Is it time for Boris Diaw to start?
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.