Gregg Popovich spoke up in defense of Zaza Pachulia-like defense back in 2006

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Gregg Popovich and Bruce Bowen in 2006-07. (Getty Images)
Gregg Popovich and Bruce Bowen in 2006-07. (Getty Images)

San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich rightfully went off on Monday, for the second time in as many days, in a pointed podium address partially pitched to announce Kawhi Leonard’s probable unavailability for Game 2 of the Western Conference finals on Tuesday.

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Leonard left Game 1 with a sprained left ankle and his Spurs up 23 points. Golden State would fight to come back with the San Antonio swingman watching from the locker room, stewing silently as he does following Zaza Pachulia’s dirty, un-punishable move up underneath Leonard’s feet while the Spurs star took a third quarter jump shot.

Popovich did not stay silent on Monday, lambasting Pachulia for his “dangerous” and “unsportsmanlike” play in Game 1. “It’s just not what anybody does to anybody else,” Popovich warned, comparing Zaza’s move to a type of basketball “manslaughter,”  before telling the press that “this particular individual has a history with that kind of action.”

Far too many noted on Sunday that the Spurs once retired the number of a player with a history of “that kind of action,” in former Popovich starter Bruce Bowen.

A Reddit NBA user found this newspaper website piece from former San Antonio Express-News Spurs beat writer Johnny Ludden (currently Yahoo Sports’ Editor in Chief), detailing Popovich’s frustration at a 2006 verbal warning handed down from then-NBA executive vice president Stu Jackson to the Spurs swingman, with no explanation message sent to the team’s front office, ownership group, or coaching staff:

“So why did they call Bruce? Because it’s happened to him twice? Bruce guards an All-Star every night. If he was doing what they’re accusing him of doing, wouldn’t it have happened a higher percentage of times?

“The people who cry about it are just frustrated about having to go against Bruce.”

Popovich is concerned Jackson’s warning has taken away some of Bowen’s aggressiveness. Houston’s Tracy McGrady scored 21 first-half points most of which came against Bowen on Tuesday. After looking at film of Wednesday’s loss to Charlotte, Popovich said Bowen sometimes wasn’t within “5 feet” of rookie Adam Morrison.

“The league is just trying to cover its ass,” Popovich said. “I told Bruce, ‘You be Bruce Bowen. You’re the best (expletive) defender in this league. You will NOT change the way you play defense.’

Here is the play the NBA took issue with:

Quite a bit has changed since 2006. For one, Bowen is retired and Pachulia is no longer a member of the Orlando Magic.

We’re not going to tell you that Coach Pop was completely different over a decade ago, that he was spitting mad at the Republicans’ heavy losses in the 2006 midterm elections just a week prior to his Bowen burst, but quite a bit has changed since his slow-down, LeBron-denying Spurs won the 2006-07 championship.

Or since Pop’s peak as an early-aughts terror, as explained by former Popovich assistant and current Warriors interim head coach Mike Brown to Bay Area News Group’s Anthony Slater in a must-read feature:

Brown was an assistant with the Spurs 14 years earlier, back in the early 2000s, when Popovich was younger and sterner, in some ways forming Brown’s regimented approach. Back then, Brown and now Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer split up the scouting reports. They had to fax it to Popovich by 7 p.m. the night before the game. Like a high school teacher shredding a rough draft, Popovich lasered through them in red ink before sending it back for corrections.

“He used to put notes on it if the spelling was incorrect, if the grammar was off,” Brown said.

Fourteen years later, Brown watched as a more tranquil Popovich allowed his assistants to bring the reports in the morning, trusting his own immense knowledge of the league and reading over it just before addressing the team. “There are a lot of things he just let go easier,” Brown said.

There are quite a few things Gregg Popovich hasn’t let go a whole hell of a lot “easier,” in recent days, but we should welcome as much. Even if the shoe is under the other foot, this time around.

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Kelly Dwyer is an editor for Ball Don’t Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!

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