The internet has been on fire in the last 24 hours discussing whether Zaza Pachulia undercutting Kawhi Leonard on a corner jumper in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals was a dirty play.
Just about everybody has weighed in on the play, and Cavaliers guard Iman Shumpert jumped in as well, downplaying the dirtiness of the incident, via Cleveland.com.
"Trust me, we don't need the league putting in any more fouls and advantages for offensive players," Shumpert said following the Cavaliers' practice Monday afternoon. "We don't need it. If you take a contest out of the game, come on.
In fairness to those criticizing Pachulia, it’s not like this is new. It’s always been part of the game that a defender needs to leave a jump shooter enough space to land; there would be ankles getting turned every single game if it was standard practice to undercut a player on a closeout.
That said, Shumpert seemed to understand that it is an issue while acknowledging that it was simply a reality of the game that couldn’t be easily legislated out.
"It's something that bothers a lot of players," Shumpert said. "I know a lot of times just playing defense, getting a hard contest, I've seen guys flinch just because I'm jumping out there because they're nervous they might land on your foot. Honestly, it's part of the game. Guys are trying to stop him, trying to get a good contest, make sure he misses his shot. When a guy lands like that it's unfortunate. You don't want it to happen to anybody, but guys are trying to win."
What was interesting to note was that both Tyronn Lue and Shumpert both mentioned that the increase in shot fakes and and looking to draw fouls in creative ways make the defender’s job tougher, lending a further sympathetic viewpoint towards Pachulia.
"Just a tough play nowadays with all the shot-faking and guys jumping into guys," Lue said. "You teach your guys to stay down most of the time and when you do leave your feet guys are shot-faking and jumping into you so it's a tough play in basketball now. It's hard to read and hard to gauge. It's part of our game now."
Shumpert mirrored that sentiment as well.
"A lot of the contact that you're allowed to do in the open court now and the way these guys are, it's really not the game changing, it's guys becoming so smart when they're already gifted. Then he's adding a swipe through to get his shot to where you can't even contest it at times or you can't swipe down on him, it makes your job difficult on the defensive end."
As two gifted defensive players in a league that is getting more and more offensively driven, it’s fair to understand why Lue and Shumpert might have landed this way on the issue, and it’s refreshing to see that partisan politics (ie: the Cavaliers don’t much like the Warriors) hasn’t clouded their judgement too much on this.
With that said, there’s a reason there’s outrage. Pachulia has a checkered past with the Spurs, and he’s been involved in some questionably physical plays in the past. When you have dirty plays on your resume, it’s harder to be given the benefit of the doubt.
Intent is always going to be impossible to judge, but to some extent, it might not matter. These are athletes of the highest level; it’s probably not asking too much to make sure that they don’t undercut jump shooters and knock them out of games and series.
We’ll never really know if Pachulia did what he did on purpose, but all we can know is that the path to the Finals for the Warriors is looking a little more wide open than it did at halftime of Game 1.