Antoni accused Griffin of intentionally making contact with him while running downcourt, and their argument led to technical fouls against the player and coach.
Asked after the game what had been said between them, D’Antoni replied, “You mean after he hit me? Just that I didn’t appreciate him. But other than that, it’s good.”
As the game wound down, Ariza stoked the fire yet again with comments toward the Clippers’ bench, resulting in an escalation between Ariza, Griffin and Austin Rivers, Doc Rivers’ son, who was inactive in the game. Ariza and Griffin both received technical fouls and were ejected.
Griffin added some levity to the entire affair when he was asked to recount his conversation with Ariza.
“He asked me if I was still coming to his birthday party, and I said, ‘Yeah, I’m going to try,’” Griffin said.
Paul, in a postgame interview, was not nearly as amused as he tried to explain the tension.
“It’s always like that when you lose, especially when you’re playing against a former team, all the emotions that go into it, familiar faces and stuff like that,” he said. “For us, we’ve got to be better. Give them the credit, they won the game.”
The league’s statement said the suspensions will begin immediately, which means the Rockets will be short-handed against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Thursday and the Golden State Warriors on Saturday.