Gregg Popovich slams Warriors' Zaza Pachulia for controversial foul that injured Kawhi Leonard

San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich ripped Golden State Warriors center Zaza Pachulia on Monday for a controversial foul that injured Kawhi Leonard in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals.

During the third quarter, Pachulia closed out on a Leonard shot attempt and appeared to put his foot under Leonard following the shot.

Leonard, whose injured ankle had already kept him out of Game 6 and part of Game 5 of the Spurs' second-round series against the Rockets, landed on Pachulia's foot and had to leave the game. The Warriors promptly went on an 18-0 run, erasing most of a 23-point Spurs' lead. They later won the game 113-111, outscoring the Spurs by 25 points without Leonard for most of the second half.

What the stars of the NBA playoffs looked like at the start of their careers
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What the stars of the NBA playoffs looked like at the start of their careers

At 32 years old, LeBron James is still the NBA's most dominant player and poised to lead the Cavaliers to another Finals appearance.

(Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)

In 2003, James entered the league at 18 years old as a high-school phenom.

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Manu Ginobili may be the oldest star of the NBA playoffs, coming off the bench for the Spurs at 39.

(Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

Ginobili came to the NBA at 25 years old in 2002 after a successful overseas career.

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Kawhi Leonard has become the leader of these Spurs at 25 years old.

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He was just 20 when he joined the Spurs in 2011.

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James Harden, 27, is trying to lead the Houston Rockets past the Spurs and into the Western Conference Finals.

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Harden entered the NBA in 2009 at 20 years old and with significantly less beard.

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Kyrie Irving, at 25, already owns a signature moment thanks to his big three-pointer in last year's Finals.

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When he was drafted at 19 in 2011, before LeBron's return, the Cavs being in the Finals seemed impossible.

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Kevin Love, 28, will play another big role in the Cavs' success this postseason.

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Love entered the league in 2009 at 20 years old and a little more burly.

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Gordon Hayward was a first-time All-Star this season at 27 and has led the Jazz to a strong playoff showing.

(Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images)

He's been one of the NBA's consistently steady risers since being drafted at 20 years old in 2010.

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At 29, Stephen Curry is trying to help the Warriors make their third straight Finals.

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He's come a long way from the skinny 21-year-old who entered the league in 2009.

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Klay Thompson, 27, is now a key two-way player for the Warriors

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People thought Thompson was strictly a sharpshooter when he entered the NBA at 21 in 2011.

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Draymond Green, at 27, is considered the engine for the Warriors.

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He, too, has been an unexpected rise from a 22-year-old second round pick in 2012.

(Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)

Kevin Durant is hoping to win his first title at 28.

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Durant has been a thin, dynamic scorer since being drafted by the Seattle Supersonics at 18 years old in 2007.

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Isaiah Thomas, at 28, is improbably carrying the Celtics through the playoffs.

(Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

When he was drafted with the last pick in 2011, at 22, nobody knew he could be a franchise star.

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John Wall had an MVP-level season at 26 for the Wizards this year.

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He's become even better than expected when he entered the NBA at 19 in 2010.

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DeMar DeRozan has become the Raptors' go-to scorer at 27.

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DeRozan was known mostly as a high-flying dunker when he came into the league at 20 years old in 2009.

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Kyle Lowry made his third All-Star team with the Raptors at 30 years old this year.

(Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)

Lowry began his winding career at 20 years old as a reserve for the Memphis Grizzlies.

(Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)

J.R. Smith has become a vital sharpshooter and defender for the Cavs at 31.

(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Smith has come a long way from the immature gunner many considered him to be when he was a 19-year-old rookie in 2004.

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Iman Shumpert, 26, is a three-and-D wing and fashionable member of the Cavs.

(Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

When he entered the league at 21 in 2011, he rocked a more straight-forward look.

(Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

While it was unclear if Pachulia's foot placement was intentional, Popovich blasted Pachulia for "a totally unnatural close-out" and listed past incidents that he considers dirty plays by Pachulia.

"A two-step, lead-with-your-foot close-out is not appropriate. It's dangerous, it's unsportsmanlike, it's just not what anybody does to anybody else. And this particular individual has a history with that kind of action. You can go back and look at Dallas games where he got a flagrant two for elbowing Patty Mills. The play where he took Kawhi down and locked his arm in Dallas and could have broken his arm. Ask David West, his current teammate, when Zaza was playing for Dallas and he and David got into it. And then think about the history he's had and what that means to a team what happened last night. A totally unnatural closeout that the league outlawed years ago and pays great attention to it."

Popovich then angrily broke down how the injury affects the Spurs' title chances.

"You wanna know if [Leonard's injury] lessens our chances or not? We're playing very possibly the best team in the league. We don't know what's gonna happen in the East. 9.75 people out of 10 would figure the Warriors are gonna beat the Spurs. Well, we've had a pretty damn good season, we've played fairly well in the playoffs, I think we're getting better. We're up 23 points in the third quarter against Golden State and Kawhi goes down. Like that. And you wanna know if our chances are less? And you wanna know how we feel? That's how we feel."

At the time of Popovich's media availability, Leonard was getting an MRI. Popovich said the Spurs expect Leonard to miss Game 2.

As many people pointed out, Pachulia's "foot trick" has been around the NBA for years, and former Spurs wing Bruce Bowen was perhaps the most famous player to slide his foot under jump shooters, risking potential injury. The Spurs retired Bowen's number, leading some to consider Popovich's rant hypocritical.

Leonard, after Game 1, said he did not think Pachulia was trying to intentionally hurt him. Pachulia also defended himself, saying that big men often get called for many fouls that are unintentional.

Popovich, however, brushed aside the intent, saying, "I don't give a damn about intent, you still go to jail for manslaughter."

Here's the play:

Popovich was likely trying to draw the league's attention to other potential fouls the Warriors commit during the game, perhaps even trying to get the league to punish Pachulia. It seems unlikely that the NBA would retroactively punish Pachulia for the foul, particularly if the intent was not clear.

Still, as SB Nation's Tom Ziller noted, one player making dirty plays does not mean others should follow suit. For now, the Spurs trail 1-0 in the series, and if Leonard misses any time, the Spurs are in big trouble.

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