Zaza Pachulia and Kawhi Leonard starred in one of the most controversial plays in the NBA in the last couple of seasons. During the 2017 playoffs, Leonard and the Spurs were dominating the Golden State Warriors in the first game of the 2017 Western Conference Finals when he picked up an injury that could be avoided. Leonard went up to shoot a 3, Pachulia jumped with him but he put his foot too close to Leonard, who landed on it and sprained his ankle.
Leonard left the game, missed the rest of the series and the Warriors came back in that game, won it, and later swept the Spurs. That played had more ramifications in the league that you could see at that moment, even firing back at the Warriors two years later when Kawhi beat them in the Finals with the Toronto Raptors. That wasn’t a good moment for Pachulia; he hurt the biggest threat for his team and when he went down, a lot of angry Spurs fans went after Zaza.
He recently talked with the Runnin’ Plays podcast to discuss that infamous play. He revealed that he and his family received death threats but making it clear that he didn’t do anything on purpose.
“Let’s come up with how many times that situation has happened. Prior to that, after that. A lot! It’s part of the game. Especially now that so many threes are taken statistically if you look at it. Way more threes than 10 years ago, 20 years ago. That means, of course, one of the schemes defensively is you don’t want to give easy three-point shots,” Pachulia said.
Zaza explained that he reached out to Kawhi to apologize for the incident but the 2x NBA champions never replied, so he left it like that.
“(I texted) Listen, it definitely was not on purpose and hopefully you can get back sooner on the court. I wanted him to know from me because there were so many words out there. I really felt bad. I’m an athlete too. My kids are playing (sports). I don’t want anybody to go through it.”
He also said that he was hurt hearing his fellow players accusing him of injuring another colleague on purpose, ignoring the fact that Leonard had rolled the ankle in a previous play.
“Fans can say whatever they want. I can’t argue with them, I can’t fight with them whether it was an accident or was it done on purpose. But for the professionals, for the people who play this game, talking about how I did it on purpose, it’s kind of sad that. It’s just basketball. We’re just trying to entertain people. We’re all human beings, we’re all trying to be role models to many kids. We have different backgrounds and we represent different countries.”
The game of basketball often gets the worst out of the fans but this is just a game. Spurs fans were really hurt at that moment and some of them took things to the next level. Pachulia said he moved on from that incident and now is happily retired after spending 16 years in the association. That 2017 the Warriors went on an impressive 16-1 playoffs run, becoming one of the best teams in history. It would’ve been good to see what the Spurs would’ve done against them if Leonard didn’t pick that unfortunate injury.