Atlanta Hawks: Why Zaza Pachulia Is More Than Just a Backup Center

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Atlanta Hawks: Why Zaza Pachulia Is More Than Just a Backup Center
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Getting under players' skin is a trait to be admired. Some do it better than others, but few do it better than the Atlanta Hawks enforcer, Zaza Pachulia.

The Georgian native (the country, not the state, even though he now lives in the state) is known for being a pest defensively, and always giving that push that comes a little after the whistle, and that shove that's a little too hard—usually getting opponents to react. Some flail their arms claiming to be fouled, begging for a whistle. Others don't handle it so well. For instance, after receiving a slight headbutt from Mr. Pachulia, Jason Richardson lashed out and smacked him in the face, causing his ejection and suspension for the following playoff game (Pachulia was also suspended).

Pachulia has practically made a living off of ridiculous scuffles, just ask Kevin Garnett, who was also on the receiving end of a Pachulia headbutt in the middle of a critical playoff game. It was game 4 in the 2008 series, the Celtics had a 2-1 lead against the 8th seeded Hawks. Clearly, the Hawks were a mere afterthought in the eyes of the Celtics, but Zaza Pachulia changed that misconception of an idea rather quickly.

How many guys in the NBA are willing to headbutt Kevin Garnett? He talks a huge game and rarely backs it up, but no one really, truly tests him. That is unless you're Zaza Pachulia. He sent Boston a message that day, and it was that they weren't intimidated by Garnett and his big mouth, by their big 3 concocted the summer before, or by the fact that they were an 8-seed who couldn't even sniff 40 wins. He didn't care, and he let Kevin Garnett know.

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Notice Pachulia's massive gashes on his shoulder
After a Game 6 victory in Atlanta, Pachulia grabbed the microphone at center stage while confetti fell and a disappointed Boston team left. There was one more game left to be played, a game Atlanta would lose, but with the microphone in hand, Pachulia screamed to the erupting crowd in broken English: "Nothing easy! Nothing easy! We going to game seven baby! Game seven! Game seven! Game seveeeeeeeeennnnnnnnn!" I'm almost 100% positive that Philips Arena has never been louder than it was then. 

Back to last season's playoffs: Pachulia may have gotten suspended a game, but he left the Hawks with their identity in a crucial, close playoff game. With their 10 point lead slipping away and the Magic starting to look like they might take control of the series, Zaza Pachulia showed up. He'd been a pest all night, boxing out unnecessarily hard, shoving his butt into people like he was vibrantly dancing or clubbing. His pestiness came through when needed most. After the scuffle with Richardson, Pachulia was exiting the stadium holding his fist up to the crowd. They screamed and roared, and as he left the stadium, a massive gash became visible on his upper left shoulder, and you think to yourself: how in the hell did that happen? How in the hell did that get there?

Those are the type of players that you love to have on your team, but hate on the other team. They're more than glue guys or enforcers, they're that tiny little spark that comes out and breaks the game open when sparks seem like they couldn't be further away. 

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