Is Zaza Pachulia a dirty player? That’s the question everyone is asking after the big man undercut Kawhi Leonard on a play that resulted in injury.
Leonard rolled his ankle after a Pachulia undercut him while closing out on a jumpshot. The MVP candidate will most miss game two of the Spurs-Warriors series due to the injury. The questionable play upset a lot of people, including Skip Bayless (via Fox Sports):
“In all my years of rooting for my Spurs, and my Dallas Cowboys, I have never ever been more sickened by a loss than I was by that thing that I witnessed yesterday. “A guy named Zaza went hockey goon… “In the end, Zaza Pachulia — I can’t believe I’m even saying his name live on national television — intentionally stuck his Size 17 foot under the gimpy ankle of Kawhi Leonard, the best two-way player in basketball.”
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich also railed against the “totally unnatural close out” during a post-game interview, reminding audiences that the league “outlawed” the play years ago. But, many fans were quick to point out that the Spurs own players like Pau Gasol, David Lee and Bruce Bowen have all used the exact same closeout. In fact, Gasol closed out on Steph Curry in an almost identical fashion during the same game (although, Gasol’s move didn’t result in injury).
Since the incident, Pachulia has firmly denied that he’s a “dirty player”, and claimed he has nothing but respect for his opponents.
“I really feel bad for the guy,” Pachulia told reporters after the Warriors practice on Monday. “I wish it didn’t happen and it had a different result, 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.”
In fact, Leonard himself told The San Antonio Express-News that he didn’t believe the injury was intentional and thinks Pachulia was just trying to contest the shot.
“This Spurs organization [has] no excuses now. You wouldn’t give LeBron an inch of his excuse when they lost Kyrie and Kevin Love in the Finals. I don’t want to hear Gregg Popovich now [saying] ‘we can’t win without [Kawhi]. You were 8-1 this year without Kawhi! You are 14-4. The Patriots won a Super Bowl without Gronk. The Warriors won 14 straight without Kevin Durant. I’ll give you a pass yesterday, it was de-stabilized, but you have shown an ability to win games and get here with all sorts of injuries.”