In the 24 hours or so since Zaza Pachulia‘s left foot re-aggravated Kawhi Leonard‘s already-troublesome left ankle at Oracle Arena Sunday afternoon, speculation and opinion regarding the play — and any intentions behind it — continue to flow.
Some media members and observers around both teams have said they felt Pachulia intentionally positioned himself under Leonard to re-injure an ankle that will now keep the MVP candidate out of Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals.
In a media session after San Antonio Spurs practice Monday morning, Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich had much to say about the pivotal play that sidelined his best player and sparked a furious, 23-point comeback for Golden State:
“A totally unnatural closeout that the league has outlawed years ago and pays great attention to it. And Kawhi’s not there. And you want to know how we feel about it? You want to know if that lessens our chances or not? We’re playing, very possibly, the best team in the league.”
“We’re up 23 points in the third quarter against Golden State 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’s comments reflect what many around the league feel was a “dirty play” by Pachulia. Popovich also backed up that sentiment by referencing several plays throughout Pachulia’s career he contends could be motivated by malicious intent.
West responded to accusations of Zaza’s “dirty” style of play by saying:
“Zaza is my teammate and he plays hard. … Things happen in the league. Everybody’s trying to compete. Everyone’s trying to win. Things happen.”
In his defense, Pachulia did not mince words Monday morning:
“I did whatever I had to do. It was the right defense from my side to challenge the shot. I wish he didn’t land on my foot and honestly, I had no idea that he had landed on my foot until I turned back and he was already on the ground.”
“I really feel bad for the guy and I wish it didn’t happen and, you know, had a different result basically. But again, this is a game, there’s things that sometimes you can’t control. I have a lot of respect for Kawhi and his team. … I wish him all the best to get healthy back.”
The Spurs announced Leonard has been ruled out of Game 2 Tuesday, with his status unsure for the remainder of the Western Conference Finals.
If Sunday’s game was any indicator, the absence of Leonard will greatly benefit Golden State. The Warriors exploded to outscore the Spurs 58-33 in the remaining 23 minutes of Game 1 after Leonard hobbled to the locker room.
Further updates on Leonard’s health are expected over the next few days, but the landscape for the remainder of this series has already been shaken up by the injury.