Breaking up is hard to do.
There was no harder evidence of this fact then Monday night's drama at Staples Center, as All-Star point guard Chris Paul returned to Los Angeles to face Blake Griffin and his former teammates.
Break ups in all relationships are tough. They're emotional, and often times liberating. This was prevalent on the court (and off) as Paul and Griffin acted like two scorned lovers whose relationship had fallen apart, and they used their new significant others (teammates) as fodder in the whole ordeal.
Local news from across Southern California
Paul gave the Clippers the best six years of his life. In turn, the Clippers franchise went from inconsequential to contender, igniting the best years in the team's history with the formidable "Big 3" of Paul, Griffin and DeAndre Jordan.
However, all good things must come to an end, and in the summer of 2017, Paul left for the Rockets and made sure to take some parting shots at his Clippers teammates and coaches on the way out, saying he did not agree with the "Clippers culture."
Paul scored 19 points on 8-of-17 shooting with seven assists and six rebounds, but it was his former team and their new "culture," that came out victorious in the reunion game.
"It's always emotional when you lose," Paul said. "Especially against your former team and stuff like that. All of the emotions that go into seeing familiar faces and stuff like that."
It felt proper for the story to see CP3 return in the black "Houston" jersey, loudly projecting "villain" for the Clipper fans who booed him whenever he touched the ball during the first quarter.
Nonetheless, the fans were reminded early just how good they had it together, thanks to a two-minute video tribute featuring the best of Paul's highlights.
The best of which, was Paul hobbling towards the series-winning basket over Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs in Game 7 of the first round of the 2015 NBA playoffs, arguably the best moment in franchise history.
While the reunion felt emotional for one side, it didn't feel like that for the other. In fact, one could say it was more like out of sight, out of mind.
"We didn't mention Chris [Paul] today," Clippers head coach Doc Rivers said. "We talked about the Rockets, honestly. Like I said before, Chris was great for us, Chris decided to leave us, so he's no longer a Clipper and we don't talk about him. We talked about Blake [Griffin], [Deandre Jordan], all the guys on our team, and that's what we did today, we talked about the way to win the game tonight. We knew it would be an emotional game in some way, we didn't know how, but we talked about that and said we're just going to play through the game, and I thought overall we did that."
In a way, the game looked like the phase in the relationship after the initial breakup where both sides reunite, remember the good times, but then quickly fight each other and remember why the separation was necessary in the first place. The game was certainly chippy from both sides and ended with Blake Griffin and Rockets forward Trevor Ariza getting ejected in the fourth quarter.
That argument on the court between the two forwards spilled over into the locker rooms after the game as reportedly, Paul led Ariza and teammates James Harden and Gerald Green into a side door of the Clippers' locker room while another teammate, Clint Capela, distracted the team by knocking on the front door of L.A.'s locker room.
Security quickly ushered the Rockets players back to the visitor's locker room and police were dispatched on the scene to make sure nothing escalated. Nonetheless, Griffin was one of the targets by Ariza, Paul and the Rockets, and it's certain that the end of their relationship played a significant part in the altercation.
"I was worried because emotions rob you of your talent and energy, and I thought tonight, tonight, we didn't allow that," Rivers said. "We kept playing with the same energy, we attacked on both ends of the floor and let's be honest, the way we play does get under people's skin, and I don't think it had anything to do with [Chris Paul]."
Throughout the end of last season and much of the ensuing offseason, there were plenty of questions as to why a team with Griffin, Paul and Jordan could not make it to the Western Conference Finals. Was it chemistry? Who couldn't gel with who? Thanks to this game, we got our answer.
Paul said after the game he talks to Jordan all the time, yet he never mentioned Griffin. In fact, he made a point of saying that the new-look Clippers should run the ball through their best player, "Lou Williams."
Williams led the Clippers with a game high 31 points. Which raises the question, did LA really win the CP3 trade?
Through the jostling and jawing, we discovered that the schism in the previous Clipper teams was between their two biggest stars (Griffin and Paul). Now, with them separated, a new rivalry in the NBA may have been born.
Sure, Paul gets to team up with James Harden in an augmented attempt to overthrow the dynastic Golden State Warriors, but in return, the Clippers got Williams, Patrick Beverly, Montrezl Harrell and Sam Dekker. Williams is averaging a career high 23.3 points and five assists per game and it seems as if he alone is enough to give the Clippers an argument for the victor of the trade debate.
"[Lou Williams] is the guy," Paul said. "The go to guy, the guy they should play through and stuff like that. he is having a great year and is a tough man. They play the right way, they share the ball, move the ball and it's a good team over there."
Despite a slew of injuries and a nine game losing streak early in the season, the Clippers are still in the fight for the last two spots in the Western Conference playoffs. The current seventh seed and eighth seed will clash and break the tie on Wednesday when the Clippers host the Denver Nuggets.
Being a team that would be classified as underrated maybe new territory for the Clippers but that is not how Williams sees it.
"I don't think we're underrated," Williams said. "I think at this point we're just playing good basketball. I don't really want to put a title on it. We've played with numerous lineups and we've played with so many guys out, so to still be successful is good. We've got a lot of hungry guys."
CNHI's Tony Capobianco contributed to the story.