San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich issued a fiery statement Monday in which he essentially singled out Zaza Pachulia as a dirty player.
The heated diatribe (watch here) was in response to the Golden State Warriors center stepping under Kawhi Leonard in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals. The play in question knocked Leonard out of Game 1, and he’s already been ruled out of Game 2 on Tuesday night in Oakland.
It’s easy to understand why Popovich is so upset. Leonard has been (by far) the best player San Antonio has featured all year, and the Spurs were winning in landslide fashion before Leonard’s ankle injury forced him out of the lineup. Then Golden State went on a huge run to win the game by two points. It was a maddening situation for the Spurs and their fans, who, like Popovich, see what Pachulia did as a dirty play.
And while that may be true (intentional or not), here’ some food for thought.
Popovich’s Spurs used to feature one of the scrappiest perimeter defenders in the NBA in shooting guard Bruce Bowen. Back in 2006, when Bowen was being singled out for doing exactly what Pachulia did on Sunday, Popovich vehemently came to his defense and essentially told him to never change.
the internet found a pop quote about bruce bowen in 2006. pic.twitter.com/dO5s64u80P
— trey (@treyzingis) May 15, 2017
So, Popovich might want to remember a bit of history before launching an all-out attack against a player who did what the Spurs coach has essentially advocated in the past. It’s also worth pointing out that Stephen Curry had the exact same thing happen to him in Game 1, though the refs didn’t call a foul because Curry didn’t land on LaMarcus Aldridge’s foot.
Refs told Brown Zaza got the foul call because Leonard landed on Zaza's foot, and Curry avoided Aldridge's foot by falling, so no foul
— Marcus Thompson (@ThompsonScribe) May 15, 2017
Listen, one thing we should all be able to agree on is that it’s dangerous when defenders put their feet under a shooter. Ankles are going to be injured. It’s inevitable. But let’s not single out Pachulia for what he did when other players IN THE SAME GAME did THE SAME EXACT THING on the opposite end of the court.
Popovich is frustrated. He’s frustrated and he’s angry. He lost his best player for God knows how long, and he just watched his team lose a game that was in the bag. But based on his own words , what Pachulia did isn’t dirty, it’s a hard-nosed player doing his job to closeout on a jump shot.