Pachulia says Popovich was 'very big part' of Leonard injury backlash
Golden State Warriors center Zaza Pachulia felt San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich worsened the situation which has seen him criticised for Kawhi Leonard's injury.
When Pachulia hopped below the feet of Leonard while the Spurs star was shooting in game one of the Western Conference Finals, some thought his intentions were to injure.
Popovich's comments after the game added fuel to an already raging fire, while Pachulia has been left fighting to protect his reputation.
While Pachulia believes he could deal with the backlash, including death threats, had it been directed at just him, he blames Popovich for making the situation an even bigger deal than it already was.
"I don't blame everything on Pop, but what he said had a lot of influence [and] you had a lot of people where, unfortunately, you can't control what everybody's intelligence is," Pachulia was quoted as saying by USA TODAY Sports.
"[Fans] just hear the message, and it's, 'OK, Pop said so and now let's do this.' It's just wrong. You've got to think, and realise. Threaten me, but don't threaten my wife or say something about my kids. It's just wrong.
"Me as a person, as a man, I don't mind dealing with it. But I hate to see my family deal with it. My wife and my kids who have nothing to do with it, who are very innocent... I just hate my family going through that. They don't deserve that... I'm not blaming everything on [Popovich], but he was a very big part of it."
San Antonio led by as many as 25 points in game one before Pachulia's foul took Leonard out of the game.
Fans thought the play was dirty because Pachulia took an extra step to get under Leonard, who came down on his opponent's foot to further injure his already damaged ankle.
Popovich clearly believed the play was dirty, even comparing the foul to manslaughter. That sort of exaggeration is what has Pachulia so upset.
"I have a lot of respect for him [Popovich]," Pachulia said. "In today's basketball world, he's a very, very respected person. So when Pop says something like that, calling me out... it's understanding that [your words] will have an effect.
"I'm going to defend my team, but I'm not going to send a message saying this guy killed [a player], is a murderer or whatever, manslaughter, because people take it differently. We live in a society where not everybody has intelligence, or understanding or is thinking of what's right and what's wrong. We're going to move on.
"Hopefully [the fans] can let it go. But you know, I'm sure that a year later, 10 years later, [his family is] still going to remember this moment - and not in a good way.
"It's something where your heart breaks, and even though life goes on you still feel it in a bad way. I think that's going to be the case."
The Spurs are just one loss away from playoff elimination, while the Warriors have their sights set on reclaiming their NBA throne.