Zaza Pachulia's reputation as a dirty player grows after incident with Russell Westbrook

Jay Asser 19:34 25/02/2018
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Russell Westbrook attempts a floater before getting tangled with Zaza Pachulia.

The case for Zaza Pachulia being a dirty player continues to mount, his latest incident involving Russell Westbrook again thrusting him into headlines for the wrong reasons.

Westbrook accused Pachulia of intentionally trying to injure him after the big man landed on his leg in the third quarter of the Golden State Warriors’ 112-80 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Saturday.

The play saw Westbrook drive to the basket and put up a runner over Nick Young, which caromed off the rim. As Westbrook and Young both leaped for the rebound, with Pachulia standing behind the action, their legs got tangled to force the pair to hit the floor. Pachulia then fell into Westbrook’s knees before leaping up and rejoining the offence.

Westbrook didn’t mince words when asked about the situation after the game.

“What did it look like?” Westbrook said. “Anybody touch him? …Don’t ask me dumb questions, man. Obviously, it was intentional. So don’t ask me if it was intentional. Nobody touched him, he fell on my leg, tried to hurt me. But hey, that’s how it goes.”

When told of the accusation by ESPN, Pachulia responded: “No comment. That’s childish. Come on. I’m not responding to that.”

It’s impossible to know for sure if there was intent behind Pachulia’s fall, but the play certainly looked dirty.

Pachulia appears to just be standing by the Westbrook and Young pile before falling over on his own volition. There were no other bodies in the vicinity and any contact between Pachulia, Young and Westbrook seems minimal.

However, it’s difficult to see from the baseline camera but the broadcast angle shows Young’s right foot hooking Pachulia’s left leg, which could have thrown off the centre’s balance and sent him tumbling. It gives Pachulia a little bit of plausible deniability, but doesn’t explain why he falls so directly into Westbrook’s knees instead of trying to avoid contact.

It’s fair to think Pachulia wasn’t planning to dive at Westbrook, but saw an opportunity to make him feel it as he was going down.

His reputation does him no favours and San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich offered up an analogy after Pachulia slid under Kawhi Leonard on a jump shot in last year’s Western Conference Finals, injuring his ankle and taking him out for the rest of the playoffs.

“Who gives a damn what his intent was?” Popovich said after Game 1. “Have you ever heard of manslaughter? You still go to jail, I think, when you’re texting and you end up killing somebody, but may have not intended to do that. All I care is what I saw. All I care about is what happened. And the history there exasperates the whole situation and makes me very, very angry.”

Pachulia’s fall on Saturday also caught the attention of Boston Celtics star Kyrie Irving, who offered up his opinion on Instagram by commenting: “The league has to take a look at this, man. This s*** is ridiculous.”

Whether or not Pachulia is intentionally trying to hurt players, the perception around the league appears to be that he is.

This isn’t an isolated incident or something we haven’t seen before, so it’s getting harder to ignore how much of a danger Pachulia poses on the court.

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