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Almost everything you know about the Rockets-Clippers fight is wrong

Chris Paul didn’t start anything, there was no decoy, and the “secret tunnel” isn’t secret. Here’s what really happened.

NBA: Houston Rockets at Los Angeles Clippers Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Late Monday night, Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted a photo of Paul Pierce — “The Truth” — with the caption, “still putting on his shoes.” It was a layered reference to the common expression that “a lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes.”

Morey was right, of course. His tweet came hours after Twitter had erupted from post-game tomfoolery involving the Rockets and Clippers. That night you would have thought Chris Paul, dressed in full camouflage, led his teammates on a covert military operation through the Staples Center’s air ducts before parachuting down in front of Austin Rivers’ Clippers locker while other teammates distracted Los Angeles by knocking on the front door.

Of course that all ended up being an extreme bastardization of the truth, and Morey knew it. Ultimately, only Trevor Ariza and Gerald Green were suspended, each receiving two-game punishments.

It’s fitting that the truth quote above is often attributed to Mark Twain or Winston Churchill, since there’s no evidence it was ever said by either one. Even a quote that’s about veracity comes with a falsehood. In an ironic manner, that proves the point.

This is (probably) the last time we’ll write about the Clippers-Rockets shenanigans, so let’s set the record straight for good. Here are the three things we — meaning me, SB Nation, Twitter, and virtually everyone else — got wrong.

1. Chris Paul and James Harden didn’t start this

The NBA’s investigation into the matter wasn’t a legal one, and it’s easy to project conspiracy theories onto the fact that no major star was suspended from this fiasco. Houston’s preparing for two major nationally televised games — a TNT showdown against Minnesota on Thursday and the return of ABC’s Saturday afternoon showcase against Golden State — and it’s in the NBA’s best interest to have as much star power available as possible.

But Paul and Harden didn’t deserve to be suspended. They were peacekeepers, something that both teams corroborated during the 20 interviews that the NBA conducted about the evening.

Harden and Paul were good teammates making sure Ariza (and Green, apparently) didn’t do anything regrettable. When you consider that Ariza has a track record, this story checks out on several levels.

2. Clint Capela wasn’t a masterful decoy tactic

We love the idea of Paul as a Hannibal-level tactician, grabbing a whiteboard out of Mike D’Antoni’s hands to orchestrate this locker room assault on the loquacious, obnoxious Rivers. But that didn’t happen, and it wasn’t even Capela who knocked on the Clippers front door:

Kiki VanDeWeghe, the NBA executive vice president who typically handles disciplinary matters, said that there was security camera footage that confirmed it was Tarik Black. Furthermore, there was nothing purposeful about his visit — he was walking by the locker room, heard a commotion, was denied entrance by a Clippers team employee, and ultimately moved on without joining in any other way.

3. There was no secret passageway

It pains me to admit this, but despite the incredible jokes, we knew this Monday. Yes, there is a hallway that you can use to go from the Rockets locker room to the Clippers locker room. No, it’s not secret, it’s not really a “passage,” and it’s widely accessible to everyone. In fact, it was never even reported as such. Here’s the tweet that inspired the subsequent “secret passage” tweets:

Wojnarowski corrected his typo, saying “backstory” should have meant “back door.” Twitter spun the story the rest of the way, despite beat reporters correctly and fairly noting shortly after that there was nothing unique about the tunnel used.

What happened was still great

Los Angeles and Houston scrapped on the court, there were two ejections, Ariza tried to confront Rivers and Blake Griffin after the game, and these two teams are the hottest new NBA rivalry. Don’t forget Paul’s postgame burn toward Griffin, either! He said that the Clippers should keep running their offense through “go-to player” Lou Williams:

The Rockets are still mad, too. According to an ESPN report, they believed Griffin and Rivers shouldn’t have got away with no suspensions, especially Griffin, who they say went out of his way to elbow D’Antoni on the sidelines. (The NBA explained the lack of punishment by saying that Griffin was inbounds when it happened, and it was negligible contact, even though Griffin clearly went out of bounds.)

It wasn’t as salacious or dramatic as we might have thought on Monday, but there is very real bad blood between these two teams.

Should we blame ourselves for Monday’s confusion?

This may turn into a moral debate that’s above my pay grade, but I think the answer is both yes and no. We all deserve some fault for turning this story into a dramatic movie plot that didn’t remotely resemble the truth, but that’s also human nature.

The factual, on-scene reporting was mostly accurate. Journalists mostly didn’t try to assign intentions to Paul, Harden, Ariza, and Green’s mission to the Clippers locker room — they just said it happened. The Capela bit was clearly wrong on two levels, but there was a Houston center who knocked on the Los Angeles locker room door. The secret passage, as noted, was only said to be a back door.

This isn’t even the first time something like this has happened: When DeAndre Jordan broke his verbal agreement with the Mavericks to re-sign with the Clippers a few summers ago and when Twitter exploded into emoji-filled water cooler talk, there was rampant misinformation. At no point was Jordan “held hostage,” and Mark Cuban was never driving around Houston frantically calling him. Cuban had been to Jordan’s Houston home, and he could have driven over again if he deemed it necessary.

Or how about this infamous Griffin tweet:

We all knew it was a joke about the hostage thing, but did you realize that wasn’t even Jordan’s house? Griffin didn’t put a chair in front of the door and snap a photo — he just grabbed a random photo off the internet and tweeted it.

The most responsible, collective response for us all would have been to wait patiently for two days for all the facts and only then getting those jokes off. But even as you read that sentence, you probably know that will never happen.

The NBA has thrived on its off-the-court drama for years now, and Twitter is the perfect medium for elevating it to another level. It’s human nature to start speculating and theorizing about things even when we don’t have the facts. I’m not certain that this really could have played out any other way.

Monday night was great fun for anyone who was there for it. By Wednesday, the truth had gotten its shoes on.