Kurt Helin

Despite Popovich rant, NBA not expected to take action on Pachulia play on Leonard


“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… 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.”

Spurs’ coach Gregg Popovich went off on a rant Monday about Zaza Pachulia and his closeout on Kawhi Leonard, which led to the ankle sprain that ended Game 1 for Leonard, likely will keep him out multiple games, and no doubt changed the course of the Western Conference Finals.

Don’t, however, expect action from the league. From Marc Stein of ESPN.

That was to be expected. There was no flagrant foul called at the time.

However, the officials need to be on top of this call — on both ends. Warriors’ coach Mike Brown was right in pointing out LaMarcus Aldridge did something similar to Stephen Curry and there was no call (because Curry fell rather than land on a foot and risk injury).

It’s not just this series, either. If the three-point shot is going to be a growing part of the game, this needs to be addressed more closely on a league-wide level. The playoffs are just shining a spotlight.

Andre Iguodala does not practice Monday, questionable for Game 2 Tuesday

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Warriors had almost a week off from the end of their sweep against the Utah Jazz until Game 1 against the Spurs on Sunday, and Andre Iguodala did not practice much with the team in that stretch. Which is why it’s concerning that he played just 10 minutes in the first half against the Spurs and was sat the second half due to left knee soreness — that was a lot of time to rest it before this series started.

Don’t expect to see Iguodala in Game 2 on Tuesday either.

If Iguodala misses Game 2, he can have almost another week off because Game 3 isn’t until Saturday (an advantage for Kawhi Leonard as he tries to recover). The question is will that be enough time? Depends on the issue and what the MRI shows, but this seems to be something.

The Warriors can certainly beat the Spurs without him (especially if Leonard is unfortunately slowed or has to miss extended time), but Iguodala is crucial for how the Warriors like to defend the Cavaliers and LeBron James. Iguodala was the 2015 NBA Finals MVP for a reason. The Finals do not start until June 1, that’s a couple of weeks, the question is will that be enough time for Iguodala’s knee?

Celtics aim to ride home-court edge vs. Wizards in Game 7

1 Comment

BOSTON  (AP) — Will the banners, the history, save the Boston Celtics in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals?

Or will the Washington Wizards, who are trying to reach the conference finals for the first time since 1979, come into TD Garden and record the first road win in 11 games this season between two teams that have exchanged all kinds of unpleasantries throughout the year?

The answer will come Monday night, when the series comes down to one game. The winner moves on to oppose the Cleveland Cavaliers in the East finals beginning Wednesday.

“We believe we should be playing against Cleveland, and beat Cleveland and go to the championship,” Boston’s Avery Bradley said.

Celtics great Bill Russell, arguably the greatest winner in the history of the four major sports, never lost one a winner-take-all game. In fact, he was 10-0 in Game 7s in the NBA and also won two NCAA titles and an Olympic gold medal — and his banner will be looking down on the Red Auerbach court for this rather important contest.

The Wizards pulled even with a 92-91 victory Friday that was easily the best game of the series. It came down to the final seconds, and the NBA admitted that the Celtics should have had an extra second for a final shot.

That can’t be fixed — so Boston, aiming for its first conference finals appearance since 2012, will have to win it at home.

This is a week that is fairly important in the current and future history of the Boston franchise. In addition to Game 7 on Monday, the draft lottery in which the Celtics will receive no worse than the fourth pick via the Brooklyn Nets is Tuesday, ahead of what they hope will be Game 1 of the conference finals against the champion Cavaliers.

The Wizards, who won Game 6 after the Celtics showed up at the arena wearing black funeral clothing, have other ideas.

They come in determined to win at TD Garden for the first time since 2014. Washington has endured eight consecutive losses, five this season, on the Celtics’ home floor.

The Wizards go as their two guards — John Wall and Bradley Beal — go. Wall has overcome some shooting droughts to be outstanding throughout, and he hit the 3-pointer that won Game 6. He is averaging 27.9 points in the playoffs, and Beal is averaging 23.8 points. Both are tough to stop.

“Now those guys are not babies anymore. They’re closers,” teammate Ian Mahinmi told the Washington Post. “They’re proven closers.”

Mimicking what the Wizards had done before a regular-season game, the Celtics wore black into the Verizon Center for Game 6, and it may have backfired and helped add fire to the home team. Still, the Wizards were facing elimination and needed a 3-pointer with 3.5 seconds left and the added drama of the final seconds to finish it off and bring it back to Boston.

“Don’t come to my city wearing all black talking about it’s a funeral,” Wall said on ESPN after that game. “We worked too hard for this.”

And there’s more work to be done by both of these teams. One will advance Monday night, the other will go home and watch.

“Man, I don’t believe in pressure,” said Boston’s Isaiah Thomas, who has ridden an emotional and physical roller coaster while averaging 25.1 points in the playoffs. “I work too hard to be scared of any type of pressure.”

Kawhi Leonard says he doesn’t think Zaza Pachulia intentionally tried to injure him

Getty Images

It is one of the most hated plays in basketball — a defender closing out on a jump shooter slides up close and takes away space so the shooter has nowhere comfortable to land. It’s a dirty play, and it’s led to a lot of injuries.

It’s what Zaza Pachulia did to Kawhi Leonard the second time Leonard tweaked his ankle in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals. (Leonard had missed Game 6 of the last round with a sprained ankle, and first tweaked it in this game when he turned to run upcourt after a three and his foot landed on that of the Spurs’ David Lee, who was sitting on the bench.) Pachulia was called for a foul, but there were cries online — including from myself — that this was a cheap play by Pachulia.

After the game, Leonard said he didn’t think the injury was intentional. Here’s the quote, via NBC Sports Bay Area.

“He was contesting a shot,” he said. “The shot clock was coming down and . . . I’ll have to see the play.”

Pachulia said in no uncertain terms he wasn’t trying to injure Leonard.

“That’s really stupid,” he said.

“I don’t think I should be making (any) comment,” he added. “I’m not that good to be doing intentional stuff like that. I did my part. I had to challenge the shot. It was a handoff situation and I saw that my teammate was behind the screen. I had to challenge the shot. That’s what I did. And I turned around for the rebound and that was it.

“I hate anybody going down like that with an injury. I’m an athlete, too, so I know how it feels. I wish it’s nothing serious for him because we are colleagues at the end of the day. So we’re going to move on.”

I don’t doubt that Pachulia was not trying to injure Leonard. In no way was this malicious.

That doesn’t mean it wasn’t cheap.

The league has gotten away from enforcing the landing spot rule consistently — although a foul was called in this case — and, frankly, the calls for upping the punishment to a possible flagrant 1 are justified. This is a dangerous play. Anyone who has played the game at any level and a defender take away their landing spot knows the helplessness of the feeling when you are coming down.

Leonard’s ankle may have been prone to a re-injury because of the previous tweaks of it (once an ankle is sprained it’s much easier to re-sprain it), and Pachulia did not intend to injure him, but this play changed the course of Game 1 and potentially the series. And it’s the kind of play the league needs to try and eliminate.

Kawhi Leonard leaves arena with ankle iced, calls it “very painful.” Iguodala battles sore knee.

Leave a comment

It’s this simple: Without Kawhi Leonard the Spurs have no chance to beat the Warriors. San Antonio was outscored 58-33 after he left the game when he re-sprained his ankle.

“We need Kawhi to create, to score,” Manu Ginobili said after the game. “He means a lot to this team. We were doing really well when he went down. The Warriors were starting to pick up, to feel good about themselves, to increase the pressure on everybody else, and that’s when we struggled because we couldn’t have the guy who runs those plays and gets them off their pressure.

“We struggled a lot without him, and it’s a tough break… we couldn’t react to his absence.”

They may need to react for at least another game. The Spurs said nothing officially after the game about Leonard, but it’s hard to imagine him playing in Game 2 on Tuesday based on the postgame reports.

Leonard is expected to have an MRI Monday.

If Leonard sits Game 2 on Tuesday, he could rest his ankle and get treatment for six days before Game 3 on Saturday in San Antonio.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich admitted his team got a little rattled with Leonard not there to settle them down. As an example, LaMarcus Aldridge had a hot start but was 3-of-11 with five turnovers after Leonard left the game.

“(The Warriors) defense picked up, we got a little bit in mud, couldn’t get anybody to score, and they’re fairly talented. It showed,” Popovich said.

“He’s obviously a huge presence for them,” Stephen Curry said after the game. “But their system is the same so you just try to stay within yourselves, move the ball, move bodies, attack the paint, drive and kick, and do what we do to get everybody involved.”

The Warriors had their own injury to deal with, and while not as significant it was more of a mystery.

After playing just 10 minutes in the first half, Andre Iguodala did not play at all in the second half due to what the team called “left knee soreness.”

“He just looked a little hobbled out there,” Warriors coach Mike Brown said. “I haven’t gotten any kind of diagnosis from our staff or anything like that. So in the second half, because he looked a little hobbled to me in the first half, I just went another direction.”

Iguodala is expected to have an MRI Monday as well.

It didn’t hurt the Warriors in Game 1, but no Iguodala means a lot more Matt Barnes, which is a step down the ladder.

It is not known yet how serious things are for Iguodala and if he can play in Game 2. He was on the bench and calling out instructions at the end of Game 1.