With just under 8:00 left in the third quarter of Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals Zaza Pachuilia closed out to contest a Kawhi Leonard jumper on the left baseline. Leonard came down on Pachulia’s foot and rolled his left ankle for the second time in the game.
Leonard shot his two free throws then went to the locker room. He never returned to the game. The Spurs squandered a 25-point lead to ultimately lose 113-111. Leonard missed Game 2 in Golden State Tuesday night.
It’s important to note this is the same ankle Leonard rolled in Game 5 of the Western Conference Semi-Finals. He missed Game 6 but the San Antonio Spurs were able to close out the series in Houston to advance to the Western Conference Finals.
That close out has sparked incessant debate in the sports world over the past couple days.
That was bound to happen but Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich only added fuel to the fire Monday when he shared his thoughts on Zaza Pachulia. You can listen to his comments in their entirety here, let me just warn you, even I felt uncomfortable having never quite heard Popovich this angry…and that says a lot.
The meat of Popovich’s argument was that Pachulia’s closeout on Kawhi Leonard was “dangerous” and “unsportsmanlike”. He called Pachulia a player who has an extensive history of playing dirty and even encouraged reporters to ask his current teammate David West about his own experiences with Pachulia when West was a member of the Spurs and Pachulia was a member of their rival Dallas Mavericks.
Listen, I expect Pop to stick up for his team. I couldn’t help but think his comments were excessive though. He flat out said he didn’t care about intent asking reporters if they’ve ever heard of manslaughter. Yes manslaughter. The example he gave was someone texting while driving who kills someone and should still go to jail.
I personally did not see anything dirty in the play. I saw a horrible closeout which is all too common in the NBA. You rarely see the staggered closeout where you drop your butt shuffle your feet and are on balance to both contest the shot and defend the offensive player off the dribble.
I saw horrible form from an unathletic big. Period.
We had former Sacramento Kings great and The Grant Napear Show co-host Doug Christie on The Drive this morning to discuss his thoughts on the play. He agreed with my assessment as well.
Prior to Tuesday’s Game 2 Mark Jackson said the play was dirty. His broadcasting partner Jeff Van Gundy went as far as to say it should be a flagrant 2 foul.
Unfortunate injuries happen. They’re a part of the game and every time a player steps out on the court, field, etc. they are putting themselves at risk.
But for Gregg Popovich to fire shots at Pachulia after defending former Spur Bruce Bowen throughout his entire career in San Antonio just makes me call bull$#|+.
Take a look at this Bruce Bowen defensive play on Vince Carter back in 2005…
And that is far from a single incident…or even the worst incident of Bowen’s career. Just take a look here.
Then of course there was the 2002 playoffs against Kobe Bryant (and I’m sorry that’s a painful year for my Sacramento Kings fans out there)…
When Bruce did it, it was just good defense and people bitching about having to go up against him. When Zaza Pachulia commits a similar offense it’s dangerous and unsportsmanlike.
I don’t care. If it’s dirty, it’s dirty and legislate it out of the game. But if you’re going to have a problem with it then it has to apply to players on your roster…both present and past.