Golden State Warriors center Zaza Pachulia is the latest center of controversy for the defending Western Conference champions, as Pachulia is being accused of intentionally sticking his foot under San Antonio Spurs star Kawhi Leonard, causing Leonard to injure his left ankle for the second time this season. Leonard is expected to undergo an MRI later today, as the Spurs prepare for the rest of the Western Conference Finals potentially without their biggest defensive enforcer. Following the Leonard injury, the Warriors outscored the Spurs 56-30, which included an 18-0 run immediately following Leonard’s exit. The Spurs ended up losing Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals 113 to 111.
Leonard initially had an ankle issue in Game 5 of the previous playoff series, when he came down on the foot of Houston Rocket James Harden. In that situation, he only missed one following game. Earlier in the Warriors game last night, he stepped on the foot of his teammate David Lee; Leonard missed minimal time from that first encounter. In the third quarter, Leonard took a jump shot from the corner when Pachulia made the questionable move with his foot. Pachulia was called for a foul immediately, and Leonard was able to stay in for two successful free throw attempts before leaving the court escorted by the team’s trainer.
After the game, Pachulia explained the play as a natural display of defense and that the injury was totally unintended. Kevin Durant, Pachulia’s teammate and one of the Warriors’ vocal leaders, said after the game, “Zaza’s not a dirty player. You’ve got to time that perfectly if you want to hurt somebody. We’re not that type of team.” Even Leonard did not subscribe to the idea that Pachulia intended to knock him out of the series. “Did he step under it? Like, on purpose? No. He was contesting the shot. The shot clock was coming down,” Leonard told reporters after the game.