Is it time for Boris Diaw to start?

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When the playoffs began, nobody wanted to show off more than Boris Diaw. The man whose nonchalance shines through like no other—he’s been known to show up a couple minutes late for pregame shootaround with a shrug of the shoulders and a it’s okay, I’m French expression—was dressed to impress. Literally.

Once the postseason began, Diaw’s outfits changed from casual getups to a man wearing well-tailored suits with matching ties, pocket squares and shoes. He knows what time it is and how many more cameras are present in the locker room with each passing day.

On Tuesday night, Mr. Nonchalance seemed like one of the few Spurs unbothered with the presence of Serge Ibaka, yet he played with a fury rarely seen. Go figure. Bobo scored 14 points on 5-for-11 shooting and pulled down 10 rebounds in the Game 4 loss, although the bulk of that (nine points) came during the Cube Steak Run in the third quarter.

Diaw posted up on Ibaka, spinning and bumping and putting his shoulder into the OKC big man. Spotting up from the 3-point line, Diaw hit 2-of-6 long range attempts, although one shot was an ambitious dribble-step-back that should’ve counted for eight points had he converted it.

And with that, it might be time for Boris Diaw to start in place of Tiago Splitter. Since the return of Ibaka to Oklahoma City’s lineup, the Spurs starting unit has fallen off a cliff. The San Antonio starters’ offensive rating has plummeted to 93.8 in Games 3 and 4, while their defensive efficiency has jumped to 126.1 points per 100 possessions.

The Spurs are having trouble sustaining any offensive flow with Ibaka back and it’s hurting San Antonio’s defense. Gregg Popovich’s traditional wildcard, one he often plays in times of crisis in order to rescue the Spurs’ playoff hopes, is starting Manu Ginobili. This adjustment, however, is usually made when Tony Parker is having trouble getting space and separation on the ball. Popovich will slide Ginobili into the starting unit to move Parker off the ball and run TP through a ton of screens to get open. Parker is still playing reasonably well with Ibaka back in the lineup and, more importantly, Danny Green hasn’t disappeared.

Green’s shots come within the flow of the offense, making him a good barometer of how San Antonio’s system is running. Icy Hot’s 11 points on 3-for-10 shooting in Games 3 and 4 isn’t ideal, but it’s not terrible. Meanwhile, Green’s defense has been good, especially in transition. He has forced several misses in one-on-one and two-on-two fast break situations, saving many a basket for San Antonio. Because Green is playing respectable, the need to insert Ginobili into the starting unit isn’t there.

No, the adjustment here is Diaw for Splitter. The Brazilian scored just three points and pulled down a single, solitary rebound in Game 4. He had eight rebounds in Game 3, but still just four points. Like Green, his shots come within the flow of the offense, but he doesn’t add a unique dimension to it. When he gets the ball in traffic off of a pick-and-roll or offensive rebound, Splitter’s only move is to pump-fake his way into a halfway-decent shot, but Ibaka hasn’t been biting and Splitter hasn’t created enough contact to go to the free throw line.

He can’t knock down a jumpshot, so there’s no real reason for OKC’s bigs to guard him past 10 feet except to help on pick-and-rolls, but then the Thunder’s length and athleticism has been so bothersome with the safety net of Ibaka behind them that San Antonio hasn’t gotten much out of those sets.

When convinced to do so (and therein may lie the problem), Boris Diaw can stretch the floor with his 3-point shooting. The Spurs need something to open up their offense and create driving and passing lanes for Parker, Ginobili and Kawhi Leonard. Diaw’s catch-and-shoot ability coupled with a knack for taking players off the dribble and creating inside is enough to pull an opposing big—be it Ibaka or Kendrick Perkins—away from the basket. In the lane he’s got his ass-cheeks-and-up-fakes post game and a decent fadeaway jumper that creates a lot more separation than Splitter can. Defensively, Diaw is respectable and, while he’s not the rim protector that Splitter is, his size and mobile feet make him a tougher foil than his body type lets on.

Serge Ibaka’s return to Oklahoma City’s lineup swallowed up the space and flow of San Antonio’s offense. The drive-and-kick lanes turned into traffic jams and the Thunder parked San Antonio’s ability to score in the paint. Scott Brooks made his adjustments when the series shifted to OKC and two games later the ball is in Gregg Popovich’s court.

There are no easy answers with just four teams left playing, but the only wrong one is to keep doing what’s not working. The Spurs starting lineup is stuck with Ibaka back in the series and Pop has to do something to jiggle them loose.

  • Jimbo

    I worry about the offensive glass if Diaw is starting, especially with Perkins, Westbrook, and Ibaka all on the floor. But yeah, it seems to me that it’s worth the gamble, since as you say Splitter isn’t bringing much right now.

    Per ESPN, OKC outscored the Spurs 22-0 in transition in the first half. If true, that’s crazy. Even if OKC runs off a miss rather than a TO, Westbrook is so explosive it barely seems to matter.

  • Tyler

    Agree 100%. I’d love to see what kind of ball movement SA can generate when aggressive, not-going-defer-to-anyone Boris Diaw plays. When Boris is scoring that’s usually a good sign for the team as a whole.

    Even if it means taking a half dozen 3′s, if he’s open, he has to take them.

  • Mike Smith

    The series is over.

  • Southern_Dandy

    The series is over. It ended the second Ibaka stepped back onto the court. Wondering about whether or not Diaw should start is just silly. The question we should be asking is what team do they put on the floor next season? This team, as presently constituted, cannot win a championship. They got lucky last year when Westbrook got hurt, and even then couldn’t capitalize. They need to make a a major personnel change. Whether its adding a major piece this off season somehow or jettisoning players to position themselves to acquire that piece somewhere down the line, its time to face facts. And the fact is, the player that is going to lead the Spurs to their next championship is not on the roster right now. As much this run and as much as I appreciate everything Tim/Tony/Manu have done, its over.

  • ewhite06

    Is it too much to hope that Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka will be tired going into Game 5? They played 41, 45 and 35 minutes respectively and at full speed the whole time. Why would Brooks leave them out there for soooo long when Pop had already thrown in the towel? I hope it bites him in the ass.

    But I agree Splitter is neutralized now that Ibaka is back. He was great when he could play over the smaller OKC defenders. BoBo would force Ibaka to slide out a bit and free up some drives. Assuming he makes those outside shots….

    And why are we so afraid of Ibaka now? If it was another center we would still go right at them and force a few whistles. That would soften things up a bit. Everyone seemed scared to go inside…

  • Southern_Dandy

    Because Ibaka isn’t any other center. He’s the best defensive player in the league. Just like QBs avoid throwing at certain CBs, offensive players avoid Ibaka.

  • jerry west

    They need diaw to start and hit his open threes amd let bonner play more. Ibaka over helps from the weakside even if his man is in the corner three.

    An effective stretch 4 is the best answer for the ibaka effect (which miami had in battier and bosh which is why they will most likely threepeat if and when okc wins)

    Oyeah – scott brooks made no adjustment whatsoever

  • lvmainman

    No. It’s time to start Bonner. Let Diaw come off the bench to help provide offense to the 2nd unit. Every Ginobili 3, came from a Diaw pass in game 3. Diaw is 2 for 9 from 3 in the games with Ibaka. Diaw only shoots the 3, 1 out of 3 times that he’s open.
    Bonner is 2 for4. Bonner had a 7 for 7 from 3pt range game against the Thunder. Bonner is the key, but Pop is too blind and stubborn to see it.

  • SpursHomer

    This article took me completely by surprise. I thought until garbage time Boris was terrible last night. He was missing WIDE OPEN shots to the point that he stopped shooting when he was wide open.

    The points you made are valid though. I saw several times where Splitter caught the ball at the elbow and no one even cared to pretend to guard him there. I’m not sure Splittler wouldn’t be better served to come off the bench in this series. Seems like you can kill two birds with one stone: make OKC pay for their over aggressive defense and to pull Ibaka away from the rim ….. just give more minutes for Matt Bonner.

  • Jordan Hedge

    I like the idea of starting Diaw and bringing Splitter off the bench to go against guys not named Ibaka and play with Manu. Also, some minutes for Bonner to stretch the floor couldn’t hurt. But really, the Spurs just need guys to step up. Leonard has been disappointing since Game 1, and I’m a huge fan. He’s not making shots he normally does, and he’s having little impact defensively or rebounding. I hope the home crowd energizes the team.

  • Graham

    Attacking Ibaka in the post is the best way to get him into Foul Trouble. Diaw’s the only one that can do that, since Ibaka won’t guard Tim.

    Though I do wonder if maybe going small-ish is the way to go here. Does Ibaka have enough of a post game to beat someone like Marco or Manu in the block? On the other end, either the Thunder have to go small and hope he can avoid foul trouble against Tim or live with him having to guard Leonard on the perimeter.

  • Tyler

    Watch out, the sky is falling!

  • Martin

    I love how spoiled we are, we go from “what should I wear for the Parade” to “damn it, it’s over, let’s blow up the roster, trade TP for the second pick in the draft and see what we can do”. Last time we thought that George Hill was TP 2.0…look at him in Indiana, he is a good defender but nothing else…

  • Dwight David

    Splitter needs to sit. I’m not trying to take a shot at the guy, but Playoff basketball is all about matchups, and OKC’s lineup (w/ Serge) should make it impossible for Splitter to get significant minutes. I would have thought that the 4 games we lost to OKC in the regular season and the drubbing we got in game 3 would have made this point clear to Pop, but apparently he needed to see it one more time last night. Hopefully he finally gets the picture. Its important to realize that the problem here isn’t simply that Tiago v. Serge is a bad matchup for is. It isnt simply that Ibaka neutralizes Splitter’s offense. Its that Splitter’s limited offensive repertoire basically allows Ibaka to roam the paint at will, disrupting drives, challenging shots, etc. Serge is obviously a great defensive player, but

    I’m not entirely sure that Diaw is the right answer. I have real questions about his stamina, rebounding and defense. I think the better choice is to simply go small, and force OKC to change their line up. Consider a line up of Parker, Green, Leonard, Ginobli, and Duncan (this is the line up we went to in games 5-7 of the Finals last year). That gives us 4 legit outside shooters, and two guys who can penetrate. Here’s a tip: If we deploy this line up, we should run the offense through the guy that isn’t being guarded by Westbrook…)

    Perkins has no one to guard in that line up, so they sit him and most likely go with Lamb or Butler. Yes, that puts another athletic offensive player on the floor for OKC, but I hardly think that matters. We have to perform better offensively, and getting Perk out of the game helps us in that department. With this lineup, Ibaka is guarding Duncan. Obviously, that ‘s a tough assignment for Tim, but I think he can hold his own in 1v1 post up situations (especially if he makes liberal use of the pump fake to draw fouls). The more important aspect of that matchup is that Tim should be able to pull Ibaka away from the paint with the threat of his jumper. That should open things up for Parker and Manu in the lane, especially if there is no secondary rim protector to cover for Serge.

    Of course, there are tradeoffs here. The 2nd unit will suffer without Manu, and I wonder about Manu’s fitness if he has to go 30+ minutes in games 5 and 6, but its the playoffs, so its time to man up.

    Other changes: More minutes for Bonner. Clearly he’s a defensive liability, but getting someone on the floor who can stretch OKC with shooting will be helpful. I like Baynes’ hustle, but he really doesn’t accomplish much on either end of the floor. Give his minutes to Bonner and at least give OKC something to worry about .

    CoJo was a revelation in garbage time. Always great to see a guy who plays with no fear. He picked up a lot of fouls in a pretty short run, so that could be problematic. But I’ll take his intensity and defense over Mills at this point.

  • Big Fundenmental

    Not a bad idea. Lets take care of the ball first and foremost. Also Splitter and Manu can run their pick and roll and hopefullyTiago attacks the basket with confidence.
    Protect home court and we should be okay.

  • brunostrange

    Perhaps we’ve grown spoiled, and though I’m not ready to throw in the towel yet, if SA goes on to lose the series, the only answer is to retool the team, no? Because obviously this team, as presently constituted, will have shown us that it reaches its ceiling whenever it has to face OKC.

  • Splitter needs to play big

    that 7 for 7 was amazing but also 4 years ago… arguably that was the best game of his career. also, compared to the other post players, Bonner brings nothing to the table in terms of defense

  • John T.

    Well since the Spurs can’t simply forfeit the remaining 2-3 games left in this series we might as well discuss realistic options. I can understand the frustration from watching the last two games, but the Spurs still have a measure of control in how this series and their season ends so can we table ideas for next season until this one if officially over.

  • splitter needs to play bigger

    Good pointers, we need Splitter to play with the intensity and fearlessness that CoJo had last night. He’s a foot shorter than Splitter but that didn’t stop him from attacking the rim and throwing it down over Ibaka. Splitter has the size, but doesn’t have enough confidence to be successful against Perkins and Ibaka

  • John T.

    I don’t think you take into account all the things beyond any one team’s control that has to happen in order for it to win a championship. I don’t believe in luck, but I will say the probability has to be in that team’s favor. The Spurs got that in the second round when they drew Portland over Houston. But, Memphis couldn’t quite pull off the upset and the Clippers fell short so now the Spurs are faced with a tough match-up.

    All I can say is every team in the league has bad match-ups, and it would be unreasonable to blow up a team because two teams out of 29 are tough to beat. Spurs could devote their energy and resources to beating the Thunder only to have the Warriors become the new problem. All you can do is roll out with the best team you can, the best system, and maximize abilities. The Spurs do that on all three counts so all that remains is just probability.

    Besides we already know the expiration date on this team and that is July of 2015. There is no point in discussing what the team will do because they already have cemented a plan.

  • junierizzle

    Whatever happened to attacking the big man and try to get him in foul trouble? Our guys are walking on eggshells, not attacking. Like Shaq said you have go into their body. Of course Ibaka is going to block cream puffs. TP and Leonard are young and talented enough to go at Ibaka. It’s a shame we have to get old. 27 year old Manu would be going right at Ibaka. Man, even Cojo and The Red Mamba challenged the bigs for crying out loud!

  • Cardinal8

    That is not correct. The transition points for the whole game was 21-0. Which is still terrible.

  • tu-grad

    I think the referees have become enamored with the story line of Ibaka coming back (reason for losing game 3 – Spurs had 7 foul shots verses 30+ for the Thunder with about 4 minutes to go in the game – the refs called some fluff fouls at the end of the game to give the Spurs another 9 foul shots) and the 2012 playoff story line (reason for losing game 4 – Spurs took their first foul shot 18+ minutes into the game)… As a fan, it’s just annoying that we have to deal with this every year once the playoffs come around.
    The NBA will rake in a lot more money if the series goes to 6 or 7 games verses having the Spurs winning this series in 4. The Thunder are a highly aggressive team and they’ve been hacking the crap out of the Spurs. It’s a shame that the league prefers to promote these story lines verses just keeping the game straight and having the refs call the games correctly. Game 3 and 4 stats regarding fouls is crazy with the Thunder basically taking twice as many foul shots as the Spurs… anyone watching the game knows the Thunder are rarely in control and are much more physical than the Spurs. The Thunder are pure aggression and the Spurs are poised and precise… it makes very little sense and really detracts from the purity of the game.
    NBA just wants to promote super-stars and they haven’t figured out teamwork is a much better message to promote – it’s a shame and eventually lead to a lot of fans becoming bored.
    At this point, the Spurs just need to bring in some more nasty on the offensive side and force the refs to make the call. Get more into the body of the Thunder big men and make the refs call the fouls. Force the call to be painfully obvious. Westbrook, aka the Tasmanian Devil, and Ibaka start racking up fouls earlier in the game, the Thunder will be forced to play from their bench more and they don’t have too much talent sitting on the sidelines. Get some attitude Spurs! You guys are the better team and deserve another shot at the title!

  • Riotsmoke

    Up voting fail…. :(

  • Riotsmoke

    Apparently Corey Joseph didn’t get the memo….

  • xfg

    it’s not like Splitter is getting many rebounds in these 2 games

  • xfg

    by over, you mean Spurs are going to win it.

  • xfg

    If u think about it, Joseph had nothing to lose.
    From a game’s point of view, it’s already lost. Even if it’s just one more block.
    From a player’s point of view, he’s a bench warmer. Being blocked by Ibaka can’t really deflate his ego much.

  • fkj74

    OH ye of little faith. This team is good.Better than the 2012 team. it will show. Spurs in 6. Diaw should start,more Bonner, and Leonard on Westbrook. Go Spurs!

  • junierizzle

    I prefer Bonner on Durant over Marco on Durant that’s for sure. He gets a bad rap but he really does hustle on defense. Plus he spreads the floor better than any other shooter.

  • Veritas Vincit

    will westbrook be permitted an extra several feet in court boundary to execute his tenacious Defense? How about grabbing players arms for steals…is that game? Oh, the spurs were pretty rotten, but they were down 2 points in the second quarter before a lot of silly westbrook heroics occurred…I blame the stinkiness of the spurs over the stinkiness of the officials, but I’m just saying, it’s a factor; it’s always a factor.

  • Dapimp Ofdayear

    Southern_Dandy are you sure you aren’t an undercover troll from DT or Loud City?

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  • Mike Smith

    I was wrong and am man enough to admit that.