Zaza takes high road after Popovich pops off on 'unsportsmanlike' play

Zaza takes high road after Popovich pops off on 'unsportsmanlike' play

OAKLAND -- The fallout from Warriors center Zaza Pachulia’s aggressive closeout on Spurs star Kawhi Leonard, resulting in Leonard landing on Pachulia’s foot and aggravating a sprained ankle, continued Monday, with San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich going on the offensive and the Warriors barely bothering to respond.

Popovich lit into Pachulia’s character Monday morning, accusing the Warriors center of “dangerous” behavior Sunday in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals and having a history of unsportsmanlike conduct.

Given an opportunity to respond Monday afternoon, Pachulia took the high road. Moreover, he insisted he’s unaffected by comments made by the highly respected San Antonio coach.

“No, not really, it doesn't bother me,” Pachulia said after Warriors practice. “Because I want to say the last time and that's it: I did whatever I had to do.”

Switched out when Kevin Durant was screened off Leonard, Pachulia pushed up on Leonard as he rose to shoot. Further advanced while Leonard was in the air, Pachulia’s left foot rested almost directly beneath Leonard.

Pachulia was whistled for a foul for, in essence, invading Leonard’s landing area, which actually is a foul -- despite it being a common action by defenders. That it resulted in Leonard leaving the game, imperiling his status for the remainder of the series, ignited a firestorm of debate about Pachulia’s intention.

“A two-step lead-with-your-foot closeout is not appropriate,” Popovich told reporters Monday at the team hotel in San Francisco. “It's dangerous, it's unsportsmanlike, it's just not what anybody does to anybody else. And this particular individual (Pachulia) has a history with that kind of action.”

Popovich referred to, among other incidents, a heated exchange between David West and Pachulia last season, when West was with the Spurs and Pachulia with the Dallas Mavericks.

Popovich referred to the play, which happened with 7:53 left in the third quarter, as “crap,” implying it’s typical of Pachulia.

“And because he's got this history, it can't just be, ‘Oh, it was inadvertent,’ ” Popovich said. “He didn't have intent. 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 somebody, but you might not have intended to do that. All I care about 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.”

Warriors acting coach Mike Brown, a close friend of and former assistant to Popovich, said the Spurs coach was speaking in support of his players. Brown also referenced another incident that, for his part, exonerates Pachulia from any intent to injure.

“Obviously, there was a chain of events that happened,” Brown said. “Right before that, Kawhi stepped on David Lee's foot and tweaked his ankle. Then, (the Pachulia-Leonard) play happened. Then at the 7:23 mark, a couple plays or a play later, Steph shot the ball and LaMarcus Aldridge went to contest, and he went underneath Steph, and Steph avoided landing on his ankle by falling to the ground.

“I even asked two of the three officials. I said, 'Hey, that's the same call that you just called on Zaza,' and both of them told me that the difference was that Kawhi landed on Zaza's foot. Steph avoided landing on LaMarcus's foot, and that's why they didn't call the foul or whatever they called on Zaza. So it's the same play.”

Pachulia made it clear neither his reputation nor the comments by Popovich will affect his approach to the game.

“I really feel bad for the guy,” Pachulia said. “I wish it didn't happen and it had a different result, basically.

“But it's a game and there are some things that you can't control. I have a lot of respect for Kawhi. I think he's one of the best players in this league. We wish him all the best to get healthy.

“But . . . this is the game of basketball. Lot of crazy stuff happens on the court, unfortunately. It's happened to me as well, and once you play this kind of physical game, intense game, things happen. My approach to this game for 14 years that I've been in the league is to play hard and give my 100%, whatever I have. So I don't agree with the calls that I'm a dirty player. I'm not a dirty player. I just love this game, and I play hard. It's how I was taught since day one, honestly. So that's what I've been doing. That's my last comment about it.”


What if they don't win the title? Joe Lacob says Warriors 'looking at different options'


What if they don't win the title? Joe Lacob says Warriors 'looking at different options'

The Warriors were the No. 1 overall seed in the playoffs in 2015, 2016 and 2017.

That is probably going to change this season, as they trail the Rockets by three games (although it's really four because Houston has the tiebreaker) with 12 games to play (and only lead the Raptors by one game).

What does owner Joe Lacob think about his team right now?

“We’ve had our best team we’ve ever had this year,” Lacob recently told Mark Medina of the Bay Area News Group (read the full story here). “We have to go prove it on the court, but we have enough to win it.

"It doesn’t mean we will, but we are certainly set up to have the opportunity potentially to do that. That’s about all you can ask.”

Things can change in an instant and Lacob understands that.

That's why he's constantly discussing scenarios with Warriors GM Bob Myers and the rest of Golden State's decision-makers.

“We’ll build around that core until we decide maybe we shouldn’t," Lacob told BANG. "But right now it feels pretty good. These guys are all performing at a great level. We love them as part of our organization.

"I don’t really see doing anything major. But you never really know. We have to evaluate when the season is over. It’s very hard when you’re in the middle of it all to see it objectively.”

What happens if the Warriors don't win the championship this year?

We will leave you with this quote Lacob gave BANG.

“Maybe we will emphasize continuity. Or maybe we will make a big move. We’re looking at different options, given different things playing out in different ways.

"I think you should always be doing that.”

Drew Shiller is the co-host of Warriors Outsiders. Follow him on Twitter @DrewShiller

Pat McCaw will return vs Spurs; Draymond Green vs LaMarcus Aldridge


Pat McCaw will return vs Spurs; Draymond Green vs LaMarcus Aldridge

In 43 seasons battling the Spurs, only once have the Warriors swept a season series, a feat they will accomplish again with a victory Monday night in San Antonio.

Winning at AT&T Center will be a tough task for the depleted Warriors (53-17), who for the third consecutive game will take the floor with three of their four All-Stars -- Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson -- unavailable. Guard Pat McCaw, however, will be available for the first time in five weeks.

After the Spurs (40-30) lost nine of 11 games over a 30-day span and seemed to be fading from the playoff race, they’ve posted three straight wins and are very much in the race, despite the continued absence of star forward Kawhi Leonard.


Spurs by 7


Draymond Green & Co. vs. LaMarcus Aldridge: Aldridge is a load for any defender and has carried the Spurs this season. Expect the Warriors to stick to their routine when facing a single pivotal player and send a variety of defenders. Green is sure to be one of them. Others likely to take turns include Zaza Pachulia, JaVale McGee, David West and maybe even Kevon Looney. The Warriors will consider it success if they can keep Aldridge under 30 points.


Warriors: F Omri Casspi (R ankle tweak), G Stephen Curry (R ankle tweak), F Kevin Durant (R rib fracture) and G Klay Thompson (R thumb fracture) and listed as out.

Spurs: F Kawhi Leonard (return from injury management) is listed as out.


Warriors: 7-3. Spurs: 5-5.


James Capers (crew chief), Bennie Adams, Karl Lane


The Warriors won the first three of four meetings this season: 112-92 on Nov. 2 in San Antonio, 122-105 on Feb. 10 in Oakland and 110-107 on March 8 at Oakland. They were 1-2 against San Antonio last season and are 9-7 against the Spurs in the Steve Kerr era.


COOK’S ROLL: Two-way PG Quinn Cook was terrific in the last two games, scoring a combined 53 points on 21-of-30 shooting. That was against lottery teams. The Spurs traditionally make life tough for guards and will pose a much bigger challenge. If Cook stays hot under this pressure, the Warriors will be beyond ecstatic.

MCCAW RETURNS: The return of McCaw, out since Feb. 12 with a L wrist fracture, gives the Warriors a fourth guard and some welcome flexibility. Cook played 80 minutes in the recent back-to-back set, and Nick Young played 78. McCaw will be on a minutes restriction (less than 20) but can perform on or off the ball.

THE BENCH GAME: Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has virtually trademarked liberal usage of reserves; only San Antonio has had eight players score in double figures in three different games this season, and 13 different Spurs average at least 10 ppg. Their depth will be a problem for these very thin Warriors.