Golden State Warriors center Zaza Pachulia fell on and nearly injured Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook. Given the Georgian 7-footer’s reputation as a dirty player, complete with a history of injuring or attempting to injure opponents, many observers viewed his fall in that light.
Westbrook was one of them, saying, “Obviously it was intentional. … He tried to hurt me.”
To which Pachulia responded, via ESPN, “That’s childish. Come on. I’m not responding to that.”
The NBA, apparently, ruled in favor of Pachulia. According to The Washington Post’s Tim Bontemps, the league will not discipline the Warriors big man for his role in Saturday night’s run-in with Westbrook.
For those hoping/wondering/expecting the NBA to discipline Zaza Pachulia in the wake of Saturday's incident with Russell Westbrook, I can report the NBA will not be taking any action against him. Pachulia and the Warriors play the Knicks at MSG tonight.
— Tim Bontemps (@TimBontemps) February 26, 2018
Pachulia also escaped discipline from the league office after stepping under San Antonio Spurs star Kawhi Leonard during Game 1 of the 2017 Western Conference finals, ending Leonard’s season. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich called the closeout “dangerous” and “unsportsmanlike,” suggesting Pachulia “has a history with that kind of action” and citing other incidents in which he tried to injure players.
Fellow All-Stars agreed with Westbrook’s assessment of Pachulia’s play. Thunder teammate Paul George said after the game, “That’s Zaza making a Zaza play. He’s on the end of hurting a lot of guys.” Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard called it a “BS play” on Twitter. And Boston Celtics star Kyrie Irving added on Instagram, “The league has to take a look at this man, that s*** is ridiculous.”
The league, however, disagreed.
The only defense for Pachulia from around the NBA came from his own locker room, where Warriors forward (and Westbrook’s ex-teammate) Kevin Durant said, via The Mercury News, “I don’t think Zaza is trying to hurt anybody. He is clumsy, don’t get me wrong. A lot of big guys are. But I watched the tape.”
Durant can attest to that clumsiness firsthand, since Pachulia fell awkwardly onto his left leg during a game last March, hyperextending his left knee and costing him a month of the regular season …
There is a difference between blindly being thrown to the ground by Washington Wizards center Marcin Gortat and seemingly choosing Westbrook’s leg as the best place to land upon being hooked by teammate Nick Young’s foot. The problem for the NBA as far as doling out punishment goes is determining intent versus clumsiness. But the more victims Zaza claims, the less clumsy he seems.
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