SAN FRANCISCO – Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has ruled Kawhi Leonard out for Game 2 of the Western Conference finals with a sprained left ankle caused by what Popovich described as a “dangerous” and “unsportsmanlike” closeout by Golden State’s Zaza Pachulia.
Leonard had an MRI on Monday and Popovich had no timetable on when he’d be able to return to action.
“We’ll see what the MRI says, but obviously he won’t play tomorrow,” Popovich said.
Leonard left Game 1 on Sunday after re-injuring his tender left ankle in the third quarter when Pachulia’s foot slid under Leonard’s following a jumper by the All-Star forward.
The play happened in front of the Spurs bench and Popovich was angry at the time and even more upset a day after San Antonio’s 113-111 loss to the Warriors.
“A two-step, lead-with-your-foot closeout is not appropriate,” he said. “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.”
Popovich pointed to a history of borderline plays by Pachulia during his time with Dallas against the Spurs, including a flagrant foul against Patty Mills, a play where he locked arms with Mills in a way that “could have broken his arm,” according to Popovich, and run-ins with David West, who now plays for the Warriors.
Pachulia said he simply challenged the shot like he was taught and felt bad that the play ended with Leonard getting hurt.
“This is the game of basketball, a lot of crazy stuff happens on the court, unfortunately,” he said. “It happened to me as well. When you play this kind of physical game, intense game, things happen. My approach to this game for the 14 years I’ve been in this league is to play hard and give 100 percent of whatever I have. I don’t agree with the calls that I’m a dirty player. I’m not a dirty player. I just love this game and I’m playing hard. That’s how I was taught since Day 1, honestly.”
But Popovich wasn’t buying any defense from Pachulia about lack of intent.
“Because he has this history, it can’t just be, ‘Oh, it’s inadvertent. He didn’t have intent,’ ” he said. “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 about is what I saw. All I care about is what happened and the history there exacerbates the whole situation and makes me very, very angry.”
Warriors acting coach Mike Brown, a former assistant to Popovich, said that he believes his old mentor was just protecting his players and pointed to a play that came shortly after where San Antonio’s LaMarcus Aldridge’s foot got underneath Stephen Curry on a jumper but there was no call because Curry didn’t land on it.
“It’s the same play,” Brown said. “Zaza’s not a dirty player. LaMarcus is not a dirty player. It’s a tough basketball play. You hate to see anybody get injured on a situation like that. You go back and watch the film, they’re both identical: two guys shooting the ball, two big guys going out to contest, they slide under the shooter a little bit — neither one I think on purpose — and one happens to land on one’s foot and the other one doesn’t.”
Leonard didn’t return, giving Golden State an opening for an 18-0 run that keyed the comeback win. The Spurs were outscored 58-33 after Leonard left the game as they could not survive without their best offensive and defensive player.
San Antonio shot just 37 percent after the injury, with twice as many turnovers as assists. The Warriors, who struggled to score in the first half, shot 58 percent after Leonard left and came up with the win.
Leonard scored 26 points on 7 of 13 shooting in nearly 24 minutes to go with eight rebounds and three assists. He made all 11 of his free throws.
“If he would have played and they ended up winning, I’d go get dinner, have a glass of wine and wake up the next day and go to practice and move on,” Popovich said. “But this is crap.”