The Western Conference Finals got off to a surprising start on Sunday, when Kawhi Leonard and the underdog San Antonio Spurs opened a 25-point lead on the Golden State Warriors just 16 minutes into Game 1.
Then disaster struck the foot of Leonard—twice.
Early in the third quarter, with his team still up 20, Leonard came down on his teammate’s foot to tweak his ankle.
But he returned to the floor just 16 seconds of game time later. Only 50 seconds after that, Leonard hoisted a jump shot that Warriors big man Zaza Pachulia challenged. But as Leonard came back to the floor, Pachulia took yet another step under the Spurs star, hurting his ankle yet again.
Zaza took an extra step after Kawhi released the ball
Dirty as all hellpic.twitter.com/MJhNLAVn1h
— Tom Petrini (@RealTomPetrini) May 14, 2017
Leonard didn’t return, and the Warriors promptly embarked on an 18-0 run with the opposition’s best player out for good. The Warriors went on to win 113-111.
Many of those pulling for the Spurs believe Pachulia’s actions were intentional.
happy mother’s day to everyone except zaza pachulia
— Mina Kimes (@minakimes) May 14, 2017
I agree with Van Gundy. Extending under a jump shooter’s feet the way Zaza did should be more than a common foul.
— Andy Bailey (@AndrewDBailey) May 14, 2017
Congratulations to Zaza Pachulia, who has now taken Kawhi out for the rest of the game and has thus fulfilled his purpose to the team.
— Adam Jacobi (@Adam_Jacobi) May 14, 2017
Without seeing the replay, Leonard said the play wasn’t dirty, which is what he’d say regardless of how he felt about the play.
Full Kawhi: “Did he step under it? Like, on purpose? No. He was contesting the shot. Shot clock was coming down. I’ll have to see the play.”
— Mike Finger (@mikefinger) May 14, 2017
The irony here: If Zaza indeed tried to hurt Leonard on purpose, it was by pulling a move so associated with former Spurs three-and-D wing Bruce Bowen that it’s practically named after him.