OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Kawhi Leonard didn’t think Warriors center Zaza Pachulia intentionally tried to injure him Sunday in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals.
Leonard left the game 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. Now, Leonard’s status for the remainder of the best-of-seven series is in question.
“Did he step under it? Like on purpose? No,” Leonard said afterward. “He was contesting a shot. The shot clock was coming down. I’ll have to see the play.”
Leonard didn’t return, giving Golden State an opening for an 18-0 run and a 113-111 comeback Game 1 victory.
He first went down after stepping on teammate David Lee’s foot along the bench after taking a shot. Shortly after, Pachulia slid toward Leonard as he took a shot and the Spurs star fell into the Spurs bench, grabbing his ankle.
“I just did what I was supposed to do and challenged his shot. I turned around and there was a call,” Pachulia said. “I didn’t notice that he was down until I turned back actually. So I didn’t see what happened there.”
The Spurs announced late in the third quarter Leonard had sprained his left ankle and wouldn’t play again. Coach Gregg Popovich didn’t have any update on Leonard’s status after the game except to confirm it was the same foot he had previously hurt last week.
“I’m not sure, just very painful because I tweaked it before the last time, the last shot I shot, but it’s hard to tell right now,” Leonard said. “I definitely couldn’t go in that last third quarter at six minutes but we’ll see how I get better each day.”
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. He is expected to undergo further tests in the Bay Area on Monday.
“We played an outstanding game for a half and a little bit then they came back, they overplayed us, they were more aggressive,” Manu Ginobili said. “So it was a tough one. And besides, if it wasn’t bad enough, we lost our best player.”
He sat out Game 6 of the last round against Houston, a 39-point, series-clinching win on Thursday, after injuring the ankle in a Game 5 overtime victory.
“I still have faith in them. They pulled out the last one in the fourth quarter when we were at home,” Leonard said. “I just kept faith in them.”
The Warriors, too, were asked about Pachulia’s play — and Kevin Durant defended his teammate.
“Zaza’s not a dirty player. You’ve got to time that perfectly if you want to hurt somebody,” Durant said. “We’re not that type of team. Kawhi’s an unbelievable player. We’ve got nothing but respect for him. We wish that he gets healthy. We just tried to contest a shot. Guys are playing hard. It was an unfortunate situation, I wish it didn’t happen, but I don’t think it was intentional. You can’t listen to people on Twitter, they’re irrational.”
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