May. 16, 2017
With the Spurs up by 23 early in the third quarter, Kawhi Leonard rose-up for one of his picturesque jumpers. While mid-flight, Warrior's big-man, and goon, Zaza Pachulia crept under Kawhi and swiftly glided into his landing space. As a result, Kawhi came down awkwardly and rolled his already injured ankle. Down went the Spurs best player, and likely their chances of making this series competitive.
While intent can be hard to decipher, I feel fairly confident in saying Zaza Pachulia, knew exactly what he was doing. He is a savvy veteran who inconspicuously altered the tenor of this series. Here's why I think it was intentional:
Pachulia clearly took an extra lunge at Kawhi even after Kawhi had already released his shot. Zaza was not gaining any advantage by doing this, other than increasing the likelihood that Kawhi did not land cleanly. Doing this to any player is extremely dangerous, nonetheless to a player who just missed a game due to an ankle injury.
Pachulia also has an extensive history of dirty plays over the course of his career. He is surely in the discussion of dirtiest players in the entire NBA, so if there is a benefit of the doubt to be had, he certainly doesn't get it.
I understand that to make it in the NBA every non-superstar has to find their niche and master it, or else you won't survive. Zaza's niche is tough-guy and tone-setter. But there is a difference between being tough and being dirty. Zaza crossed that line and should be punished accordingly.