At Spurs practice Monday, a day after Warriors’ big man Zaza Pachulia slid under the feet of Kawhi Leonard on a jump shot leading to Leonard leaving the game with a sprained ankle and changing the complexion of Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, Popovich went off on a rant.
“A two-step, lead-with-your-foot closeout is not appropriate. 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 games were he got a flagrant two for elbowing Patty Mills, the play where he took Kawhi down and locked his arm in Dallas and could have 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….
“This is crap. Because he’s got this history, it can’t just be, “Oh, it was inadvertent. 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 is what I saw. All I care is what happened. And the history there exacerbates the whole situation and makes me very, very angry.”
Even before Popovich’s rant, when Spurs fans were complaining about the play, people were pointing out on Twitter it was ironic that Spurs fans had no problem when it was Bruce Bowen — an elite defender but someone known around the league for this specific play — but it’s different when it happens to their guy.
So after Popovich’s rant, the Internet went to work and people pulled up what Popovich had said back in 2006 to defend Bowen, speaking to the Express-News. Here is the 11-year-old Popovich quote, via Reddit.
Popovich said Bowen is being singled out, citing incidents where New Jersey’s Richard Jefferson and Dallas’ Josh Howard sprained ankles after landing on Miami’s Shaquille O’Neal and Golden State’s Mickael Pietrus.
“Did (the league) call them?” Popovich said. “Did they call all those guys (Dirk) Nowitzki landed on when he sprained his ankles the past three, four years? The answer is no.
“So why did they call Bruce? Because it’s happened to him twice? Bruce guards an All-Star every night. If he was doing what they’re accusing him of doing, wouldn’t it have happened a higher percentage of times? The people who cry about it are just frustrated about having to go against Bruce.”
“The league is just trying to cover its ass,” Popovich said. “I told Bruce, ‘You be Bruce Bowen. You’re the best (expletive) defender in this league. You will NOT change the way you play defense.’
We all do this — our views change on things depending upon how they affect us. We’d all like to think we live by some unbendable moral code, but on many issues our views come down to how it impacts us personally. We see that same thing in politicians and rip them for it all the time, but anyone honest with themselves know we do this in our personal lives to a degree.
Which is to say, I’m not going to blame Popovich for defending his guy. I’ll enjoy the irony, we don’t get enough of that around here anymore, but I don’t fault Popovich.
This also is a note to the league that this is not a new problem for the NBA, and it may be time to tighten enforcement again.