NBA: Golden State Warriors big man Zaza Pachulia hopes to cap career with title

Golden State Warriors player Zaza Pachulia (R) goes for rebound against Cleveland Cavaliers player Kevin Love (L) in game two of the NBA Finals basketball game at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California, USA, 04 June 2017.
Golden State Warriors player Zaza Pachulia (R) goes for rebound against Cleveland Cavaliers player Kevin Love (L) in game two of the NBA Finals basketball game at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California, USA, 04 June 2017.PHOTO: EPA

Cleveland (AFP) - Golden State Warriors centre Zaza Pachulia plays a key inside role for the National Basketball Association's (NBA) best team, but they still can't find a cap that fits him.

The 33-year-old man-mountain from Tbilisi is trying to become the first player from Georgia to win an NBA crown as the Warriors play defending champion Cleveland in the NBA Finals, which shifted scene on Monday for Game Three and Four on Wednesday and Friday in Cleveland.

Pachulia's massive head and frame was more than the adjustable-size Western Conference champions caps could manage, so team-mate JaVale McGee made a giant one for him.

"They didn't make the hat in Zaza size," Warriors star guard Stephen Curry said.

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"Hopefully they get that fixed if we win the Finals and they can get a bigger hat for him." It's that sort of support that prompted Pachulia to take less money to play for the Warriors, signing a one-season deal for US$2.9 million (S$4 million) as a replacement for Australian Andrew Bogut, who was traded away for salary room to sign star forward Kevin Durant.

Pachulia, who will be a free agent after this season, has averaged 6.1 points and 5.9 rebounds a game this season and has provided strong defence for a team that often goes with a smaller, quicker line-up.

He took some criticism in the Western Conference Finals after San Antonio star Kawhi Leonard injured his left ankle landing on Pachulia's foot in Game One, but again team-mates were there to back the big man.

"I had full support from my team-mates," he said. "We're a family here and definitely I had no doubt in my mind that starting that night, starting with text messages, I had all their support. That's what made it easier for me to get over it all."

The son of a former Soviet judo champion and a power forward for the Soviet women's basketball team, Pachulia has played for the Orlando Magic, the Milwaukee Bucks, the Atlanta hawks and the Dallas Mavericks over 14 NBA seasons, averaging 7.0 points and 6.0 rebounds a game in 961 career games.

But this is his first trip to the NBA Finals.

"We're ready to take the challenge and be physical for every game," Pachulia said.

"I like our talent in our locker room. It's a totally different team than this team was last year. I love our chances."

Pachulia conducted free basketball camps for Georgian youth for 12 years before opening a basketball academy last year in Tbilisi.

In the same area where he once practised in hat and gloves to combat the winter cold, Pachulia now offers kids four courts, among them the same court he played upon in Milwaukee, which he bought in 2013, and had it shipped there in 267 pieces and reassembled.

"My goal was motivation," Pachulia said. "I want the best for all those kids."

Bogut, who suffered a left knee injury for Golden State in Game Five of last year's Finals, nearly wound up in this year's Finals for Cleveland.

After his trade to Dallas, he was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers and released, and then signed by the Cavaliers, only to suffer a broken left leg seconds into his Cleveland debut in March to end his season.

That injury has left Cleveland's Tristan Thompson of Canada facing Pachulia instead of the man that Pachulia replaced.

"Zaza does a lot of the grunt work. He sets good screens, he's physical, he brings that physicality early in the game for them," Thompson said.

"Their front court got better. They have gotten more athletic. For Zaza, we have to keep him off the glass."