OAKLAND — The issue deals with laundry, more specifically uniforms, such as which ones are the bad guys wearing. Well, “bad guys” is over the top, or in this case, under the shoes. Let’s go with “opposition.”
By the Bay, that’s the Spurs. Deep in the heart of San Antonio it would be the Warriors and Zaza Pachulia.
Kawhi Leonard is doubtful for tonight’s second game of the Western Conference Finals because of what happened Sunday in the first game, Leonard stepping on the size 17 Nike worn by Pachulia who either (a) intentionally or (b) accidentally slipped his shoe under Kawhi’s already sore left ankle.
Down 1-0 in the best-of-seven series, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich understandably — if not correctly — called Zaza a dirty player and said he has a history of borderline plays.
Wait, wasn’t it only last season when Pachulia was somewhere else that Draymond Green was the Warriors designated villain and suspended for a game in the finals when it was determined he — gracious! — swiped at LeBron James.
That was called a flagrant foul. This one Sunday wasn’t called anything other than a common foul and a turning point when Leonard left the game and the Warriors, down by a million (really only 23), rallied to win, 114-111. Did the absence of Leonard have an effect? No question. Did Pachulia purposely cause Kawhi to land awkwardly? Some question.
The NBA flourishes on controversy. The season began with a debate over flopping. Not, say, the figurative sort, the 49ers performance in 2016, but the literal kind, athletes falling down to draw fouls. Now? Well Sports Illustrated is railing about the “NBA’s Slide Under Epidemic.”
Epidemic? Is immunization the answer?
Pro basketball, once described as ballet, is better linked to wrestling. The players keep getting larger and quicker, and the court remains the same size. Pushing and shoving and collisions are a constant. People always are getting in somebody else’s way.
Pachulia naturally denies he is a dirty player. And Leonard, to his credit, said he didn’t believe Pachulia injured him on purpose. Warriors teammate Kevin Durant seconded the motion.
A video replay shows Pachulia being whistled for a foul on the play and running toward midcourt, holding his head with his hands like, ”What? I never touched the guy.” And Durant insisted Pachulia would have had no time to execute the under-ankle move perfectly.
Likely to be plenty of postgame chatter about Zaza sliding under Kawhi, especially if Warriors win pic.twitter.com/ygSdG01UAq
— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) May 14, 2017
When the game was finished Sunday, Jalen Rose, smartly not allowing viewers to forget the incident — hey, TV is all about ratings, right? — said on the ESPN postgame show that when he was a player he perfected getting under an opponent’s foot as much as getting under his skin. So, yeah, this might have been deliberate.
Acting Warriors coach Mike Brown, a one-time assistant to Popovich, said Pop was doing what anyone in his position would do, supporting his side. And Brown is doing the same. In team sports, loyalty transcends honesty. And we’re back to the laundry once more.
Brown reminded that moments before Leonard hobbled off, San Antonio’s LaMarcus Aldridge got underneath the Warriors’ Stephen Curry on a jumper, but Curry avoided Aldridge and no foul was called.
“It’s the same play,” said Mike Brown. ”Zaza’s not a dirty player. LaMarcus is not a dirty player. It’s a tough basketball play. Go back and watch the film. Two guys shooting the ball, two big guys going out to contest. They slide under a little bit — neither, I think, on purpose — and one happens to land on a foot.”
The one wearing a Spurs uniform. Unfortunately for San Antonio.
Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on www.artspander.com and www.realclearsports.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.