Gregg Popovich said on Monday he believes Zaza Pachulia’s closeout that injured Kawhi Leonard’s ankle was “dangerous” and “unsportsmanlike.”
Leonard came into Game 1 dealing with an ankle injury and left the game after landing on Pachulia’s foot while coming down from a jump shot.
Here’s Popovich, who didn’t hold back with righteous anger when asked about the play on Monday. (Via R.J. Marquez of KSAT-12)
Two step, lead with your foot closeout, is not appropriate. It’s dangerous, it’s unsportsmanlike, it’s just not what anybody does to anybody else.
This particular individual has a history of that kind of action. You can go back and look at Dallas games for elbowing Patty Mills. The play where he took Kawhi down and locked his arm in Dallas, and could’ve broken his arm. Ask David West, his current teammate, how things went when Zaza was playing for Dallas, and he and David got into it.
And then think about the history he’s had, and what that means to a team, when it happens last night. Totally unnatural closeout that the league has outlawed years ago and pays great attention to, and Kawhi’s not there.
And you want to know how we feel about it? You want to know if it lessens our chances or not? We’re playing very possibly the best team in the league. We don’t know what’s going to happen in the East. And 9.75 people out of 10 will figure the Warriors will beat the Spurs. Well, we’ve had a pretty damn good seasons, we’ve played fairly well in the playoffs, and I think we’re getting better. We’re up 23 points in the third quarter and Kawhi goes down, like that. And you want to know if our chances are less? And you want to know how we feel? That’s how we feel.
Popovich is right that the Warriors would probably beat the Spurs, but San Antonio doesn’t even have a chance without Leonard and it’s terrible to see him go down in a play that clearly could have been avoided.
Reporters then asked Popovich whether it mattered if Pachulia intended to injure Leonard. He responded that it didn’t matter. (Via Casey Keirnan of Fox Sports San Antonio)
A very angry Gregg Popovich on Zaza Pachulia's intent to cause harm to Kawhi Leonard in Game 1. pic.twitter.com/PRxmBcIfVs— Casey Keirnan (@CaseyKeirnan) May 15, 2017
Who gives a damn about what his intent was. You ever heard of manslaughter? You still go to jail, I think, when you’re texting and you kill someone. All I care is all I saw. All I care about is what happened. And the history there exacerbates the whole situation and makes me very angry.
This, again, is a valid point. As SB Nation’s Zito Madu pointed out today, the play was a reckless one even if there was no intent. Basketball players know better than to undercut someone shooting a jump shot. In a pickup game, doing that is one of the easiest ways to get in a fight or kicked out. Sometimes it happens, but do it enough times — even if you’re just a clumsy dude who didn’t mean it — and that’s it.
Popovich said he thinks Leonard will miss Game 2, which explains in part why he’s so angry. He didn’t just lose Game 1 and a 25-point lead for the first time because of this, but now he may not even have a chance to make this a competitive series.
On the other hand, it’s worth mentioning that undercutting plays like this were specifically outlawed in large part thanks to Bruce Bowen, who played most of his career under Popovich in San Antonio and developed a reputation for sliding under players.