San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich said Monday that All-Star forward Kawhi Leonard will not play in Game 2 of the 2017 Western Conference finals against the Golden State Warriors, and called the play by Warriors center Zaza Pachulia that resulted in Leonard’s injury “dangerous,” “unsportsmanlike” and inappropriate during a fiery session with reporters.
“He’s in an MRI right now,” Popovich said when he met with the media on Monday afternoon. “But I would guess he’d be out.”
Later, though, Popovich said: “We’ll see. We’ll see what the MRI says. But, obviously, he won’t play tomorrow.”
Leonard, who had injured his ankle in Game 5 of San Antonio’s second-round series against the Houston Rockets and missed the deciding Game 6, left Sunday’s Game 1 against the Warriors with a left ankle sprain after landing on the foot of Warriors center Zaza Pachulia while shooting with just under eight minutes remaining in the third quarter:
Leonard had been brilliant to that point, scoring 26 points on 7-for-13 shooting with eight rebounds, three assists and one steal in 24 minutes of floor time to spark the Spurs to a 23-point lead over the heavily favored Warriors. When Leonard left the game after making his two free throws, San Antonio led 78-55. Immediately after his exit, the Warriors ripped off an 18-0 run to get back within striking distance, before overtaking the Spurs in the final quarter and finishing off a 113-111 win to take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.
After Leonard’s exit, and especially after the Warriors came back to beat a Leonard-less Spurs team, accusations of dirty play and questions of intent came to the forefront. Leonard, for his part, said he didn’t think Pachulia’s play was dirty, but rather that the Golden State center was just trying to contest his jumper and unintentionally ended up with his foot underneath Leonard’s landing spot.
“Did he step under it? Like, [on] purpose?” Leonard said. “No, he was contesting the shot. The shot clock was coming down. I’ll have to see the play.”
After the game, Pachulia insisted there was no malice intended, and said it was “really stupid” that anyone would think he slid underneath Leonard on purpose with the intent to injure the Spurs’ best player.
“I did my part. Like I said, I had to challenge the shot especially [because] it was a handoff situation,” Pachulia said. “You saw my teammate was behind the screen, so I had to challenge the shot. That’s what I did … I’m an athlete, too, so, I know how it feels and I don’t wish it to anybody, even though we are facing against them.”
However, Popovich made it very clear that, intentional or not, he was livid at Pachulia’s play and the havoc it wrought.
Asked how much more difficult it would be for the Spurs to knock off Golden State without Leonard in the lineup, Popovich said, “Come on, man,” and began to unload.
“How much more difficult is it? How would it be if [Stephen] Curry didn’t play?” Popovich said. “How much more difficult would that be? I’m not a happy camper, but that’s a silly question.”
Popovich then turned his attention to how Pachulia’s foot came to be underneath Leonard.
“A two-step, lead-with-your-foot closeout is not appropriate,” he said. “It’s dangerous. It’s unsportsmanlike. It’s just not what anybody does to anybody else. And this particular individual has a history with that kind of action. You can go back and look in Dallas [Mavericks] games, where [Pachulia, who played for the Mavs during the 2015-16 season] got a flagrant- for elbowing Patty Mills. The play where he took Kawhi down and locked his arm, in Dallas. Could’ve broken his arm. Ask David West, his current teammate, how things went when Zaza was playing for Dallas and he and David got into it. And then think about the history he’s had, and what that means to a team, what happened last night.
“A totally unnatural closeout that the league has outlawed years ago, and pays great attention to it. And Kawhi’s not there. And you want to know how we feel about it. You want to know if that lessens our chances or not. We’re playing very possibly the best team in the league — you know, we don’t know what’s going to happen in the East — and 9.75 people out of 10 would figure that the Warriors will beat the Spurs. Well, we’ve had a pretty damn good season, we’ve played fairly well in the playoffs, I think we’re getting better, 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.”
Popovich then invited follow-up questions, eliciting laughs from the assembled reporters. But when he got one — about whether he thought Pachulia intended to injure Leonard — he wasted little time in going back in.
“Because [Pachulia has] got this history, it can’t just be, ‘Oh, it was inadvertent. He didn’t have intent,’” Popovich said. “Who gives a damn about what his intent was? You ever hear of manslaughter? You still go to jail, I think, when you’re texting and you end up killing someone. But you might not have intended to do that. All I care is what I saw. All I care about is what happened. And the history there exacerbates the whole situation and makes me very, very angry.”
Asked whether he expects the NBA to take any action toward Pachulia following the play and Leonard’s injury, Popovich said all of that fell outside his purview.
“I don’t care what the league does,” he said. “I’m just telling you how I feel. The league is the league. They do what they do. I could care less. I didn’t call the league. Why would I do that? They looked at the play. If they do something, they do something. If they don’t, they don’t. All I care about is, Kawhi’s not there.
“And, you know, having your horses is important at this point in the deal. And when you’re playing Golden State in their place, and you’re playing like that, it’s pretty cool. And if he would’ve played, and they would’ve ended up winning, I go get dinner, have a glass of wine, wake up the next day, go to practice and move on. But this is crap […] Nobody wants to do anything that would put anybody else in danger for a game or a career. This guy’s history is different.”
Game 2 tips off at Oracle Arena at 9 p.m. ET on Tuesday.
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