Golden State Warriors’ center Zaza Pachulia has a reputation as a big man willing to do the dirty work necessary of an NBA role player, and now that includes literal dirty work. Pachulia’s aggressive closeout on Kawhi Leonard knocked the San Antonio Spurs’ star out of Game 1 (precipitating the Warriors’ comeback), and possibly Game 2 as well.
Was it a dirty play? Well, probably, and San Antonio head coach Gregg Popovich certainly said so:
— Jabari Young (@JabariJYoung) May 15, 2017
As Pop notes, that closeout wasn’t very natural, and the league cracked down on it a while ago. Ironically, one of the main players that forced the NBA to make that change was long-time Spurs instigator Bruce Bowen, king of not giving shooters any space to come down. And now, Bowen himself has weighed in on the play, speaking to Bleacher Report:
But Bowen has no sympathy whatsoever for Pachulia.
“That play? I’ve watched it and, yeah, I thought he took an extra step,” he said. “Plenty of time to stop where he did, but he continued moving in that direction of Kawhi. That seems like it’s intentional and it’s definitely dangerous.”
And this is probably the correct take, though again, it’s somewhat rich coming from Bowen, who still bristles at any hint he was a dirty player:
“The thing is, now I’ve seen all the stuff going around on social (media) and all the things people are saying, and a lot of it involves me,” Bowen said. “Well, I used to hate it when people called me dirty. I thought it was unfair when people just piggyback on what other people say. And I still do.”
On the surface, it is amusing to watch Bowen and the Spurs at large attempt to split this particular hair, but if you dig a bit deeper, there’s more hair to split than you might think. Being an agitator or attempting to get under the skin of an opponent is one thing, but making obviously dangerous, dirty plays is something else, and that last little step from Pachulia definitely qualifies.
Maybe the Warriors really have moved into full heel territory. Bowen certainly thinks they have, and he knows a thing or two about that.