Kawhi Leonard got hurt and missed the Western Conference Finals after a reckless closeout from Zaza Pachulia, and he thinks a rule change is for the better.
The San Antonio Spurs met the Golden State Warriors in last year’s Western Conference Finals, and Kawhi Leonard was out for practically the entire series. In Game 1, Leonard hadn’t even played 24 minutes before spraining his ankle on a reckless closeout by Warriors center Zaza Pachulia, who got underneath Leonard as he descended from a three-pointer.
To this day, we don’t know if it were intentional. What we do know, however, is that it dramatically shifted the momentum of the series. There’s no telling if San Antonio would’ve beat Golden State. Kawhi certainly would’ve extended the series, and the Spurs were one of the few teams who could contend with Golden State and they were up 62-42 heading into halftime. Leonard had 26 points in the first half alone.
Going forward, the officials will be taking those plays much more seriously. According to the Associated Press, the referees will start calling flagrant or technical fouls if they feel the defender doesn’t give the shooter adequate room to land. The officials will also be able to look at replays of any suspected reckless closeout.
“I think it’s good to protect the players from getting hurt,” said Leonard during the Spurs media day on Monday. “I mean it happened in the past too, the plays I’ve seen when I wasn’t in the NBA. So I think it’s a good rule just for the defender to be cautious.”
The Spurs struggled mightily on both ends without Kawhi Leonard. His injury led to the Warriors sweeping San Antonio, and the average margin of victory was a staggering 16 points.
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