It seems like ancient history at this point, but it bears remembering that in Game 1 of the 2017 Western Conference Finals, the San Antonio Spurs held a commanding 25-point lead on the eventual champion Warriors before Kawhi Leonard went down with a sprained ankle.
And that sprained ankle was no freak occurrence, depending on how you feel about the way Zaza Pachulia closed out on Leonard as he took a relatively wide-open corner three. It’s always difficult to prove motive, but to many, replay evidence showed that Pachulia was, at the very least, irresponsible in the way he stepped under Leonard as he rose up to take his shot.
It was enough for NBA officials to institute what they are rather ambiguously calling a “reckless closeout” rule for next season (known unofficially, of course, as the “Zaza rule”), which gives them leeway to determine whether a player demonstrates malicious intent by sliding under a shooter.
Reporters asked Leonard to comment on the new rule at Media Day and also whether, now that some time has passed, he thought Pachulia’s move was dirty. Leonard, however, didn’t take the bait.
Credit to Leonard for being diplomatic about it, although he’d certainly have every right to harbor some bitterness and resentment. And most important, credit to the league for finally taking an overdue look at the types of plays that can have wide-ranging implications for players and their teams.