Zaza Pachulia’s high motor, energy off the bench and nasty altercations with some of the league’s elite players have made him a fan-favorite with the Atlanta Hawks, but more importantly a key player in it’s playoff rotation.
This season, Pachulia has been hampered with a nasty Achilles injury that won’t seem to go away. Originally diagnosed as tendinitis in the Achilles around January 22, reports have now surfaced that the veteran center is concerned about tearing the tendon, which has led to his increasing absence from the floor.
“Right now, I can just say that I’m out indefinitely,” Pachulia told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution Friday. “We are in the process of different treatments. There is no timeframe. All I can say is it is indefinite. There is no report from the doctors yet. Basically, every day matters. We are expecting it to get better. We don’t know when or how soon. Hopefully the treatments will help.”
During his extended absence, Ivan Johnson was expected to garner more minutes and a larger role. With a thin roster as it is, head coach Larry Drew was forced to shift around the roster, essentially pushing Johan Petro into Pachulia’s role as occasional starter and big off the bench.
Petro has responded remarkably in Pachulia’s seven-game absence in March. The 7-footer is averaging 6.2 points and 4.8 boards per game. For the season, Pachulia is averaging 5.9 points and 6.5 rebounds.
Over the first four months of the season, Petro scored 10 points just once and didn’t grab more than five rebounds. In March alone, he’s scored 10 points twice and has snagged more than five rebounds three times– twice against Dwight Howard’s LA Lakers and once against Brook Lopez’s Brooklyn Nets.
After seeing his minutes dip previously, Johnson is also back to his interior dominance, having spurts of scoring and defense that warrant the big minutes he’s playing. He’s consistently scored seven points or more and hauled six rebounds or more in each of the past four games.
While Pachulia has become an increasingly important member of the Hawks playoff run by playing man-to-man with some of the East’s most dominant centers, Petro and Johnson are showing in this mini-run that they can get it done for the Hawks.
Head coach Larry Drew, when speaking before the Brooklyn Nets game March 9 mentioned that Pachulia will come back when he’s ready or if he’s ready. For Petro and Johnson to play so cohesively when Atlanta desperately needed to right the ship, it can only boost faith for this squad to succeed if Pachulia doesn’t make it back to close out what has become an injury-plagued season for Atlanta.
Whether they can sustain this kind of play through March, April and into the postseason, though, remains to be seen.