David Zalubowski/AP Photo
Golden State Warriors center Zaza Pachulia was in the middle of a controversial play when the Warriors demolished the Oklahoma City Thunder 112-80 on Feb. 24.
Late in the third quarter, Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook charged the rim and missed a layup where he and Warriors guard Nick Young, became tangled up over the rebound. Pachulia and Westbrook fell to the floor, with Pachulia landing on top of Westbrook’s legs.
The fall created uproar not only in the league, but with fans, because there was nobody behind Pachulia. It appeared nobody pushed him into the play — so then, how did he all of a sudden land on top of the current MVP’s knees where he could’ve potentially taken him out? Westbrook told reporters after the game, “Obviously it was intentional.”
When Westbrook and Young came down from recovering the rebound, Young’s right foot hooked the back of Pachulia’s left knee which brought down Pachulia onto Westbrook. The league determined that Pachulia won’t face any disciplinary action and it makes sense because Young’s foot was a factor in Pachulia going down, not a purposeful act.
This wasn’t the first go around between Westbrook and Pachulia. Last season, Pachulia slammed hard into Westbrook and Pachulia stood over and stared down at Westbrook as he laid on the floor resulting in a flagrant foul on Pachulia.
Pachulia’s teammate, Kevin Durant, referred to him as being clumsy and that’s more believable than him being a dirty player. The center stands at 6’11 and weighs 270 pounds so obviously he’s a big guy and usually a player of that size isn’t as coordinated as some of the more athletic guys on the floor.
Does Pachulia play competitive ball and push the boundaries at times? Absolutely, but what player doesn’t? San Antonio Spurs head coach, Gregg Popovich, went as far as labeling Pachulia a dirty player in last year’s Western Conference Finals after an incident between him and all-star guard Kawhi Leonard.
It was game one when Spurs forward Leonard went for a jump shot and Pachulia’s foot slid under Leonard and as soon as he came down from the shot, he landed on Pachulia’s foot resulting in a sprained left ankle and missed the rest of the playoffs. The Spurs blew a 23 point lead when Leonard left and the Warriors ended up not only winning the game, 113-111, but the NBA championship as well over the Lebron James led Cleveland Cavaliers.
It was a tough way to end the season for the Spurs when Leonard, who had 26 points and 8 rebounds in the game, went down. Leonard, however didn’t think Pachulia came at him with any bad intentions. Leonard said to reporters after the game, “Did he step under it? Like on purpose? No, he was contesting a shot.”
The Warriors are currently in second place in the Western Conference with a 49-14 record, a half game behind the Houston Rockets. It’s going to be important for the Warriors to secure home court advantage throughout the playoffs and they will need the tough play of Pachulia to do that.