The big story out of Game 1 of the Western Conference Final is obviously the health of San Antonio's Mr. Everything, Kawhi Leonard. Once he went down in the third quarter, the Golden State Warriors rattled off 18 unanswered-points and pulled off an epic comeback to steal the game back from the Spurs.
The injury has quite naturally sparked a controversy because it is Kawhi Leonard, and because Zaza Pachulia got underneath Leonard and caused him to roll his already-injured ankle in the type of play the NBA has tried to remove from the game. Gregg Popovich was just as surly as you'd imagine about it, accusing Pachulia of unsportsmanlike conduct and reciting a laundry list of questionable plays from Zaza's past. Then a funny thing happened: the internet got to work.
Turns out Gregg Popovich defended his former player Bruce Bowen from the exact same criticism for the exact kind of play.
Popovich said Bowen is being singled out, citing incidents where New Jersey's Richard Jefferson and Dallas' Josh Howard sprained ankles after landing on Miami's Shaquille O'Neal and Golden State's Mickael Pietrus.
"Did (the league) call them?" Popovich said. "Did they call all those guys (Dirk) Nowitzki landed on when he sprained his ankles the past three, four years? The answer is no.
"So why did they call Bruce? Because it's happened to him twice? Bruce guards an All-Star every night. If he was doing what they're accusing him of doing, wouldn't it have happened a higher percentage of times?
And now that his name has been invoked, Bowen—who once literally karate kicked Wally Szcerbiak in the face during actual game play—is speaking out. Shockingly, he thinks Pachulia's play was on purpose and he's sick of people bringing up what a dirty player he was. Bowen spoke to Bleacher Report's Mike Monroe and said he hated when people accused him of playing dirty and "piggyback[ing] on what other people say."
"That play? I've watched it and, yeah, I thought he took an extra step," he said. "Plenty of time to stop where he did, but he continued moving in that direction of Kawhi. That seems like it's intentional and it's definitely dangerous."
"Honestly, you might just run by (the shooter)," Bowen said. "You're talking about a big man now, and how often do they close out on a three-point shooter? So, whether it's Pau Gasol or Karl-Anthony Towns, they stay put. There is no technique with bigs. They usually stop short and just put their hands up, because of their length. But, Zaza kept going and took the extra steps."
Bowen goes on to discuss how guards have to defend the play differently, and how it gets hard to parse out intent, but he still doesn't let up on Pachulia. He also said he thought he would have gotten suspended for the same play—again, he was merely fined for straight up kicking Sczerbiak in the face—but isn't sure what will happen with Pachulia.
The strangest thing about this is that Bowen is, simultaneously, very aware of his own reputation, and aware that it's unfair monday-morning quarterbacking these types of plays with replay and slow motion, yet convinced that Zaza's actions were deliberate.
Then again, Pachulia did take out San Antonio's best player.