Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard left Sunday’s game after injuring his ankle on a play in which Golden State’s Zaza Pachulia took him out, or Leonard landed awkwardly. (It depends on whose opinions you trust.) With a major threat out of their way, the Warriors rallied for a 113-111 win. San Antonio head coach Gregg Popovich said today that Leonard would miss Game 2, and he was fuming.
Popovich brought up Pachulia’s reputation and history as a dirty player, referencing the times the center elbowed Patty Mills under the basket or wrapped up Leonard’s arm in 2016. The coach called yesterday’s play “a totally unnatural closeout that the league has outlawed years ago.”
A partial transcript:
The play where he took Kawhi down and locked his arm in Dallas, and could’ve broken his arm. Ask David West, [Pachulia’s] 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, what happened last night. A totally unnatural closeout that the league has outlawed years ago and pays great attention to it. And Kawhi’s not there.
Popovich had no desire to argue whether Pachulia intended to hurt Leonard. “Who gives a damn about what his intent was? You ever hear of manslaughter?”
Pachulia’s the kind of nuisance who gets as close to the edge as he can with little acts of badgering, like when he shoves just a little too hard, or can’t set a screen in time and simply pushes an opponent to divert him from an open shot.
It’s tough to think that in the moment, Pachulia would know exactly where to place his foot to hurt Leonard. He definitely isn’t getting the benefit of the doubt from Popovich, though.
Update (3:09 p.m. ET): Someone took Popovich’s advice and did ask David West about Pachulia’s play. He looked like he’d rather have been anywhere else.