UPDATE (12:45pm on Monday) -- Zaza Pachulia will not face any discipline for his incident with Russell Westbrook on Saturday night, according to Tim Bontemps of the Washington Post.
For those hoping/wondering/expecting the NBA to discipline Zaza Pachulia in the wake of Saturday's incident with Russell Westbrook, I can report the NBA will not be taking any action against him. Pachulia and the Warriors play the Knicks at MSG tonight.— Tim Bontemps (@TimBontemps) February 26, 2018
OAKLAND -- The question that hung in the air late Saturday night, lingering into Sunday and still resonating on Monday, was for some not even a question.
Warriors center Zaza Pachulia is, they will says, a dirty basketball player. Period.
Kevin Durant came to the defense of his teammate on Sunday.
“I don’t think Zaza is trying to hurt anybody,” he said after practice in New York.
There is an abundance of evidence to support the “dirty” accusations made by Russell Westbrook, Paul George, Kyrie Irving, Gregg Popovich and others. The league doesn’t track collisions or crashes, but if it did there is little doubt Pachulia would be at or near the top on a per-minutes basis.
Though I suspect Pachulia isn’t exactly out to hurt anybody, it’s apparent he is indifferent to the consequences as they relate to opponents.
But maybe the accusers are right. Maybe Pachulia, whose latest curious incident came Saturday when his foot got tangled with that of fallen teammate Nick Young and he fell onto Westbrook’s lower body in the third quarter of a 112-80 Warriors win over the Thunder, is the NBA’s answer to the wrestling heel.
Durant believes there may a simpler explanation.
“He is clumsy; don’t get me wrong, as a lot of big guys are,” he said. “But I watched the tape. I saw Nick’s foot get caught up in Zaza’s leg and it might have tripped him up a bit. I don’t think he’s trying to hurt Russ.
“But it did look, to the fan’s view and I’m sure to them, kind of like a weird play. But I slowed it down and I saw some clips and pictures everywhere that showed Nick’s leg got caught up with Zaza’s leg. I don’t think he was trying to hurt him at all. But it was an unfortunate play. I’m glad Russ didn’t get hurt from it.”
Durant’s response might be on point. Though Pachulia slams his 6-foot-11, 275-pound body onto others at a rate well above normal, he also stumbles to the floor -- sometimes with barely a whisper of contact -- with enough regularity it’s fair to wonder if he has balance issues. He’s on the floor more often than any player I’ve ever seen with such imposing physical stature.
Pachulia falls backward and sideways and forward, which is how he landed upon Westbrook, generating a shower of accusatory commentary on social media and elsewhere directed at hulking veteran.
Pachulia consistently denies any harmful intent. When his coaches and teammates are asked about it, they tend to avoid judgment but sometimes pause to collect their thoughts before responding.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr’s response on Sunday was brief and indecisive.
“I’m not getting into that,” he said. “I know people are talking about it. I’m not into the drama.”
The Warriors generally believe Pachulia does all he can to best utilize the physicality that, for the most part, keeps him employed in the NBA. He’s an old-fashioned banger in the paint.
And, again, unconcerned whatever he does to an opponent.
When he fell backward into Kevin Durant last season -- resulting in Durant being out the lineup for five weeks -- Pachulia apologized, even though his tumble was the result of being tossed to the floor by Wizards big man Marcin Gortat.
“I feel bad it happened,” Pachulia said a few days after Durant was injured. “If I did something on purpose or even if I had flopped, that probably would have made me feel worse. But it wasn’t even a flop. I got pulled. I fell. Nobody had control over it.
“KD knows. I talked to him after the game and I saw him in his room in his hotel. He knows it was an accident. Bad accident. I had no idea it was going to happen, because we were battling for the rebound. I can’t even blame Gortat, because he was trying to make a basketball play as well. But thank God. I always look at it this way: it can always be worse.”
The accusers are right in saying Pachulia has a history of using his body to inflict punishment. The history is there. He bangs into others, and sometimes they usually pay a price that leaves them angry.
Ask Popovich, who fumed when Pachulia made unnecessary contact with Kawhi Leonard in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals last May. Ask Westbrook or George, both of whom expressed a belief that Pachulia intended to hurt Westbrook.
Pachulia has been fined only once, that being a $15,000 smack to the face of Heat forward Luke Babbitt last season. Pachulia has been whistled for six flagrant fouls in the past three-plus seasons, and none so far in 2017-18.
Durant clearly doesn’t think there should any question here, though he’s on the other side of those being more vocal.
“I don’t think Zaza is out there trying to hurt anybody,” he said “He loves the game too much and respects the game too much to do that. But, obviously, we need something to talk about.”