Take 5: Kawhi Leonard Goes Down (5/16/17)

Kawhi Leonard won't be doing this in game 2

*Take 5 is a series where I give my opinions on five recent stories in the world of sports.  Today, I’m discussing the Zaza Pachulia-Kawhi Leonard incident, Kelly Olynyk’s game 7 heroics, Derek Jeter’s number retiring, Colin Kaepernick, and the new WSOP Main Event format.

But first, a shout out to Si Woo Kim, the 21-year-old South Korean golfer who won the Players Championship on Sunday (the youngest to do so) and $1.9 million in the process, and then proceeded to fly back home middle seat coach.  That’s just awesome.

1) Zaza’s “Dirty Play” Leads to Warriors Comeback: Oh, boy.  The Warriors entered the Western Conference Finals against the Spurs as heavy favorites, but the visitors came out on fire in game 1, pounding the paint on offense and blocking the passing lanes, stifling the Warriors en route to a 25-point first half lead.  Leading the charge was none other than Kawhi Leonard, who had 24 points by the eight-minute mark of the third quarter.  However, when Leonard attempted a step back jumper, he landed awkwardly on the foot of Zaza Pachulia, reinjuring his left ankle.  The Spurs’ star hit two free throws before leaving the game, not to return.  At that stage, the Spurs led by 23 points.

Led by Stephen Curry, who finished with 40 points, the Warriors immediately jumped out to an 18-0 run to make the game close, and after a tense final few minutes, the Warriors pulled out a stunning 113-111 victory.  The implications are clear.  The Spurs need a win at Oracle Arena in order to win the series, and they had full control of game 1 prior to Kawhi’s injury, which will keep him out for at least game 2.  Gregg Popovich was as upset as you’ll see him after the game, as seemed to believe Zaza’s play was dirty, and perhaps even intentional.  I’ve seen many people online call for Pachulia to be fined or suspended, and some are likening the incident to cheating.  Let’s slow down.

If you believe Pachulia intentionally tried to injure Kawhi Leonard, you’re just looking for somewhere to shift the blame.  Look- it’s a terrible situation.  No one wants to see one of the league’s best players go down at such a pivotal time.  If the Spurs take game 1, which in all likelihood they would have, this could end up being a very competitive series.  But now, with the Warriors almost certainly going up 2-0 with Leonard’s status still uncertain?  It already feels all but over.

Zaza’s movement was a bit awkward, but he never looked at his positioning on the court.  It was obviously a foul and an illegal play, but dirty?  I don’t think so.  Plus, we don’t really know what the status of Kawhi’s ankle going into the play, as he had tweaked it minutes earlier stepping on teammate David Lee.  Either way, the Spurs have to find a way to win that game, up 23 in the second half.  Instead, the Warriors pulled off another incredible comeback.

2) Celtics’ Game 7 Win led by…Kelly Olynyk: When the Warriors and Spurs were going at it in game 1, the Eastern Conference Finals participants hadn’t even been announced yet.  After John Wall’s clutch three to force game seven in Boston, the Celtics and Wizards suited up Monday for the right to play LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers for a spot in the NBA Finals.  The first half consisted of runs back-and-forth, and the Wizards led by two at the break.  The Celtics really took control beginning in the second half of the third quarter, turning a six-point Washington lead into a 13-point Boston advantage.  The Wizards tried to come back, but of all people, it was Kelly Olynyk dropping in dagger after dagger.  Isaiah Thomas had a great performance, as usual, finishing with 29 and 12 assists, but Olynyk single-handedly outscored the Wizards’ bench 26-5 on 10/14 shooting in the best game of his playoff career.

3) Colin Kaepernick to the Seahawks?: One of the most surprising stories of the NFL offseason is Colin Kaepernick, the former 49ers quarterback who remains a free agent.  Kaepernick caused quite the controversy last season by kneeling for the National Anthem, and while I don’t fully agree with his methods, I have to respect his right to act as he chooses and his commitment to raising awareness and making a difference.  Since then, Kaepernick has made good on a promise to donate $1 million to various charities, but despite this, the NFL seems to be blacklisting him for his political views.

However, Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett believes Seattle is the “perfect place” for Kaepernick to continue his NFL career after six years in San Francisco.  Sure, there are concerns that Kaep might not be as athletic and agile as he used to be, but watching him play last season, that didn’t necessarily seem to be the case.  The 49ers had a myriad of issues, but on paper, Kaepernick played just as good, arguably better than in 2013 when he led the team to a 12-4 record and the NFC Championship game.  In my mind, Kaepernick is definitely still a starting quarterback in the league, and it’s baffling how no one has signed him yet.

4) Yankees Retire Jeter’s #2: The Yankees are out of single-digit numbers.  With the retiring of Derek Jeter’s #2 on Sunday, the winningest franchise in the MLB has now retired jersey numbers 1-9, meaning double-digits for everyone from here on out.  Jeter played 20 seasons for the Bronx Bombers and helped guide the team to five World Series victories.  He goes down as one of the most consistent and durable players in the game’s history and is likely to become a first-ballot Hall of Famer when eligible.  Jeter captained the Yankees for the final 12 years of his career, and finished #6 on the MLB’s all-time hits list, with 3,465.

5) WSOP Ends the “November Nine”: Big changes are coming to the World Series of Poker as the final table of the Main Event, the largest poker tournament in the world, will no longer be played in November.  For the first time, ESPN will broadcast daily coverage of the event as the field plays down to a final table from July 8-17.  Then, the final nine players will get two days’ rest before returning on July 20, where ESPN will have the same three days of coverage as during the November Nine era.  The switch comes as an adjustment to other poker tours such as the Pokerstars Championship, which regularly provide live broadcasts of their events.  It should allow fans to watch more of the tournament as it happens without waiting for the TV episodes, shown months after the events take place.  All in all, it’s a great change.

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