MIAMI — We’re four games into the 2014 NBA Finals and the most consistent player on the floor hasn’t even broken double figures yet.
His name is Boris Diaw, and the tremendous impact he has had on this series is still reverberating around South Beach and the rest of America as the San Antonio Spurs followed their 19-point Game 3 victory with an equally impressive 107-86 victory in Game 4 over the Miami Heat, who have been forced to the brink of elimination by the most efficient offensive team in the NBA.
The Heat finally had their streak-de-resilience snapped, as they lost back-to-back games in the postseason for the first time since 2012 against the Boston Celtics. As a result, the Spurs will head home with as commanding of a 3-1 lead as they possibly could have imagined after arriving in Miami tied at 1-apiece.
“We hoped to win two, obviously, but we were happy to win one,” said Tim Duncan (10 points, 11 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, 1 block). “Then came the second game we didn’t want to rest and say, hey, we’ve got one and let’s just rest on that. We came in here tonight and had great focus, put a great game together, and came out with two.”
But back to the revelation that is Diaw, who started his second game in a row Thursday and is averaging 6.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 5.8 assists during the NBA Finals while posting an absurd, series-high plus-60 when he is on the court.
How incredibly effective was his performance?
“What were his numbers?” Heat foward Chris Bosh replied when I asked him about the task of guarding Diaw.
“Eight points, nine rebounds and nine assists,” I replied.
“It’s his assists, he’s just making plays,” Bosh snapped back.
He paused for a second.
“Goddamn nine assists,” said Bosh as he shook his head in disapproval.
“He’s always been a good player since he’s been in this league and especially in this system he knows where guys are,” Bosh continued. “Just his passing ability. Guys keep moving and they know they’re gonna get it.
“It’s breaking our backs.”
Bosh is absolutely correct.
However, I would add one caveat to his observation: It is not solely the assists that are causing trouble for the Heat, but rather the threat of an extra playmaker on the floor that is devastating the normally potent “Run-them-off-the-3-point line” strategy that Miami has deployed with incredible success over the past four seasons.
“Man, they move the ball extremely well,” said LeBron James (28 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists). “They put you in positions that no other team in this league does, and it’s tough because you have to cover the ball first, but also those guys on the weak side can do multiple things. They can shoot the ball from outside, they can also penetrate. So our defense is geared towards running guys off the 3‑point line, but at the same time those guys are getting full steam ahead and getting to the rim, too.
“The challenge is, as well, with them implementing Diaw into the lineup has given them another point guard on the floor,” continued James. “So Manu [Ginobili], Tony [Parker], and Diaw and Patty Mills on the floor, they’ve got four point guards basically on the floor at once. So all of them are live and they all can make plays and it’s a challenge for us all.”
If you dig even further, Diaw has done an excellent job of setting big screens on the offensive end, coming up with timely rebounds and rotating and being extremely active with his arms and hands at the defensive end.
“He’s been amazing, especially this series,” said Duncan. “I think he’s really found his rhythm. He’s always been effective with what he’s done using his body, using his ability to pass and his ability to attack the basket and smaller players, and it’s really showing in this series. He’s been the key for us early, catching and driving, making the right plays, finding open people. He’s really changed the game for us, along with rebounding, defending as well as he has.
“He hasn’t really even scored that much, but he’s found a way to be really effective getting in the paint and finding people and making plays for us.”
Need proof? Take a look at some of the plays Diaw made on both sides of the ball during a six-minute stretch in the second quarter beginning at the 10:55 mark:
– Doubled in post, swings to top of key, ball keeps moving, Danny Green hits 3-pointer from left corner.
– Pick and pop (missed 3-pointer, but wide open).
– Dunk after cutting through paint and receiving pass from Tiago Splitter.
– Behind the back to Splitter for easy dunk (see below).
– Screen at top of key allowing Parker to drive right and get all the way to the rim.
– Rebound off Duncan missed hook, kicked ball out to Ginobili for wide open 3-pointer.
– Picked up Ray Allen in transition, forced drive, LeBron James forced pass inside and threw it out of bounds.
Diaw continued to impact the game from all angles as Miami turned up its intensity and began to close the gap behind 10 points from James in the first four minutes of the third quarter.
“I always try to read on the floor who is going to be open,” explained Diaw. “We all try to make good passes. Everybody on our team is reading, including me, but we don’t want to go for the home run pass. We try to make the right pass, and sometimes the easy pass is the right pass.”
No ‘right’ pass was more important than the play following a San Antonio timeout, the result of Miami having cut the 19-point halftime deficit down to 61-48 at the 7:56 mark.
Diaw entered the ball to Duncan on the right block and Duncan finished the play.
“We had a chance,” said Bosh. “We cut it to 13 and then they went right back up again. They were wise with using timeouts quickly. After that timeout – after every timeout – I think they scored and that just took the wind out of us a little bit. We came down, missed a few shots, and they pushed it right back up to 20.”
Bosh’s assessment highlights the underlying theme of this series: The Spurs have stayed true to their identity to race out to hot starts and maintain their consistency (106 ppg) while Miami has struggled to score (92.8 ppg) and has been searching for defensive remedies to combat the Spurs’ high- octane ball movement.
“That’s what they do,” said Bosh. “They make the right pass. They’re a very unselfish team and that’s why they’re one of the top offenses in the league. They’re playing beautiful basketball right now. We’re going to have to have a better mindset to diffuse all of that.”
Game 5 is Sunday at the AT&T Center, and if Miami wants to play another game at the AAA on Biscayne Boulevard, it will have to figure out how to limit the all-around effectiveness of Diaw and the Spurs.
“I’m very proud of him,” said Parker, who had 19 points. “He’s playing great basketball. I’ve known him for so long that it’s almost like a dream right now just playing with him for the NBA championship.
“He’s a perfect fit for us.”
Jeremy Bauman is a shooting coach and aspiring front office professional who writes columns for SheridanHoops.com. At night time he can be found at STATS LLC / SportVU, the NBA’s emerging game-tracking software, as an Overnight Data Analyst. Follow him on Twitter @JB_For_3_.