The Spurs were probably not going to win the West, no matter what. But they definitely were not going to win the West after Kawhi Leonard sprained his ankle in Game 1 when he landed on a closing-out Zaza Pachulia. Leonard tried to gut it out for a couple of minutes; he hasn’t played since, and is questionable for tonight’s Game 4, in which the Warriors will be going for the sweep.
If Pachulia did it intentionally, that’s fucked up. If Pachulia did it unintentionally—that is, was uncoordinated and unaware enough to be a danger to others on the court—that’s fucked up too. That’s what Gregg Popovich was getting at with his angry comments the next day. “Who gives a damn about what his intent was?” Popovich said. “You ever hear of manslaughter?”
Pachulia has been the target of threats from Spurs fans, and it’s gotten bad enough that security guards were posted at the entrance of his kids’ school. And Pachulia affords some of the blame to Popovich for, he says, enabling those abusive fans.
“I don’t blame everything on Pop, but what he said had a lot of influence (and) you had a lot of people where, unfortunately, you can’t control what everybody’s intelligence is,” Pachulia, who has an 8-year-old son, a 7-year-old son and a 4-year-old daughter with his wife, told USA TODAY Sports on Sunday. “(Fans) just hear the message, and it’s, ‘OK, Pop said so and now let’s do this.’”
“I’m not blaming everything on (Popovich), but he was a very big part of it.”
“I have a lot of respect for him. In today’s basketball world, he’s a very, very respected person. So when Pop says something like that, calling me out...it’s understanding that (your words) will have an effect.”
That fans shouldn’t threaten players and their families, and are bad people for doing so, is such a bromide that it’s insulting to everyone to even write. But it’s hard to pick sides here. Popopvich’s frustration was understandable; Pachulia’s closeout crippled his player and crippled his team’s chances. Pachulia’s frustration is just as valid: No one deserves to feel afraid for their family because of sports, and he’s not wrong that the reaction wouldn’t have been so acute if not for Popovich giving his imprimatur to the interpretation of that play as dirty.
I’m sure Pachulia wants nothing more than for everyone to just move on, and Popovich said after Game 2 that he was done talking about the play. After tonight’s game, I figure we’ll all be done talking about the Spurs.