Is Boris Diaw Biggest Reason San Antonio Spurs Are Smelling 2014 NBA Title?

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Is Boris Diaw Biggest Reason San Antonio Spurs Are Smelling 2014 NBA Title?
USA TODAY Sports

In the case of Boris Diaw's 2014 NBA Finals MVP bid, numbers are absolutely lying.

His per-game averages in the series peg him as an extreme long shot: 8.5 rebounds, 6.5 points and 5.8 assists. His 38.5 field-goal percentage, the team's worst, slots him well outside the actual race.

Yet, it's hard to think of anyone who's had a bigger impact on the series than the versatile, or as Rolling Stone's Jeff Allen put it, "slightly rotund" forward:

A part-time player during the regular season (24 starts in 79 games, 25 minutes a night), Diaw made his first postseason start for the San Antonio Spurs in Game 3. The move came after the Spurs had split their first two contests with the Miami Heat on their home floor, San Antonio's lone win being publicly tainted by the AT&T Center's faulty air-conditioning unit.

The Spurs headed to South Beach in need of a lift. They found instant gratification upon their arrival.

The Spurs sprinted out of the gate hitting 19 of their first 21 shots in Game 3. Diaw, comfortable at shooting, driving or dishing, helped spread Miami's defense thin, and San Antonio's offensive machine sliced it like deli meat.

By the end of the second quarter, San Antonio had established a new NBA Finals standard for offensive efficiency:

The Spurs haven't slowed down since.

Over their last two games, both double-digit victories on the road, they've poured in a ridiculous 128.9 points per 100 possessions, via NBA.com. To put that number into perspective, the Los Angeles Clippers paced the league with a 109.4 offensive rating during the regular season.

Diaw, as all Spurs are wont to do, has shared the spotlight in these offensive barrages.

Kawhi Leonard has 49 points on 25 shots over the last two games. Patty Mills pumped in 14 points over 16 minutes during San Antonio's 107-86 win Thursday night. Danny Green scored 15 points on 7-of-8 shooting in Game 3.

The Spurs are hitting from all angles—and Diaw has played a major role in finding or creating those angles. As Heat center Chris Bosh told reporters following Game 4, Miami's defense has been at the mercy of the crafty big man:

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.

Or he's using the eyes in the back of his head to stop a cutting teammate under the basket.

He's a walking mismatch, too quick for bigger defenders and too strong for smaller ones.

The Spurs put defenses into pick-your-poison scenarios. Coach Gregg Popovich floods the floor with playmakers, slashers, shooters and post scorers, all of whom are ready and willing passers.

Miami has tried to find San Antonio's weakness. The Heat have hedged to stop dribble penetration, raced out to force shooters off the three-point line and tried to plug all possible passing lanes.

When it comes to defending Diaw, though, it's tough figuring out what to take away. He's a weapon in his own right, but one whose primary concern is to increase the effectiveness of those around him.

"On a team where [Tim] Duncan, [Tony] Parker and [Manu] Ginobili get the headlines, how does Diaw stir the Spurs' drink?" Rolling Stone's Jeff Allen wrote. "By passing the ball...Despite his tendency to rumble around the court – terrifying and wide – Diaw has elite court vision and a delicate passing ability."

There isn't a pass that gives Diaw a problem.

He can dump it down to Duncan or Tiago Splitter from the high post.

He can hit his fellow big from the opposite block.

He'll even work the drive-and-kick game that has helped Parker climb the elite point guard ranks.

Oh, and Diaw doesn't give the basketball away, either:

If anything stands out more than his passing, it just might be his intelligence.

The Spurs are easily one of the smartest teams in the league. It has taken more than talent and luck to rattle off 15 consecutive 50-win seasons.

Still, coach Gregg Popovich told reporters his team's IQ rises whenever Diaw hits the floor:

Boris pretty much does the same thing every night as far as helping us be a smarter team, at both ends of the floor. 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.

It's hard to quantify intelligence, but Diaw's impact is widely apparent in the numbers that are available.

With Diaw on the floor, the Spurs are outscoring the Heat by a staggering 24.5 points per 100 possessions, via NBA.com. In the 54 minutes he's sat, the Spurs have been outscored by 4.7 points per 100 possessions. Only Ginobili has a wider net-point differential (42.7) than Diaw (29.2).

Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

The Spurs are taking full advantage of Diaw's many gifts, ones which came dangerously close to being wasted when the Frenchman was waived by the seven-win Charlotte Bobcats in 2011-12.

Diaw's strengths are built for certain systems. His unselfishness can't help a team that lacks scoring options. His versatility requires the care of a creative coaching mind.

He's found everything he needed in San Antonio, as he explained, via NBA.com's Sekou Smith:

Every coach is different, everybody has a different philosophy. I’ve had a lot of teams and a lot of coaches in my career. So it’s definitely gratifying when you get a coach like Pop recognizing a little bit of the background and the way we play in Europe, the way we share the ball and not so much the one-on-one basketball. It’s just a lot of fun to play on this team.

In turn, the Spurs have found an unbelievable asset to aid in the franchise's march to a fifth NBA title.

"I just think the Bobcats were not the right fit for him because he's the ultimate team player and needs a system," Parker told reporters after Game 4. "He's a perfect fit for us."

And a nightmare for the two-time defending champs. And, assuming the Spurs don't become the first Finalist to blow a 3-1 series lead, a serious threat to claim one of the game's most coveted awards:

The Spurs' greatness lies in their collective strength. They might not be standing without Diaw's versatility, but the same could be said of Leonard's two-way play, Green's three-point shooting, Parker's playmaking, Duncan's interior domination and Ginobili's offensive outbursts.

San Antonio finds its greatest power in its numbers, but that often masks how strong the individual weapons are.

Diaw is just a part of San Antonio's championship blueprint, but he's far closer to being a centerpiece of that design than his numbers would suggest. Not that any number other than four matters to him right now. He is a Spur, after all.

That pursuit of a shared goal, made possible by the incredible talent on this roster, is the biggest reason this championship quest is so close to completion.

 

Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.

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