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Boris Diaw has gone from Bobcats castoff to NBA Finals difference maker

Jun 13, 2014, 11:45 AM EST

MIAMI — There was a time, just a little more than two years ago, when a Charlotte Bobcats team with the worst record in the NBA was more than happy to buy out an overweight Boris Diaw and get him off their roster. He was averaging 7.7 points points a night shooting 41.4 percent overall and 27 percent from three, plus he was unhappy and almost eating himself out of the league.

Now, he’s a key starter on a San Antonio Spurs team on the doorstep of winning an NBA Finals.

“I just think the Bobcats were not the right fit for him because he’s the ultimate team player and needs a system and stuff like that,” said Tony Parker, who has played with Diaw since they were teenagers together in France. “He’s a perfect fit for us.”

That’s could be an understatement.

Diaw’s overall play could land him on some NBA Finals MVP ballots — since Gregg Popovich inserted him into the starting lineup in Game 3 the Spurs have just steamrolled the Heat. In the Finals Diaw is +15 per 48 minutes and the Spurs main lineup of him, Tim Duncan, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker is +51 per 48. He has the second most touches and the second most passes on the team, behind only Parker, in those two games — he is a hub of the Spurs’ offense.

To use Popovich’s words, Diaw lets the Spurs go small without actually going small (he is 6’8” and still carrying a little extra luggage listed at 250 pounds).

“You know, Boris pretty much does the same thing every night as far as helping us be a smarter team, at both ends of the floor,” Popovich said after Game 4. “He knows what’s going on most all the time.  At the offensive end he’s a passer.  He understands mismatches.  He knows time and score.  At the defensive end, he knows when to help.  He’s active.  So he just helps the whole team have a better IQ, I think.”

“Pop just told me that I was going to start the game and trying to be a facilitator out there, just trying to make plays for others and try to make the right choices,” Diaw said of being inserted into the starting lineup (which is “just” +6.3 per 48 with Diaw). “So I was just focusing on that role.  Being able to be a relay.  They’re pretty aggressive on their pickandrolls, so just try to be somebody that gives an outlet pass and looking for the open man.”

What he does well presents a challenge for Miami.

“He’s a crafty player man,” Chris Bosh said of Diaw. “He’s difficult, you never know what he’s going to do. You don’t know if he’s going to shoot it, you don’t know if he’s going to drive it, pass it, shoot it again, you don’t know what he’s going to do. I think his ability to do everything in that point forward kind of position makes it difficult…. He’s just one of those players that confuses the hell out of you. The minute you’re not watching he’s walking to the rim or shooting a set, wide-open three pointer.”

Popovich’s gift is defining roles that play to a player’s strengths then putting them in when they are in a position to succeed. Don’t ask a guy to be what he is not, ask him to do what he does well. 

For Diaw that is passing, facilitating. He drives to dish, but if you leave him open he can drain the three and if you close out he can put the ball on the floor and drive and draw defenders so he can make the right read and pass.

Diaw sees what he has done this series as taking what the Heat are giving him.

“I mean, obviously we were looking to pass the ball to each other,” Diaw said. “But they forced us into that, too, because they are very aggressive on the pickandrolls.  They don’t let us have any air, any space.  So we’ve got to drive, we’ve got to kick, and we’ve got to make a few passes before we get an open shot.  If we would have to do only one dribble and find somebody open and shoot it, we’d do it, too, but they force us to make three, four, five passes.  But at some point we find somebody….

“I always try to read on the floor who is going to be open.  We all try to make good passes.  Everybody on our team is reading, including me, but we don’t want to go for the home run pass.  We try to make the right pass, and sometimes the easy pass is the right pass.”

In Game 4 Diaw had 8 points, 9 rebounds and 9 assists — he was on the verge of a triple-double. That he didn’t quite make the numbers does not detract from his overall impact — without him this would be a different series.

“I think he’s really found his rhythm,” Tim Duncan said. “He’s always been effective with what he’s done using his body, using his ability to pass and his ability to attack the basket and smaller players, and it’s really showing in this series.  He’s been the key for us early, catching and driving, making the right plays, finding open people.  He’s really changed the game for us, along with rebounding, defending as well as he has.

“He hasn’t really even scored that much, but he’s found a way to be really effective getting in the paint and finding people and making plays for us.”

So effective the Spurs are one win away from a title. 

  1. spursareold - Jun 13, 2014 at 11:54 AM

    Boris was the key to this series. He is a mismatch for both big and small lineups. He can drag your bigs out to the 3 point line, or punish your wings/guards by relentlessly posting them up.

    • watdoiknow - Jun 13, 2014 at 2:04 PM

      thank you Captain Obvious.

      • spursareold - Jun 13, 2014 at 4:27 PM

        I’ll take that as a complement, coming from a user with a handle wat (sic) do i know.

    • sumkat - Jun 13, 2014 at 7:24 PM

      Is the key to the series, not was

      It’s not over yet

    • rhetoric1 - Jun 13, 2014 at 10:28 PM

      if you’re gonna call him out for ‘wat’, it’s compliment, not complement.

  2. sellahh - Jun 13, 2014 at 12:05 PM

    Wish he played more last year. He even got a DNP back then. What could have been… sigh.

    • hwatt - Jun 13, 2014 at 12:59 PM

      Spurs had that mess in 6 before the refs let the Heat play WWE, and everyone knows it. That’s a forever asterisk championship they have, right up there with Lakers-Kings and that Tuck Rule garbage.

      Now I’m super pissed i need some air

      • zerole00 - Jun 13, 2014 at 1:24 PM

        Look at the bright side, the Spurs aren’t just beating the Heat this time around – they’re absolutely wrecking them with double digit wins. The last two were home games in Miami too…ouch.

      • limonadamas - Jun 13, 2014 at 2:27 PM

        Agree with Zerole… The degree to which the Heat are getting spanked this year will change the way last year’s Finals will be viewed historically. They were literally “the greatest shot in NBA Finals history” away from losing last year too.

      • waynegretsky77 - Jun 14, 2014 at 2:44 AM

        How was it rigged. Spurs had more freethrows the finals and heat set record for least freethrow attempts in a finals series

      • hwatt - Jun 14, 2014 at 4:25 PM

        I’m referring to the end of the game, when it mattered, not the whole thing

  3. phillycannon - Jun 13, 2014 at 12:09 PM

    Diaw has always been a good player(should be no story). He’s excelling in a system that fits is playing style.

    The problem with pro sports is players go to teams for money, but dont do research on the coach’s system . And they wonder why they fail a lot. Mills, Green, Splitter, would be terrible under most coaches in the league, but the San Antonio system fits them perfectly. This is why you dont see the Spurs going after big name players……they cant adapt.

    I blame AAU for not teaching players about fundamentals. You got players in the league that cant even dribble with their off hand…..wtf!!!

    • spursareold - Jun 13, 2014 at 12:42 PM

      The AAU does players no service. They find the best physical specimens and teach them to dominate using their physical gifts. They also fawn all over them and let them do what they want. The problem is that as you progress to higher levels of bball, physical domination works less and less. In the NBA, everyone is an athlete, and if you don’t have a real basketball game to fall back on, you will fail. These kids also come into the league damn near uncoachable. They’ve been told how great they were since they were about 10 years old, and aren’t tryin’ to hear that their game needs major work.

      • phillycannon - Jun 13, 2014 at 1:00 PM

        Agreed! It amazes me that people are scared to understand what you just said! A lot of players in the league would be way better if they go into a system that suits their strengths, not just teaming up with another good player.

        Like i always told people when i coached youth bball, dont tell me what the player cant do, tell me what they can do!!!

    • sumkat - Jun 13, 2014 at 7:29 PM

      If the franchise isn’t retarded, they change their system to fit their players, not the other way around.

      Coaches can be replaced on a whim. Top flight players can’t

      Either way, I blame the NBA more than I do AAU. They did their best to change basketball from a team game, to a game of individuals on a team (like baseball) by changing rules to make things easier on superstars, who they can then market and make money off of. If the league cared about the fundamentals, guys who lacked them wouldn’t get picked high. If that was the case, guys coming in would start working on fundamentals immediately

  4. nycalldayz - Jun 13, 2014 at 12:21 PM

    Is it ridiculous to believe Boris or Kawhi could win Finals MVP? I think Ducan will likely be the favorite, but I wouldn’t rule Diaw or Leonard.

    • kavika6 - Jun 13, 2014 at 1:59 PM

      Parker’s done his job too.

      • kb2408 - Jun 13, 2014 at 2:04 PM

        Maybe this should be the first Finals with multiple MVP’s…Timmy, Parker, Boris and Kawhi??

    • phillycannon - Jun 13, 2014 at 2:37 PM

      If Leonard has at least 18 pts next game……the mvp goes to him. The argument will be the first 2 games where he was nowhere to be found. But co mvp’s w/Duncan wouldnt bother me!

      • sumkat - Jun 13, 2014 at 7:32 PM

        I’d think the co-mvp with Duncan is more likely. They are going to find some way to get Duncan’s name on that award

  5. nycalldayz - Jun 13, 2014 at 12:21 PM

    Is it ridiculous to believe Boris or Kawhi could win Finals MVP? I think Ducan will likely be the favorite, but I wouldn’t rule out Diaw or Leonard.

  6. cruzan80 - Jun 13, 2014 at 12:24 PM

    Another one of my favs before game 3….

    “Already a starting lineup change? Okay. Well good luck with that, SAS.”

    – antistratfordian

    • zerole00 - Jun 13, 2014 at 1:26 PM

      I can’t tell if that guy’s in denial or on suicide watch at this point.

    • kb2408 - Jun 13, 2014 at 2:01 PM

      Ahhh, I remember that little nugget of wisdom from anti well!! Lol….good one, cruzan!!

      • billtetley53 - Jun 13, 2014 at 4:06 PM

        We all remember your nuggets KB.

        Spurs havent won a title since 03. (Yeah you respect them, except when you ripped on Duncan to try to build Kobe up)
        Bill Russell wasnt any good because he didnt score much.
        Jerry West wasnt a good defender.
        Love will get#42 in LA(retired for Worthy)

        I really dont think you should be crowing about anti, hes your mirror on the heat.

        Bobcats will beat the Heat,Brooklyn will shock the world, Pacers will win. Not to mention your game by game mistakes.

        As I told you, even a blind squirrel finds a couple of nuts sometimes, but shouldnt you spit the two you have out pretty soon?

    • savvybynature - Jun 13, 2014 at 2:54 PM

      Also like how he said Spurs were a poor road team, haha!
      They had the most road wins in the league, and one of only 13 teams in history with 30+ road wins in a season.
      Also, said Kawhi was worse than last year, said Wade was better than last year, said Pop is overrated, said Lebron wouldn’t let them lose at home, said Lebron was the best pg AND the best center in the series, said the Spurs had a zero percent chance in game 3, said Lebron was the GOAT, etc., etc.
      I’m actually not sure I’ve ever seen someone be wrong so many times in such a short time span.

      • sumkat - Jun 13, 2014 at 7:23 PM

        “I’m actually not sure I’ve ever seen someone be wrong so many times in such a short time span”

        Someone has been lucky enough to avoid Chris Mortensen, Stephen A Smith, or basically anyone that works for EPSN

  7. kb2408 - Jun 13, 2014 at 12:24 PM

    All I wanna know is where’s jzone?!

    • kb2408 - Jun 13, 2014 at 12:25 PM

      At least anti has shown up like a man.

    • cruzan80 - Jun 13, 2014 at 12:40 PM

      Word! I give Anti respect for at least showing up…as for the rest of those bandwagoners…smh.

    • billtetley53 - Jun 13, 2014 at 3:59 PM

      God, you are a hypocritical piece of💩!
      You vanished from the lakers threads for days, sometimes weeks at a time during this craptastic season. You also disappear when you make the wrong predictions.

      Be honest with me, how many times are you threatened with violence in your life offline?
      If its not at least twice, then you must not get out of the house much.

      I bet you’re that annoying guy at the office that everybody hates, but cant do anything about it because they will be fired. If youre personality is anything like on here, its no wonder the lakers are your life, its all you have.

  8. azarkhan - Jun 13, 2014 at 1:04 PM

    Agree-

    Bryce – Jun 13, 2014 at 11:18 AM
    …Loving how the Spurs are playing right now! Diaw and Leonard should share the Finals MVP provided another victory.

  9. unxpexted1 - Jun 13, 2014 at 1:38 PM

    I wonder what a team like this means for the international game, and possibly international coaches. The starting line up is 3/5 foreign. This is more or less the type of game played over seas: ball movement, motion, skilled bigs. This could mark a different type of change in the NBA. It’s really beautiful basketball to watch and should be easily duplicated since this is the way the game is supposed to be played. Shame most coaches differ to iso’s

    • spursareold - Jun 13, 2014 at 4:35 PM

      Like JVG said, most teams can NEVER play this way, because American players aren’t wired to share. They’re programmed from birth, by ESPN, to grab the spotlight.

  10. kb2408 - Jun 13, 2014 at 1:59 PM

    Boris is a highly skilled player. He is also playing in a system that fits him perfectly.

  11. imthedudedude - Jun 13, 2014 at 6:00 PM

    Suns made him who he is.. You’re welcome San Antonio

  12. sumkat - Jun 13, 2014 at 7:05 PM

    Amazing the difference you can see in a guy when he’s surrounded by more talented players, and is willing to fully accept a specific role

  13. sumkat - Jun 13, 2014 at 7:06 PM

    Oh, I also give Diaw some points for being the only black man I’ve ever seen name Boris

  14. pistolpete0903 - Jun 15, 2014 at 12:14 AM

    If the Spurs win (and it is still an if; as they say it ain’t over till it’s over), the committee will have a tough time deciding the MVP.
    Has there ever been a case of multiple players sharing MVP? Through the first 4 games, it should be a split between Diaw and Kawhi

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