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Golden State Warriors center Zaza Pachulia: 'I’m not a dirty player'

Scott Howard-Cooper

OAKLAND – Warriors center Zaza Pachulia stood at the eye of the storm Monday without regret or apology, insisting he did nothing wrong on the play that is expected to sideline Spurs star Kawhi Leonard for at least Game 2 and possibly longer as San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich blasted Pachulia’s “history” of questionable plays.

Leonard re-injured a sprained left ankle when he landed on Pachulia’s foot in the third quarter of Game 1 on Sunday at Oracle Arena, then came out with 7:53 remaining in the period and the Spurs ahead by 23 points. After it became an obvious turning point in that lead turning into a 113-111 loss, Leonard quickly dismissed the possibility Pachulia purposely put his foot exactly where Leonard would be coming down from a jump shot. A day later, though, Popovich put Pachulia under a massive spotlight heading into Game 2 on Tuesday night.

“No,” Pachulia said when asked after Warriors practice if he wanted to respond. “No response. I have a lot of respect for coach Pop and their organization, whatever they have done or whatever they’re doing. A lot of respect. And no comments, no response, and focus on Game 2 honestly is all that’s on my mind. We watched the tape today and some of the good things we did, some things that we can do better. We’re just moving on.

“I don’t pay attention to it. I don’t care about that stuff. All I care about is tomorrow’s game. I’m thinking about our game plan. I’m thinking about putting up a better start. That’s my priority. There are things I can control, there are things I can’t control. I can’t control what anybody says, right? But I can control what I’m telling you guys, that’s what happened and that’s how I feel about it, that I feel bad about it that it happened. But at the same time, I only control what I do tomorrow.”

Asked if he was bothered Popovich called him unsportsmanlike – essentially dirty – Pachulia said, “Not really. It doesn’t bother me because I want to say it for the last time, and that’s it, I did whatever I had to do. That was the right defense for my side, to challenge the shot. I wish he had not landed on my foot and honestly I had no idea he had landed on my foot until I turned back and he was already on the ground. As soon as he released

the ball, I turned around and tried to chase the rebound and see where the ball was going and apparently he landed on my foot when I was already turned. I heard the whistle, so I started running away because I knew I didn’t make contact with him and kind of surprised with the whistle. That’s why I started running away. And when I turned back and saw him on the floor, he was holding his ankle, I was trying to figure out what happened. Honestly I didn’t know.

“I really feel bad for the guy. I wish it didn’t happen. Had a different result, basically. But again, this is a game. There are some things nobody can control, right? I have a lot of respect for Kawhi. He’s one of the best players in this league and wish him all the best to get healthy back, and meanwhile we’re going to move on. This is the game of basketball, a lot of crazy stuff happens on the court, unfortunately. It happened to me as well.

“Once you play this kind of physical game, intense game, things happen. My approach to this game for the 14 years that I’ve been in this league to play hard and give my 100 percent, whatever I have. I don’t agree with the (accusations) 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. That’s what I’ve been doing. And that’s my last comment about it again. On my mind is about next game because that’s the most important game for me.”

Game 2 at Oracle isn’t the real problem. That will come when the series shifts to San Antonio for Game 3 on Saturday and Pachulia faces Spurs fans for the first time. Figure things will get a little loud.

The more-pressing problem for the Warriors is the health of Andre Iguodala, the key reserve who played only 10 minutes Sunday, and none in the second half, because of what the team says is soreness in his left knee, pending MRI results. Golden State is listing him as questionable for Game 2.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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