One person not prepared to give Zaza Pachulia the benefit of the doubt for the possibly dirty play that injured San Antonio Spurs star Kawhi Leonard and swung Game 1 in the Golden State Warriors‘ favor: Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich.
Pop, whose Spurs saw a lot of Pachulia a season ago, when the center was playing for the in-division Dallas Mavericks, suggested reporters ask former Spurs big man David West, now a Warriors reserve, how he felt about Zaza before the two became teammates.
“The two-step, lead-with-your-foot closeout is not appropriate,” Popovich said. “It’s dangerous, it’s unsportsmanlike, it’s just not what anybody does to anybody else. And this particular individual has a history with that kind of action. You can go back and look in Dallas games where he got a flagrant 2 for elbowing Patty Mills. The play where he took Kawhi down and locked his arm in Dallas and could have broken his arm.
“Ask David West, his 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.”
Pachulia defended himself on Monday, denying the notion that he’s a dirty player.
“My approach to this game for 14 years that I’ve been in the league is to play hard and [give] 100 percent of whatever I have,” Pachulia said in response to Popovich on Monday after practice. “So, I don’t agree with the calls that I’m a dirty player. I’m not a dirty player. I love this game and I’m playing hard. That’s what I was taught since day one.”
San Antonio was up by 20 when Leonard landed on the foot of Pachulia, sparking a Golden State comeback. The 33-year-old from Tbilisi, Georgia, said he wishes Leonard wasn’t hurt on the play.
“I really feel bad for the guy,” Pachulia said. “I wish it didn’t happen, [wish it] had a different result basically. But again, it’s a game there’s stuff you can’t control it right. I have a lot of respect for Kawhi. I think he’s one of the best players in this league and I wish him all the best to get healthy. But, we’re going to move on. This is the game of basketball. A lot of crazy stuff happens on the court, unfortunately.”
As for West? He definitely didn’t go out of his way to dispel the idea that Pachulia is dirty.
“I mean, Zaza is my teammate,” he said. “He plays hard. He’s just trying to win. That’s as far as it’s going to go…. Just playing hard, man. He’s an aggressive guy. That’s who he is. That’s who he’s always been.”