Closing out a shooter is one of basketball's basic fundamentals, but with one small tweak, it can morph from great hustle play on defense into a dirty move.
Golden State's Zaza Pachulia offered the latest example on Sunday and might have altered the entire Western Conference Finals as a result. With 7:54 left in the third quarter of the Spurs-Warriors game, Pachulia attempted to block a Kawhi Leonard jumper and landed on the San Antonio star's foot after Leonard released the shot.
Zaza got his foot under Kawhi again pic.twitter.com/2KXlSGinC6- CJ Fogler (@cjzero) May 14, 2017
The Spurs had been leading 76-55 at that point. But, soon after that play, Leonard left with a sore ankle and didn't return. San Antonio went on to lose the game, 113-111.
After it was over, Leonard -- who is due for an MRI -- took the high road when asked about the play, but did add that he needed to see it again to be sure.
"He was contesting a shot," Leonard said. "The shot clock was coming down."
When Pachulia was asked whether the physical contact was intentional, he simply said, "That's really stupid."
A wave of Warriors teammates echoed support for their center.
"You can't listen to people on Twitter. They're irrational," said Kevin Durant.
There's no way of knowing for sure whether Pachulia accidentally executed one of the signatures of dirty players in the past, but one thing is certain: Pachulia will be welcomed with a chorus of boos in San Antonio for Game 3 this week.
Pachulia hasn't earned a reputation as a dirty player yet, despite a previous run-in with Leonard. But. just for context, we ran down a list of the most notorious bad boys of the past.
1. Bruce Bowen. Pachulia's move may have been inadvertent, but Bowen made it his calling card. It got so bad that in 2006, Bowen was fined and warned by the league to clean up his act. He was one of the best defenders in NBA history, and it didn't hurt to put a little fear in shooters' hearts that his foot might be waiting to sprain their ankle when they landed.
2. Bill Laimbeer. Most of the players on this list got away with being dirty by being subtle. Laimbeer was about as subtle as a Metallica album. If you came in his paint, you paid. And if you didn't like it, he was ready and willing to fight.
3. Draymond Green. No, Dray, you can't unleash multiple kicks to opponents groins and heads in a single series and call it an accident. It might be involuntary, but it's still dirty. Green has kicked multiple players since he got suspended a game in the NBA Finals last year. It's no wonder there was near-universal laughter when Green (accurately) called Kelly Olynyk a dirty player earlier this month.
4. Kevin Garnett. KG's line-crossing trash talk is the stuff of legend in the NBA, but he was an intimidating mix of under-the-radar dirtiness and over-the-top physical play.
5. Matthew Dellavedova. In 2015, Della knocked Atlanta's Kyle Korver out of the playoffs with an ankle injury after diving for a loose ball. He plays with reckless abandon -- emphasis on the reckless. He received nearly twice as many votes as anyone else in the league in the L.A. Times' anonymous player poll last year that sought to identify the league's dirtiest player.
6. Kobe Bryant. It takes talent to get called for a foul while taking a jump shot, but Kobe perfected the art. Officials didn't catch onto it until late in his career, but the all-time great earned a reputation for "flailing" his arms and legs when he went up to shoot a jay. Sometimes, opponents "accidentally" ended up catching an open hand in the face or a foot in the groin or chest.
7. Steven Adams. Rarely does he do something on the court that goes viral, but talk to veterans around the league and Adams' reputation is unanimous. He loves to tangle in the paint, but he's also adept at throwing a hip or a chicken wing on a screen and throwing unnecessary elbows when he finds an opponent to box out.
8. Charles Oakley. He joins Laimbeer on this list as one of the NBA's all-time great enforcers. It's the best kind of dirty: If you were making a list of the NBA players you'd least want to mess with, Oakley would be the winner. He wasn't trying to hurt you: He was trying to send a message. Oakley did it as a young buck and kept doing it throughout his nearly two-decade career.
9. Dikembe Mutombo. Known for giving opponents the finger wag, when he wasn't swatting shots, Mutombo was being sneaky with his bony elbows. He did it enough that ESPN chronicled all the damage he'd inflicted with them over his career.
10. Metta World Peace: The Artist Formerly Known as Ron Artest has quite a resume. He burst into the game as the 21-year-old Chicago Bull who broke Michael Jordan's ribs in an offseason pickup game back 2001 when Jordan was preparing his second comeback. And then, of course, there was the Malice at the Palace. But Artest was always known for his physical defense and had a penchant for hard fouls that had nothing resembling a play on the ball. And elbows? He was well-versed in using those, too.