After Zaza Pachulia injured Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard’s ankle in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals, the Golden State Warriors center’s children’s school reportedly required increased security due to social media threats, and Pachulia says Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is partially to blame.
“I don’t blame everything on Pop, but what he said had a lot of influence (and) you had a lot of people where, unfortunately, you can’t control what everybody’s intelligence is,” Pachulia told Amick on Sunday. “(Fans) just hear the message, and it’s, ‘Ok, Pop said so and now let’s do this.’ It’s just wrong. You’ve got to think, and realize. Threaten me, but don’t threaten my wife or say something about my kids. It’s just wrong.
“Me as a person, as a man, I don’t mind dealing with it. But I hate to see my family deal with it. My wife and my kids who have nothing to do with it, who are very innocent. … I just hate my family going through that. They don’t deserve that. … I’m not blaming everything on (Popovich), but he was a very big part of it.”
Following the Game 1 loss, in which the Spurs blew a sizable lead after the injury, Leonard told reporters he did not believe Pachulia intentionally stepped under his ankle, and Pachulia called anybody who thinks he did it on purpose “really stupid.” But Popovich took issue with the nature of the play — a controversial close-out the coach once defended when former Spurs player Bruce Bowen was accused of similar dirty antics in 2006 — whether Pachulia intended to injure Leonard or not.
“Because [Pachulia has] got this history, it can’t just be, ‘Oh, it was inadvertent. He didn’t have intent,’” Popovich told reporters a day after the Game 1 defeat. “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 someone. But you might not have intended to do that. All I care 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.”
A Spurs fan made headlines by filing a lawsuit against Pachulia, claiming he “intentionally and maliciously invaded the landing zone of an opposing athlete,” but the Warriors center says far worse was threatened against his family on Instagram, where he has posted many pictures of his wife and three children — two sons, ages 7 and 8, and a four-year-old daughter. He has since turned off comments on the account, and he told Amick his children’s school stepped up security as a result.
Pachulia stressed that Popovich wasn’t solely responsible for the actions of a few people on social media and conceded the threats were most likely empty ones. But he does believe Popovich fanned the flames and figured it best to take extra precaution. “Even though I’m pretty sure nothing is going to happen,” he told USA Today, “still when you get this kind of threatening messages, you don’t know.”
Leonard has not played since re-injuring the ankle he originally hurt against the Houston Rockets and remains doubtful for Game 4. Pachulia bruised his right heel in Game 2 and sat out Game 3. The Warriors won the first three games of the series and can sweep the Spurs in San Antonio on Monday.
– – – – – – –