With a little more than nine minutes left in the game, LeBron James stepped to the free throw line, and when he missed his second shot Chris Paul slid in front of him, boxed LeBron out, and in the process hooked LeBron’s arm and undercut him, knocking LeBron to the ground and straining his shoulder.
Soon, while LeBron was down on the court, grabbing his shoulder and writing in pain while an Alex Caruso and Cameron Payne spat — that had started the play before and was not totally related to LeBron — heated up on another part of the court.
Players had to be separated after a CP3 loose ball foul on LeBron. pic.twitter.com/KpFxOPco6r
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) May 23, 2021
After the game, Lakers’ coach Frank Vogel didn’t mince words on what he thought was a dirty play by CP3 on LeBron.
“My view was an overly aggressive box out, dangerous play where Bron was in the air and got undercut and some guys stood up for him,” Vogel said on his postgame zoom call with the media. “I didn’t see the exact exchange in terms of what happened with the altercation, but that’s why they have the video. They look at that and figure out what happened.”
What happened was Paul was called for a common foul on LeBron. (Payne was ejected, Caruso and third man in Montrezl Harrell each got a technical — how Harrell avoided ejection is a question for another day.)
When LeBron was asked about his shoulder and the play, his response was short and that he’d be ready for Game 2.
After the game, Paul played the incident down and refuted Vogel’s assessment, talking to Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.
“I don’t know anything about that. I have absolutely nothing to say about that. We’re just playing basketball and competing,” Paul told Yahoo Sports… “I’m just thankful we got the win, and I’m looking forward to Game 2.”
Paul added that no Laker players said anything to him about the foul or play.
Paul himself had been in and out of the game with what the team called a right shoulder contusion after he caught a friendly-fire elbow from teammate Cam Johnson on his neck/shoulder area. Paul struggled to control the ball with his right hand much of the rest of the night and had several turnovers, but also hit a clutch shot late.