Gregg Popovich rips Zaza Pachulia for injuring Kawhi Leonard

May 16, 2017 - 12:35 PM
USA Today/Reuters

San Antonio star forward Kawhi Leonard will miss Tuesday night’s Game 2 of the Western Conference finals at the Golden State Warriors, leaving Spurs coach Gregg Popovich irate over what he felt was an avoidable injury.

Popovich lashed out at Warriors center Zaza Pachulia for his defense on Leonard, telling reporters Monday that the play was “dangerous” and “unsportsmanlike” and citing a past pattern of such play by Pachulia.

Leonard aggravated his left ankle injury on Sunday in Game One of the best-of-seven series when he landed on Pachulia’s foot after taking a jump shot early in the third quarter.

San Antonio held a 23-point lead at the time of the injury but couldn’t hold of a furious comeback without its best player and dropped a 113-111 decision.

“Lead with your foot close-out is not appropriate. It’s dangerous, it’s unsportsmanlike, it’s just not what anybody does to anybody else,” Popovich fumed. “And this particular individual has a history with that kind of action. … A totally unnatural close-out that the league has outlawed years ago and pays great attention to it.

“We’ve had a pretty damn good season. We’ve played fairly well in the playoffs … and 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.”

Pachulia took exception with Popovich’s assertion that his defensive closeout on Leonard was “dangerous” and “unsportsmanlike.”

“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 on Monday. “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.”

Leonard injured the same ankle in Game Five of the Western semifinals on Tuesday and sat out Game Six against the Houston Rockets on Thursday. He had 26 points and eight rebounds in just 24 minutes of action.

The All-Star small forward scored a game-high 18 points in the first half as the Spurs stunned the top-seeded Warriors with a 62-42 start.

But Leonard tweaked the ankle when he stepped back into the Spurs’ bench while attempting a three-pointer early in the third period. Then after a brief stint on the bench, he returned and landed on Pachulia’s foot on a jumper, which sent Leonard limping to the bench for good.

The Spurs were leading 78-55 when Leonard left the game with 7:54 remaining in the third quarter. Golden State immediately responded with an 18-0 run to get back into the game.

Popovich said if Leonard remained in the game and San Antonio lost, he would go to practice the next day and “move on. But this is crap.

“And because he’s has got this history, it can’t be, ‘Oh this was inadvertent, he didn’t have intent,’ ” Popovich said of Pachulia. “Who gives a damn what his intent was? Have you ever heard of manslaughter? You still go to jail I think when you’re texting and you end up killing somebody but may have not intended to do that. All I care is what I saw, all I care about is what happened. And the history there exasperates the whole situation and makes me very, very angry.”