OAKLAND -- The fallout from Warriors center Zaza Pachulia’s aggressive closeout on Spurs star Kawhi Leonard, resulting in Leonard landing on Pachulia’s foot and aggravating a sprained ankle, continued Monday, with San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich going on the offensive and the Warriors barely bothering to respond.
Popovich lit into Pachulia’s character Monday morning, accusing the Warriors center of “dangerous” behavior Sunday in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals and having a history of unsportsmanlike conduct.
Given an opportunity to respond Monday afternoon, Pachulia took the high road. Moreover, he insisted he’s unaffected by comments made by the highly respected San Antonio coach.
“No, not really, it doesn't bother me,” Pachulia said after Warriors practice. “Because I want to say the last time and that's it: I did whatever I had to do.”
Switched out when Kevin Durant was screened off Leonard, Pachulia pushed up on Leonard as he rose to shoot. Further advanced while Leonard was in the air, Pachulia’s left foot rested almost directly beneath Leonard.
Pachulia was whistled for a foul for, in essence, invading Leonard’s landing area, which actually is a foul -- despite it being a common action by defenders. That it resulted in Leonard leaving the game, imperiling his status for the remainder of the series, ignited a firestorm of debate about Pachulia’s intention.
“A two-step lead-with-your-foot closeout is not appropriate,” Popovich told reporters Monday at the team hotel in San Francisco. “It's dangerous, it's unsportsmanlike, it's just not what anybody does to anybody else. And this particular individual (Pachulia) has a history with that kind of action.”
Popovich referred to, among other incidents, a heated exchange between David West and Pachulia last season, when West was with the Spurs and Pachulia with the Dallas Mavericks.
Popovich referred to the play, which happened with 7:53 left in the third quarter, as “crap,” implying it’s typical of Pachulia.
“And because he's got this history, it can't just be, ‘Oh, it was inadvertent,’ ” Popovich said. “He didn't have intent. Who gives a damn about what his intent was? You ever hear of manslaughter? You still go to jail, I think, when you're texting and you end up killing somebody, but you might not have intended to do that. All I care about is what I saw. All I care about is what happened and the history there exacerbates the whole situation and makes me very, very angry.”
Warriors acting coach Mike Brown, a close friend of and former assistant to Popovich, said the Spurs coach was speaking in support of his players. Brown also referenced another incident that, for his part, exonerates Pachulia from any intent to injure.
“Obviously, there was a chain of events that happened,” Brown said. “Right before that, Kawhi stepped on David Lee's foot and tweaked his ankle. Then, (the Pachulia-Leonard) play happened. Then at the 7:23 mark, a couple plays or a play later, Steph shot the ball and LaMarcus Aldridge went to contest, and he went underneath Steph, and Steph avoided landing on his ankle by falling to the ground.
“I even asked two of the three officials. I said, 'Hey, that's the same call that you just called on Zaza,' and both of them told me that the difference was that Kawhi landed on Zaza's foot. Steph avoided landing on LaMarcus's foot, and that's why they didn't call the foul or whatever they called on Zaza. So it's the same play.”
Pachulia made it clear neither his reputation nor the comments by Popovich will affect his approach to the game.
“I really feel bad for the guy,” Pachulia said. “I wish it didn't happen and it had a different result, basically.
“But it's a game and there are some things that you can't control. I have a lot of respect for Kawhi. I think he's one of the best players in this league. We wish him all the best to get healthy.
“But . . . this is the game of basketball. Lot of crazy stuff happens on the court, unfortunately. It's happened to me as well, and once you play this kind of physical game, intense game, things happen. My approach to this game for 14 years that I've been in the league is to play hard and give my 100%, whatever I have. So I don't agree with the calls that I'm a dirty player. I'm not a dirty player. I just love this game, and I play hard. It's how I was taught since day one, honestly. So that's what I've been doing. That's my last comment about it.”