What Really Happens in the Paint: Homage to Zaza
In honour of Zaza Pachulia’s clumsy-looking, somewhat dirty, and maybe even unnatural play on a jump shot attempt by San Antonio Spurs’ star Kawhi Leonard, we decided to pay homage to the guy who racked up more All-Star votes this past season than any other front court player outside of teammate Kevin Durant.
Yes, the people’s champion had himself quite a year and it keeps getting more and more interesting as he once again found himself in the middle of yet another controversial situation.
A few years back, BallnRoll spoke to a bunch of NBA players, primarily big man on what owning the paint is really all about. The painted area in the NBA is the basketball war zone, which includes some of the toughest and grittiest players in the world. Some of the warriors, no pun intended, who bang it out in the paint – you guessed it – Zaza Pachulia.
BALLnROLL.com: How much pushing and shirt-grabbing really happens in the paint?
Ed Davis: A lot. A lot. You know, it matters who you’re playing against—when you’re playing against a guy like Reggie [Evans], you know he’s going to hold, push, do anything he can to get a rebound. Clean, dirty, Reggie going to do it, so it all matters who you’re playing with, but a lot of pushing goes on. And the ref lets a lot of it go, so it goes both ways.
Jamaal Magloire: The paint is very physical. It takes a man of focus and intensity in order to hold their own, and there are very few like that left in this league.
Josh Smith: This is definitely a physical game. When you get into the paint, a lot of stuff there, referees don’t really see, and they don’t understand the physical nature of what really goes on in the four and five positions.
Matt Barnes: Oh man, a lot, a lot. You know a lot of people prefer it that way, but you know, the refs like to try and clean it up, but I mean, this is a physical game, you know, they take the physical play completely out of the game. Kind of just takes away from the game, but you really got to be tough while you’re down there—there’s a lot of grabbing, holding, pushing
Pau Gasol: There’s contact, definitely contact, and any kind of contact, you can imagine, just to make sure you get a good position, and make the opponent give up a position you want to get.
Shaun Livingston: As much as you can get away with. Any time you get in the paint, it’s physical. It’s a physical game. That’s the key: be as physical as you can without being dirty.
Troy Murphy: It’s when guys are going up for rebounds, anything goes.
Zaza Pachulia: It’s a physical game. You’re talking about NBA basketball. A lot of physicality.
BallnRoll.com: Do you also do it, and what are some of your tricks you’ve learned over the years?
Amir Johnson: I do have little tricks. Sometimes the ref catches me. Most of the time he does. I have my tricks where I hold his hand, grab his wrist—I can’t tell my tricks, man. I learned from Rashid.
Ed Davis: Yeah, I’m starting to learn a lot now, like things you can get away with early, things you can’t get away with, little things like that, so… Especially, certain players can get away with things, like, if that’s your game; like, Reggie is known to play hard, so they’re going to call him out, but if I’m not known to be a pusher, they might not call mine, because I don’t do it every possession, so it all depends on the player.
Jamaal Magloire: Well, I don’t do it personally, but there’s definitely a lot, and in this game, you have to be prepared for anything, and you have to play through anything.
Josh Smith: I mean, I’ve learned some tricks and trades from veteran players, maybe a little bit, not moreso than a lot of other people, but I’ve learned a couple tricks of the trade.
Matt Barnes: I mean, you just got to try and stay lower in the paint, rebounding, and going to the baskets, but you gotta try—there’s a lot of big guys out there, and you just have to stay lower and you gotta be strong.
Pau Gasol: Just try to get low and try to hit first. That’s some of the things that are important.
Troy Murphy: You learn stuff, ways to grab… it’s pretty much a free for all down there.
BallnRoll.com: Are there cheap shots or players that get under your skin, making you want to retaliate?
Ed Davis: No, not—guys don’t really use too many cheap shots—it’s accumulation; if a guy gives you a hard time, you want to give him a hard time, but I don’t know… I mean, I’m here too.
Amir Johnson: I mean, some players you want to throw a little harder elbow than others. You do those to certain players.
Jamaal Magloire: Yes, there’s always players, but they’re looking for an advantage, just like I am, and, in this game, if they don’t call it, it’s legal, so, that being said, you just have to play through it and be mentally tough.
Josh Smith: It is a couple players that do a couple of pushing and shoving, but you know that’s just the history of what they’ve been doing throughout their whole career, especially later on in their careers, so you really can’t anything but just try and gain an advantage before they do it.
Matt Barnes: You can’t retaliate, because the refs are waiting for that to happen. It’s taken me a long time to learn that, but you can’t retaliate. You just have to keep your head and understand that it’s the point of the game and you’ve got to keep playing.
Pau Gasol: Of course, there’s elbows, there’s low hits, you have to be balanced, be low, and be ready to attack.
Zaza Pachulia: There are. Everybody has different personalities. They’re using their strength and playing to get under the skin—that’s a strength. You definitely expect an offensive player. It helps you to shut it down.
BallnRoll.com: What’s the dirtiest thing that has happened to you?
Amir Johnson: The dirtiest thing you can do is, say you’re wrestling for a ball, and we all fall on the floor, and you fall down with the elbow on the players—that’s one thing you could do.
Jamaal Magloire: I’ve experienced players headbutt other players; I’ve experienced guys purposely throw elbows.
Josh Smith: You know, nothing too much. A lot of shirt-grabbing, maybe pushing before a rebound even comes off, trying to gain advantages on a consistent basis. It gets a little frustrating, but other than that, nothing really vicious.
Matt Barnes: Oh man. I’ve been hit in the balls, been tripped, pushed; it gets pretty physical down there.
Shaun Livingston: I’ve been undercut a couple of times.
Zaza Pachulia: I don’t remember. As far as on purpose, I got one, for example, last game, my nose, I got bruised right here. It happens.
BallnRoll.com: Reggie Evans was rated the dirtiest player in the NBA last year. Do you agree, how do you deal with it, or do you think it’s all heart and hustle?
Ed Davis: I would say he’s—I mean, Reggie’s going to do whatever you gotta do to get a rebound; he don’t care. And he don’t care what somebody else thinks, or whatever, so—I would say he’s very eager to play hard. He’s going to throw his body out there and then don’t care, you know what I mean? That’s what I believe. He plays hard, man.
Amir Johnson: He has his tricks he does, but it’s the way he plays. He plays rough and hard, and that’s what he does.
Jamaal Magloire: I think it’s heart and hustle. I think he’s a player who has found a niche in this league. Every time I’ve played against him, he’s been honest, and I’m surprised by that remark.
Josh Smith: He’s definitely one of them. He’s definitely one of the top, top, top five, so, I mean, that’s just his game. That’s what he does. That’s his DNA, and everybody knows it, and you just have to match his intensity.
Matt Barnes: Yeah, he’s a monster. It’s heart and hustle, but at the same time, there’s some other stuff down there. But you gotta be mean down there. He’s an undersized four five, so, you know, you got to do whatever you can to be efficient, and he’s very efficient. If that’s a label that sticks on him, he’s still a hardnosed player.
Pau Gasol: Oh, he plays hard. I mean, he may not be the dirtiest player, but he plays extra hard and knows his role. He does it really well. He rebounds the ball, and goes extremely hard, so I don’t know if he’s the dirtiest, but he’s definitely uses his body to get good positions, and he plays hard.
Shaun Livingston: I agree, you deal with it just by staying silent, and letting him play, letting the refs deal with it, and if not, dealing with it yourself.
Troy Murphy: I mean, he is a hell of a rebounder. He goes up for every ball, that’s what he does, that’s his job. So you always have to be aware of where he’s at, and he’s really good at it. He’s gets under your skin, but that’s his job.
Zaza Pachulia: He plays hard. I didn’t play with or against Reggie last year, because he was injured, but knowing him throughout the years I’ve been here—he plays hard, he uses his strength, very physical, very good energy on every night; that’s how he plays. For some people, it’s hard, because they don’t like to play physical, so I would say he is a hard worker.
BallnRoll.com: Can we conclude , that it’s all fair game if you don’t get caught?
Jamaal Magloire: Yes, I can conclude with that. In this game, we’re all looking for advantages, just to win. Some guys can jump higher, some can move faster, and others are just tough, and will do the small things that you don’t see at the end of a box score that it takes to win games.
Amir Johnson: If you don’t get caught, you got to stop or get the ball back. It’s all fair game.
Josh Smith: I guess so, I don’t know man, I think you have three referees out theres, it should be more physical out there; I like the physical nature of the game, especially when it’s called both ways.
Matt Barnes: Yes, absolutely.
Pau Gasol: Um, not really. Even if you don’t get caught, if you do something dirty, it’s still dirty.
Shaun Livingston: Pretty much. When you’re in the playoffs, it’s physical. You have to be as physical as you can, without getting caught, or without getting violent.
Troy Murphy: Oh yeah, of course!
Zaza Pachulia: It’s about setting the tone from day one, and if that’s how you play, you’ve got a reputation. That’s how you play, individually and in a team as well. I mean, a perfect example, the Utah Jazz, during Coach Sloan’s being there for years, they were the dirtiest team, but you know, actually they were not. This was just a reputation they had, and you have to live with it.