ATLANTA - Zaza Pachulia spends most of his time as an obscure backup center for the Atlanta Hawks, playing a few minutes here, a few minutes there. He's rugged but hardly graceful. He's a banger who handles the dirty work, letting others claim the glory.
But in the playoffs? He's fearless. He's a leader. He's invaluable.
Two years running, the 6-foot-11 native of Georgia - the country - has taken a lead role for the team that plays in the state of Georgia.
A postseason ago, Pachulia fired up Atlanta by going forehead-to-forehead with Boston All-Star Kevin Garnett, showing his underdog team had no intention of backing down to the eventual champion Celtics in a series that surprisingly went the full seven games.
On Monday, Pachulia may have saved this season for the Hawks with his gritty performance in Game 4 against the Miami Heat. Getting down and dirty - and sporting a black eye for extra effect - he scored 12 points and grabbed 18 rebounds in a game the Hawks had to have, an 81-71 victory that sent the series back to Atlanta tied at two games apiece.
'I don't care how Dwyane Wade shot or how Miami played or how we played, we don't win that game without Zaza. Period,' said Atlanta forward Marvin Williams, who's missed the last two contests with an ailing wrist and is questionable for Game 5 Wednesday night. 'He was phenomenal. What he did for our team was huge.'
In a series of blowouts - all four games have been decided by at least 10 points - Pachulia could play a huge role for the Hawks, especially if Williams remains sidelined and puts more strain on an already thin bench.
Coach Mike Woodson went with essentially a seven-man rotation in Game 4, and Pachulia was on the court for the crucial minutes instead of starting center Al Horford.
That was an easy call. Horford struggled through a 1-for-5 shooting night. Pachulia shot better (5 of 8), played harassing defense and seemed to grab every loose ball in the 407 area code. All were keys to the Hawks' victory, which was the first road playoff win for the team since 1997 and its first postseason win ever with so few points being scored by its top scorer (Mike Bibby with 15).