MANILA, Philippines - Kawhi Leonard isn't taking it personally after landing on Zaza Pachulia's foot in Game 1 and leaving with an ankle injury.
The Spurs forward rolled his left ankle in the third quarter, the same one which caused him to miss Game 6 of the semifinals, clearing the path for the Golden State Warriors to rally back from a deficit as high as 25 points to take a 113-111 victory in the Western Conference Finals opener. At the time of the injury with 7:55 remaining in the quarter, the Spurs' lead was 23.
"Did he step under it? Like on purpose? No, he was contesting the shot. The shot clock was coming down," Leonard said afterwards. Leonard had 26 points, 8 rebounds and 3 assists before leaving to the locker room. It was the second time in the game Leonard had been down after tripping over a teammate earlier in the quarter while backpedaling following a 3-pointer.
Pachulia also defended his reputation, being quoted by NBA.com as saying "When you are 6-11 and you play hard you get blamed for a lot of things."
Leonard's words didn't stop numerous fans on social media from suggesting that Pachulia had intentionally slid his foot under Leonard's feet as he went up for a jump shot to hurt the two-time Defensive Player of the Year. Pachulia's teammate Kevin Durant, who scored 34 points in the win, rejected any claims that Pachulia meant to hurt Leonard.
"Zaza's not a dirty player. You've got to time that perfectly if you want to hurt somebody. I mean, we're not that type of team," Durant was quoted.
"You can't can't listen to people on Twitter. They're irrational."
Intentional or not, Leonard's exit preceded a 14-0 run by the Warriors which turned the game around. Leonard says he'll see how the foot feels from day-to-day. His absence leaves a significant gap on the Spurs roster, which did not go unnoticed by teammates like Manu Ginobili.
"He means a lot to this team... We couldn't react to his absence." -Manu Ginobili on the impact of Kawhi Leonard's injury #NBAPlayoffs pic.twitter.com/TD6oFa4JrE — NBA TV (@NBATV) May 14, 2017
"We need Kawhi to create, to score. He means a lot to this team and we were doing really well when he went down," said Ginobili after the loss, which was the first under coach Gregg Popovich that the Spurs had lost after a 25-point lead following 316 wins.
"We struggled a lot without him and it's a tough break. He's coming from an injury in that ankle and he tweaked it twice in the last minute he played, so we couldn't react to his absence." – Rappler.com