The Big Fundamental meets Boris the Big Easy
AT&T CENTER–The possession begins simply enough, with a high screen presented to point guard Tony Parker by longtime friend and new NBA teammate Boris Diaw.
Determined not to allow Parker into the lane with impunity, the Los Angeles Clippers hedge and trap off the screen to force a Parker retreat, all the while playing into the Spurs hands. Occupying two defenders some 25 feet away from the basket, Parker fires a quick pass to Diaw, putting the ball into the hands of one the game’s greatest passing big men with a 4-on-3 numbers advantage.
Diaw recieves the ball on the wing, taking one dribble towards the middle–just enough to draw the rotating defense’s attention–before dumping a pass off to a cutting Tim Duncan for an easy flip shot. It’s a play that seems unassumingly easy, until you see the Los Angeles Clippers miserably fail an attempt between Blake Griffin and Kenyon Martin near the end of the first quarter.
But then, Boris Diaw has always had a knack for making the game look simpler than it really is.
“Basketball came easy to him, he was a natural,” Parker replied when asked of his first impression of Diaw back in their high school days in France. “He sees everything in advance, that’s why he’s such a great passer. I knew he was going to be a great player.”
The San Antonio Spurs are making child’s play of the Western Conference Playoffs. Through the first two rounds it’s as if they, compared to the rest of the NBA, are playing two completely different sports while sharing the same court.
Chess to checkers.
It’s an appropriate analogy because two-time Coach of the Year Gregg Popovich knows how to maneuver his pawns on the board better than anyone else.
These Spurs boast an almost unprecedentedly deep offensive arsenal at their disposal, and it’s become obvious that the Clipper are attempting to stymie it by taking out it’s primary deployment system, Tony Parker. Facing a physical, swarming, and aggressive resistance at the point of attack, Parker has done a masterful job of getting rid of the ball quickly and into the proper spots.
More often than not that has been in the hands of his fellow countryman.
“They tried to take me out of Game 1 so I had to be patient and get my teammates involved. In the first half they did the same thing, staying on the pick and roll and trapping me,” Parker said. “I thought Boris did a great job of being the point guard. When they trap me I give it to Boris and Boris finds the shooters or he finds Timmy.
“If they use the same strategy I have confidence in Boris making the right decision.”
If the Spurs are boring it’s because they have made the game so simple it looks like anyone can do it. No superhuman feats needed, just an extra pass to an open shooter. Over the course of his career, few have been as willing or capable of doing so as Diaw.
“He is unselfish, he understands what we want to do,” Duncan said after the game. “Defensively he is solid. He can pass the ball better than any of the big men I have ever played with. He shoots the ball. You put all those things together and he is just a great addition to our squad.”
It’s that passing and understanding of the game that has eased so much of the burden on Duncan. The Spurs have plugged in a number of big men next to him since David Robinson’s retirement, none with the all-around game of Diaw.
Diaw has only been here for weeks, yet he and Duncan share the front court with a comfort level of a duo that has played together for 10 years, moving in tandem on both sides of the court. If it’s not pulling down a playoff career best 12 rebounds one night, it’s scoring 16 points on 7-7 shooting (with two three-pointers) the next. All accomplished while frustrating one of the premiere scoring forwards in the league.
“He’s done a very good job for us, fit in pretty seamlessly coming that late into the season,” Popovich said. “But it’s basketball, it’s not complicated.”
And it isn’t, even if similar transitions haven’t gone so smoothly so quickly. The San Antonio Spurs have long been considered to run one of the most complicated systems in the NBA. One that has seen several players struggle in their first year only to make profound leaps and bounds the next.
Diaw does not leap, he just plugs along at his own pace.
“It’s pretty easy with this team,” Diaw responded when asked how he integrated so quickly. “Because the way they play, they play smart basketball. It’s easy to recognize and see what to do, where to feed the ball, I’m just trying to be an addition. It’s a pretty easy role.”
After all, it’s basketball. It’s not complicated. Just ask Boris Diaw.