Saturday afternoon, while discussing his first career NBA Finals berth, Warriors center Zaza Pachulia told reporters he is “all in.”
“You know that’s Cleveland’s slogan,” said ESPN’s Chris Haynes, a former Cavaliers beat writer.
“That is?” Pachulia said. “I haven’t heard it. That’s because I don’t pay too much attention to the media right now, social media stuff, especially after the last series. I totally blocked everything.”
Golden State swept San Antonio in four games, but the Western Conference finals didn’t go so smoothly for Pachulia. He endured death threats after Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich publicly blamed him for injuring Kawhi Leonard in Game 1. Now, after missing the final two games of the series with a right heel contusion, Pachulia is moving forward — on the court and off.
He has participated in the past three practices without restriction and is expected to be available Thursday for Game 1 of the Finals. More than affording him time to heal that sore heel, the lengthy break between games has helped Pachulia process the emotional toll Popovich’s fiery rant exacted on his family.
In the wake of that tirade, during which Popovich called Pachulia a “dirty player” and compared the play that injured Leonard to manslaughter, Pachulia faced a heavy backlash on social media. It was serious enough that he closed his Instagram account and deployed security guards to the entrance of his children’s school.
Pachulia, who was injured for Games 3 and 4 in San Antonio, was spared any on-court vitriol. But as he watched from the bench while his teammates finished the sweep of the Spurs, his thoughts strayed to his wife and three young kids back in the Bay Area.
“The good thing is we have like one week off now,” Pachulia said. “Mentally, physically, I can prepare myself and do my best, basically. I’m definitely going to take advantage of these next seven days. I feel so much better physically and mentally. That’s all history.”
In July, after finishing perhaps the best season of his 14-year career, Pachulia rebuffed far more lucrative offers to sign a one-year deal with Golden State for $2.9 million. The chance to finally compete for an NBA title was too good for the big man to turn down.
Up until that point, Pachulia had only made it past the first round of the playoffs three times and had never reached a conference finals. These days, in a starting lineup boasting four All-Stars, he is a no-frills big man adept at setting screens, crashing the boards and finding the open man. Pachulia had the highest plus-minus (plus-6.0) among centers this season.
“Anytime any bump in the road occurs, the sooner you can put it in your rearview mirror, the better,” acting head coach Mike Brown said of Pachulia’s tumultuous Western Conference finals.
Connor Letourneau is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer.