Boris Diaw’s defence of LeBron James in Game 5 of the NBA Finals made him a trending topic last night, but just last season he was sent packing by the worst team in NBA history.
Diaw opened last year with the Charlotte Bobcats before being cut midway through the season. He joined the Spurs one day later and became an important rotation player and even started all 14 of San Antonio’s playoff games while the Bobcats finished 7-59, their .106 winning percentage, a record low.
Diaw’s 27 minutes of fame came in what may be the most heralded one-point game in NBA Finals history.
James shot 1-8 with Diaw on him in an effort reminiscent of Tyronn Lue’s 2001 Finals defence of Allen Iverson that ended before things got ugly; commentators were praising Lue like the second coming of Bill Russell until this happened:
Luckily for Diaw, LeBron doesn’t quite possess the quickness Iverson had.
The Playoffs have a small sample size, and in such scenarios odds and normalcy can be trumped by the absurd (Diaw stopping LeBron). While Diaw’s singular defensive success can be written off as an anomaly, his place on the team is anything but. He is one of several Spurs support players who fit their job description perfectly.
Diaw, like every role player, relies on stars to be impactful. His defence brought attention last night, but it’s his high overall basketball IQ that kept him in the league 10 years. Diaw is a classic point forward, a term for player with the body for the post and the mind for the perimeter.
Diaw had his best season playing in Mike D’Antoni’s Euro-style Phoenix Suns in 2006 and it’s no coincidence he counted Steve Nash and Shawn Marion as his teammates. Diaw’s game is predicated on making the right pass, smart positioning and taking the open shot when it’s there. Like most NBA players, he is capable of averaging 15 points per game, like he did in 2009, but he is better when he averages eight.
Last night Diaw became the latest castoff to shine for the Spurs in the Finals. Potential Finals MVP Danny Green had to beg to stay on the team in 2010 and Gary Neal was playing in Europe three years ago.
Sport is full of examples of teams succeeding with other teams’ castoffs, but the vitriol thrown at the “foolish” GMs that let players go is often misguided. It’s easy to play your best when surrounded by Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.
If the Spurs can win one of their next two games in Miami they will be NBA champions for the fourth time under their Big Three era. The supporting cast will reap great praise, but there is a reason some guys become franchise staples and others come and go.
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