NEW YORK (AP) -- NBA referees will be able to call flagrant or technical fouls on defenders who dangerously close on jump shooters without allowing them space to land, as Golden State Warrior center Zaza Pachulia did on the play that injured San Antonio Spurs star Kawhi Leonard in last season's playoffs.
Leonard sprained his ankle when Pachulia slid his foot under Leonard's in Game 1 of Golden State's victory in the Western Conference finals. After calling a foul, officials will now be able to look at replay to determine if the defender recklessly positioned his foot in an unnatural way, which could trigger an upgrade to a flagrant, or a technical if there was no contact but an apparent attempt to injure.
San Antonio lost 113-111 without Leonard, squandering a 20-point halftime lead, and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was peeved. The next day, Popovich called the play "dangerous" and "unsportsmanlike" and insisted Pachulia has a history of such.
"Who gives a damn about what his intent was? You ever hear of manslaughter? You still go to jail when you're texting and end up killing somebody, but you might not have intended to do that. All I care about is what I saw," Popovich said to reporters at the time.
Popovich did not call on the NBA to demand further discipline for Pachulia, who was called for a personal foul on the play, but made it clear where he stands.
"A two-step, lead with your foot closeout is not appropriate. It's dangerous, it's unsportsmanlike, it's just not what anybody does to anybody else and this particular individual has a history of that kind of action."
Without Leonard, the Spurs were swept by the eventual champion Warriors.
NBA senior vice president of replay and referee operations Joe Borgia says Thursday the league has made the play a point of emphasis for referees in the spirit of player safety.
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