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Tony Parker’s injury highlights Spurs’ unique depth

Jun 1, 2014, 12:43 AM EDT

Danny Green, Patty Mills, Boris Diaw Danny Green, Patty Mills, Boris Diaw

Two years ago, the Charlotte Bobcats – on their way to the worst record in NBA history – waived Boris Diaw. He was out of shape and out of favor. Less than a month from turning 30, he appeared to have a short future in the league.

Saturday, he led the San Antonio Spurs in scoring during a closeout game of the Western Conference Finals.

Diaw scored 26 points – his most since Charlotte and most in a playoff game in eight seasons – in the Spurs’ 112-107 Game 6 overtime win over the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili return to the Finals – to face the Miami Heat once again – but the Spurs’ big three has gotten this far due to teammates like Diaw, Cory Joseph, Patty Mills and Kawhi Leonard (can we call him a role player anymore?).

Parker (ankle injury) left the game at halftime with San Antonio down seven. But Joseph stepped up with a couple big plays, and Mills proved steady enough down the stretch.

I repeat: Cory Joseph and Patty Mills proved instrumental, at the pivotal point guard position no less, in a closeout conference finals game. The only reason that doesn’t sound crazy is because it’s the Spurs.

This was San Antonio’s progressive philosophy paying off. All season, Gregg Popovich trusted his role players, starting them and sticking with them in crunch time. He used 30 starting lineups, and he limited everyone to fewer than 30 minutes per game. No other team promotes depth to that extent.

And quite possibly, no other team would have won like the Spurs did Saturday.

Make no mistake: The Spurs are better with Parker. They’ll almost surely need him in the Finals, forcing the action against Mario Chalmers. But they sure made Parker look expendable in the final 29 minutes against Oklahoma City.

It seems no matter who San Antonio plugs into its system, it works – though, that’s obviously because the the Spurs are selective about who they plug into their system.

They saw more in Diaw than the Charlotte did, and they were proven correct. Matt Bonner once again started, pulling Serge Ibaka from the paint and throwing Oklahoma City’s defense off balance. But the Spurs really took off when Diaw – a better player – took Bonner’s stretch-four spot. Diaw can draw defenders outside, but he can also batter players in the post when the opponent goes small. All the while, he makes impressive passes and keeps the ball moving.

Leonard (17 points, 11 rebounds and four assists) had another energetic and effective game, but he really belongs mentioned with the Spurs’ big three at this point. Heck, he’s better than at least one of them, though he takes a backseat in perception.

Not that the big three has fallen off a cliff (at least as long as they’re healthy).

Ginobili made a huge 3-pointer with 27 seconds left in regulation, and Duncan (19 points and 15 rebounds) scored seven of San Antonio’s overtime points.

Yet, the Spurs only put those two in position to make the big shots thanks to their heralded role players. And those role players were only ready to meet the moment thanks to San Antonio empowering them all season.

Of course, the Spurs were afforded this luxury by the sustained excellence of their big three. San Antonio always knew, whatever its role players did, it could fall back on Duncan, Parker and Ginobili.

The Spurs want to be deep. They also had a setup conducive to being deep.

But when Popovich smelled blood in Game 6 – the best opportunity either team has had all series to win on the road – he didn’t hesitate. Duncan, Leonard, Green, Ginobili and Diaw each played series-high minutes during regulation alone. Duncan played this much overall (39:01) just three times all season.

The Thunder closed ranks, too – but out of necessity.

It took more than 34 minutes for an Oklahoma City player other than Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka or Reggie Jackson to score. Those four finished with 102 of the Thunder’s 107 points.

Oklahoma City got here and wanted to win. San Antonio has been prepping for this level all season.

Teams want to rely on their star players in the postseason. They often can.

But when a Tony Parker goes down, very few teams can overcome that on the road in a tight series.

There has never been a team like these Spurs.

Yet, these Spurs are like so many Spurs teams before them – back in the Finals

Duncan, Parker and Ginobili led them here. Diaw, Joseph, Mills and Leonard are following not too far behind.

  1. antistratfordian - Jun 1, 2014 at 1:31 AM

    It’s going to take a lot more than unique depth to beat this year’s Heat.

    • tomshoe - Jun 1, 2014 at 7:33 PM

      I’m going to enjoy the taste of your salty tears.

      • antistratfordian - Jun 1, 2014 at 8:26 PM

        The next salty tear session I have scheduled is in 2018. I can pencil you in, if you’d like.

  2. jpstyles314 - Jun 1, 2014 at 1:34 AM

    I love rematches so I think this should be a great series. I never could bet against either team, so I have no idea who will be left standing.

    • the1nonlyk - Jun 1, 2014 at 2:15 AM

      i said a while ago that im so sure the spurs r gonna take it home that id take some bets and i likely will be with some coworkers. and i just read that vegas odds are on the spurs, ha!

    • antistratfordian - Jun 1, 2014 at 2:58 AM

      You’re stuck in 2013. But it’s really not that difficult. Do what any rational person should do and put your money behind LeBron James. Betting against him is just a bad, bad bet.

      • sportsfan18 - Jun 1, 2014 at 8:20 AM

        but what’s being WORSE than bad is being so much of a homer that it clouds what little judgement you have left….

      • antistratfordian - Jun 1, 2014 at 8:06 PM

        There is nothing homerific about favoring LeBron James in this series. You can do that and be completely and absolutely objective.

        This is where haters get confused… they think ardent support for the Heat is nothing more than being a biased homer, forgetting what Heat supporters fully understand i.e. that the Heat are not just any kind of team – they’re an all-time great dynasty with an all-time great player in his prime.

        The people who are being biased and unreasonable are those picking against them.

      • savvybynature - Jun 2, 2014 at 12:23 AM

        So basically, you’re saying that you aren’t a Heat homer, but instead just favor them because you think it’s clear that they are the best team by a large margin?
        Wow, thanks for confirming everyone’s worst stereotype of all Heat fans. Maybe they really are all bandwagon d-bags.

      • antistratfordian - Jun 2, 2014 at 12:45 AM

        Would you prefer that I just be a Heat homer and only favor them because I live in the same city? What that be a better argument for you?

  3. kavika6 - Jun 1, 2014 at 1:40 AM

    Champions can win on the road.

    • antistratfordian - Jun 1, 2014 at 3:04 AM

      It’s one thing to beat players who don’t know how to win, it’s another thing to beat the MJ of this era. Miami won’t have an issue getting the wins they need in San Antonio.

      • 1historian - Jun 1, 2014 at 2:21 PM

        and vice-versa

  4. rodge1 - Jun 1, 2014 at 2:04 AM

    Another great finals matchup.

  5. babyfarkmcgeezax - Jun 1, 2014 at 2:25 AM

    The unfortunate reality is that while the Spurs have the best team in the NBA, the league won’t let that get in the way of yet another scripted, rigged, pre-determined championship for LeBron. We all know how this will end, when the title is on the line the refs will be sure to give LeBron every advantage and screw over the Spurs.

    • antistratfordian - Jun 1, 2014 at 3:04 AM

      Well it’s like how it was with MJ… there is an inevitability about LeBron James. Haters will say the refs favor him, history will say that he’s just too good.

      • babyfarkmcgeezax - Jun 1, 2014 at 3:41 AM

        LeBron wasn’t “too good” until he joined a stacked all-star team… and STILL needs the benefit of rigged officiating to win

      • davidly - Jun 1, 2014 at 5:25 AM

        I won’t get into the rigged aspect of it, but it is interesting how now that the Heat have put the Good/Bad Lance narrative to sleep, they have resumed their spot as the enemy tainted with unethical overtones. Very kayfabe like. Fortunately the league doesn’t have to capitalize off of it because both teams’ play alone is entertaining enough for most fans.

      • antistratfordian - Jun 1, 2014 at 5:53 AM

        They never relinquished that spot, because the role the Heat are going to play against San Antonio is the same one they played against Indiana: The liberal big money team bought in free agency vs the conservative small money team built in the draft.

      • davidly - Jun 1, 2014 at 7:12 AM

        Well, as we see with both libs and cons, irrespective of the outcome, there will be a lot of God and troop thanking.

    • borderline1988 - Jun 1, 2014 at 10:19 AM

      I dont understand how you can say last year’s Finals was scripted. The Spurs were up 5 in game six with like 20 seconds to go, and with possession of the ball. They blew the game. Manu Ginoibili blew it. Poppovich blew it.
      If you think last year’s championship was scripted, you’re just plain crazy.

      I’m sure that at the beginning of the WCF, you were saying how Durant’s ride to superstardom was ‘scripted’ and that there’s no way the refs are going to let the Thunder lose.

      Also, there are 4 points I’ll make that people like you never bring up:
      1) Lebron gets fouled more than any player in the league. Every time he drives to the rim, there are people reaching in and hacking him. Most of those fouls are never called.
      2) Tim Duncan complains to the refs as much as any player I’ve seen. I know that it’s somehow sacreligious to say something negative about Duncan and that it goes contrary to the media’s narrative, but it’s true. Watch the Finals games, you’ll see him go bug-eyed and throw his hands up to the refs constantly.
      3) The key to San Antonio’s offense is the off-the ball illegal screens they set to get corner shooters open. The weak-side screener holds his man and impedes his progress, giving enough time for the ball to swing around to the open corner and for the shooter to get a clean look. Those types of illegal screens are usually called when it’s a pick and roll b/c the refs are watching the ball (unless Garnett or Duncan are setting them) but they’re never called off the ball.
      4) Undersized forwards are usually not given the benefit of the doubt when defending someone. You’ll see Haslem, Bosh and Andersen get penalized for making the same defensive plays that Duncan and Splitter would get away with.

      • jimeejohnson - Jun 1, 2014 at 12:19 PM

        Understand this: haters gonna hate teams and guys that are way better than their team and any of their guys. You got a bunch of wee-weepin’ jealous losers and nothing more.

  6. labratre - Jun 1, 2014 at 4:25 AM

    Lebron and Miami 3 peat is a hell of a better story than Tim Duncan getting one. Remember Lebron came out of high school named THE CHOSEN ONE, HA! Heat 3 Time NBA Champs, nuff said. He is the leagues money maker, cause regardless if you hate in or love him, for some reason or another, EVERYONE, will tune in to check out the outcome.

  7. 1historian - Jun 1, 2014 at 7:04 AM

    Organizations win championships. You build the team around your best players – you compliment their skills and eventually the players who still have something left in the tank and want to win a championship but never have or already have one but want another will find you and play for peanuts for a ring.

    E.G. – In the 2012 free agent period Ray Allen turned down the Celtics offer – half of what the Heat offered – to sign with the Heat. Remember that 3 pointer?

    The Spurs have been winning for 17 years – ever since Duncan suited up because their organization goes out and finds the players to play alongside him.

    Organizations win championships.

    Of course it doesn’t hurt if you have an all-universe guy on the roster to start with.

    • 1historian - Jun 1, 2014 at 2:24 PM

      Whoops – Ray Allen was offered 6 mil by the Celts and 3 mil by the Heat and he chose the heat.

      My bad.

  8. robigd - Jun 1, 2014 at 8:07 AM

    You Heat “fans” are silly. Heat had some tough series to reach the Finals. This will be their first test, and the Spurs are better than they were last year. Diaw and Leonard especially.

  9. thekingdave - Jun 1, 2014 at 8:55 AM

    @antistratfordian

    Liberal? Conservative? Talk about throwing dog crap against the wall and hoping it sticks. You’ve lost you mind.

  10. savvybynature - Jun 1, 2014 at 10:15 AM

    Diaw was spectacular, Mills and Joseph did Yeoman’s work with Parker out, and Leonard’s clean strip of Westbrook in OT on that fast break layup was a game changer!
    But, let’s all take a moment to appreciate what 38-year-old Tim Duncan did in OT. He strapped that team to his back and said, “You got me this far, let me finish this one for you.” Old Man Riverwalk is hungry!
    Huge hat tip to one of the game’s true GOATs.
    Go Spurs!

  11. newyorkball82 - Jun 1, 2014 at 11:01 AM

    I don’t get how people can think this Miami team is better than last year. They lost mike miller, and gained no one of significance. Also Dwayne wade didn’t sit out almost 30 games last year (he is not 100% btw). Parker did though and although Parker had gotten taken out of the game last night I wouldn’t count him out of starting this series. The spurs haven’t gained many players but Leonard is not inexperienced this year as he was last year when he choked at the free throw line. To think the heat are significantly better this year is only seen by heat fans. Whose record was better this year? (in a much tougher conference) And who has home court advantage again?
    Also the Lebron vs. MJ thing is done. Lebron is NOT MJ, period. Lebron needed an already proven star who had a championship ring, and another star of another team to join him to get his rings. Who was that with MJ? Rodman? Not exactly a scorer… MJ was the bulls. He was the leader and took the team on his shoulders. Lebron doesn’t do that. He has two other guys to rely on (3 if you count ray Allen, another champion).

    • borderline1988 - Jun 1, 2014 at 4:23 PM

      So you’re saying that the deciding factor is that Lebron’s main teammates have had rings before, but MJ’s didn’t? What a stupid concept. First of all, Allen wasn’t on the team during the first Heat championship. So your argument is essentially this: “Dwayne Wade won a championship in a rigged Finals back in 2006, therefore Lebron is nowhere near the player that MJ was.”

      Can I ask you something? Supposing the refereeing had been fair in 2006, and the Mavs had beaten the Heat, in your opinion, would the Heat then not have beaten OKC in 2012 because Wade lacked championship experience?

      And the entire argument is negated anyways after MJ won his first championship, because then the entire team had ring.

      It doesn’t matter how your team is constructed. The duo of Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman in their primes were arguably better than Wade and Bosh, and certainly better than Wade and Bosh are now (both past their primes).

      I don’t think Lebron is as good as MJ is either, but the way you’re talking, I can tell you’re just a hater. Lebron could win the next 10 NBA championships on 10 different teams, and you’d probably be talking about how Lebron lost to the Mavs in 2011.

  12. wupsumskul - Jun 1, 2014 at 11:56 AM

    What’s amazing is I’m pretty sure the spurs haven’t lost back to back home games in years. I’m a heat fan to the core and have been to finals every year. I was one of those dopes that left early in game 6 last year. This is in no way shape or form going to be easy and either team could take it. I will always remember the look in Tim Duncan’s face at the post game interviews after game 6. The spurs have looked like they’ve been waiting for revenge all year. I still like the heat but it’s going to be interesting to say the least.

    • papichulo55 - Jun 1, 2014 at 12:51 PM

      Do you also remember the last two minutes of Game 6, where LBJ, minus the headband, looked like he was about to cry? I hope we get to another Game 7, to let both of these Legends totally Ball-Out!

  13. golfrangeman - Jun 1, 2014 at 12:09 PM

    @newyorkball your right about MJ,I remember watching those games where he didn’t rely on any teammates. He was the only one one the floor,5 against 1. I’m sure Scottie,Dennis, Horris,Steve Kerr, Toni and all the other great bulls and their fans agree with you.

    • jimeejohnson - Jun 1, 2014 at 12:23 PM

      Your sarcasm works against you: the fact that MJ won 6 championships playing one on five is a testament to just how great he was. LeBron cannot do it alone, as was proven in Cleveland. Still, King James is the best player in the world right now, and there’s nothing jealous losers can do about it.

  14. golfrangeman - Jun 1, 2014 at 1:56 PM

    @jimmee not sure if your referring to me but if you were I was being sarcastic. No I don’t think MJ played 1 on 5 he had teammates that he relied on. Obviously newyorkball thinks MJ was a one man band based on his comments. Teams win championships not individuals.
    LBJ is the best player in the world on the best team in the world. Until they get beat they will remain that way.

  15. kavika6 - Jun 1, 2014 at 3:08 PM

    If San Antonio’s entire starting lineup are out for the series the Heat will still face the toughest team they’ve seen in the playoffs.

  16. golfrangeman - Jun 1, 2014 at 3:25 PM

    @kavika I think that’s a stretch but regardless the heat can’t control who they play just the outcome.

  17. birdsofprey305 - Jun 1, 2014 at 6:29 PM

    @newyorkball82

    Would you want Lebron on the Knicks? You talk as if he’s an average player. I take it you would no longer cheer for the Knicks.

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