Zaza Pachulia

There are two ways Warriors center Zaza Pachulia gets headlines: coming comically close to starting in All-Star games, and making dirty plays.

In Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals on Sunday, Pachulia did not give Spurs star Kawhi Leonard enough room to land on a jumper, and Leonard wound up aggravating an ankle injury and leaving the game. San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich had plenty of unkind words for Pachulia afterwards… but Zaza got a chance to respond.

Pachulia started out by emphasizing his respect for the Spurs, and then responding to questions describing his perspective on the play where he slid his foot underneath Leonard on a closeout:

“I have a lot of respect for Coach Pop and their organization. … It depends on the personality of who you’re guarding. Shooter, non-shooter. [Kawhi] is an amazing shooter. [Teammate Kevin Durant] got hung hit on a good screen, so I had to help my teammate and challenge the shot.”

As for Popovich calling Pachulia’s play unsportsmanlike, the Warriors center didn’t seem to care much:

“Not really, it doesn’t bother me because, I will say it for the last time, I did whatever I had to do. That was the right defense for my side, to challenge the shot. I wish he had not landed on my foot, and honestly I had no idea that he landed on it until I turned back and he was already on the ground. As soon as he released the ball, I turned around and tried to chase the rebound and see where the ball was going. And apparently he landed on my foot when I was already turned. … When I turned back and I saw him on the floor, he was holding his ankle and I was trying to figure out what happened.”

In his rant, Popovich mentioned Pachulia’s history of questionable plays and told media to ask for the opinion of Warriors backup forward David West, who had on on-court altercation last season with Pachulia, then playing for Dallas. West was playing for Popovich and the Spurs at the time.

Unsurprisingly, West stood up for his current teammate when media followed Popovich’s request.

“He’s just playing hard, man. He’s an aggressive guy. That’s who he is. That’s who he’s always been. … It’s just a tough play, man.”

Whatever West thinks about the play, you basically knew how he’d handle those questions publicly.

Like his players, Warriors interim coach Mike Brown also handled questions about the incident diplomatically.

Even if Pachulia did not intend to injure Leonard, you can still argue, as many people have, that his defensive technique on the play was reckless and deserves some form of discipline. But the NBA has already announced it will not suspend Pachulia, according to ESPN’s Marc Stein.

Meanwhile, Leonard is doubtful to play in Game 2. Remember that San Antonio already without starting point guard Tony Parker, who ruptured his left quadriceps tendon in the second round. Before Leonard’s injury, the Spurs torched a Warriors team that won 67 games in the regular season and is now 9-0 in the playoffs.

ESPN’s Michael C. Wright reported good news that an MRI revealed no structural damage in Leonard’s ankle. Hopefully he can make a return soon, or else this series could become as much of a snoozefest as the last two involving the Warriors.

About Jesse Kramer

Jesse is a writer and editor for The Comeback. He has also worked for and runs The Catch and Shoot, a college basketball website based in Chicago. He is a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. Follow Jesse on Twitter @Jesse_Kramer.