The NBA simply cannot have players doing what Golden State Warriors center Zaza Pachulia pulled Saturday afternoon against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
In the third quarter of a tense game between Western Conference rivals, OKC star Russell Westbrook drove to the basket, missed a floater, fought for the rebound and got bumped to the ground. Pachulia, touched lightly at most, then stumbled forward and landed squarely on Westbrook’s legs.
The All-Star guard took some time getting up, in apparent pain from having a 275-pound center fall on top of him, but thankfully walked off and finished the game, a Warriors blowout. After the game, he said that “of course” Pachulia’s fall was intentional and that the Warriors big man was “for sure” a dirty player.
Here’s the play in question:
Anyone want to explain what Zaza Pachulia is doing here? pic.twitter.com/FiK1gTlr5T
— Derek Peterson (@DrPetey15) February 25, 2018
This is just not acceptable. NBA players are often suspended for fighting, for taking cheap shots, for arguing with referees, for accruing technical fouls, but what Pachulia did was worse. He attempted to injure an opponent — or at least increase the odds of injuring an opponent — to gain a short-term or long-term advantage for his team. He tried to take out one of the league’s best and most exciting players, as if he was Tonya Harding’s boyfriend or Stannis Baratheon. It’s tough to imagine a more egregious on-court offense.
Pachulia, of course, denied that the fall was intentional. For someone with a different reputation, we might be inclined to believe him. But Pachulia pulls this crap all the time. Again and again, he punches, kicks, lands on and all around endangers opponents. Suspiciously often, his victims are among the best players on Western Conference rivals.
A Twitter user spent his evening Saturday compiling a collection of dirty Pachulia plays, and let’s just say there were plenty.
In a scramble for a jump ball, Zaza tries to punch Iman Shumpert in the groin: pic.twitter.com/N5drT7Ujzm
— mf DOOM in CAPS (@GAMEWINING3) February 25, 2018
In a vacuum, most of Pachulia’s dirty plays leave room for plausible deniability. Warriors fans have been quick to point out that in the case of Saturday’s fall, Pachulia did seem to get his feet tangled and lose balance. But when you take these plays together, it’s impossible to deny that Pachulia plays dirty, that he’s the type of guy to turn a slight stumble into a dangerous fall directly onto an opponent’s most vulnerable body parts.
And it’s time for the NBA to send a message.
Pachulia needs to be suspended, probably for multiple games. If the evidence isn’t substantial enough, this time, call it a career achievement punishment. In this case, Westbrook was fine and there was no harm done, but next time, he might miss the rest of the season (as Kawhi Leonard was when Pachulia landed on his ankle during last year’s playoffs).
This is a player who has earned no benefit of the doubt and no leniency. The league must tell Pachulia and any potential emulators out there that it just won’t tolerate the brand of dirty play that leads to injuries.