Column by Buck Harvey
We were talking the other day in Salt Lake City, passing time as this 26-0 winning streak to the championship was just beginning, and Gregg Popovich hesitated.
When was the last time a healthy, in-his-prime talent such as Boris Diaw had ever fallen from the sky?
The best Popovich could do was the 2005 trade for Nazr Mohammed. Which isn’t close. Mohammed cost the Spurs something and, besides, Diaw isn’t Mohammed.
Diaw is clever, skilled and golden. He’s helped make Tim Duncan younger, and he’s made Tony Parker happier.
He’s also made the Spurs exactly what Al “I don’t see nobody beating ’em” Jefferson said they were.
Diaw won’t be the story of Game 2. Chris Paul’s career high in turnovers ranks larger, as does the curious case of Timothy Button. Duncan seemingly gets younger as each week of the season passes, and now he’s back around 1999 heading toward his rookie year.
His 14 points at halftime allowed the Spurs to keep the lead. And everyone who wonders exactly how much Blake Griffin is bothered by his left knee should take a look at Duncan’s. Think that huge brace is strapped on for fun?
“For whatever reason,” Duncan said afterward, he feels better than he has in years.
Here’s a reason: Diaw. Duncan has played with a lot of big men over the years. And while David Robinson was more dominant than Diaw, and while Duncan won with others such as Mohammed and Fab Oberto, he’s never had anyone with the versatility of Diaw.
In Game 1, he set a personal postseason best for rebounds, and Thursday outlined the rest. Diaw ended the third quarter with a smooth scoop layup, then started the fourth with a slick pass to Tiago Splitter.
Just to show the full package: He threw in his second three of the game.
In doing so, he scored more points than he has since January. Then, Diaw was with a franchise (Charlotte) that couldn’t win. Now he’s with one that can’t lose.
Popovich said afterward Diaw hadn’t exceeded expectations, because Diaw “is pretty well known for what he does. He’s done it for other teams, and now he’s doing it for us. He’s fit in pretty seamlessly. It’s basketball, it’s not that complicated.”
Truth is, it’s not complicated for him. Diaw knows how to play, and it’s a gift. That’s why, in the days before the postseason began, Popovich didn’t hesitate to start someone who had started only seven games in his Spurs career.
With him in with the mix, a smart team that shares the basketball got better at what it does. Diaw might have better passing instincts than his best friend, Parker, which is a remarkable thought. A guy who bangs with Blake Griffin sees the court as well as a point guard?
Parker nodded Thursday. “Boris,” he said, “made a lot of good decisions, and I have a lot of confidence in him.”
Parker’s never had this kind of friend as a teammate, either. Diaw was asked after the game what he got Parker for his birthday, and most thought Diaw would say something trite like a win.
Instead, Diaw actually bought him a present. Wireless speakers.
He and the Spurs will lose eventually, and consecutive games in Los Angeles this weekend are a likely place to start.
But there is a reason the Spurs are 26-2 since Diaw arrived. And it’s because the kind of player who is never available in March for free was.
SPURS VS. CLIPPERS
(Spurs lead best-of-seven series 2-0)
Game 3: Saturday, @Clippers, 2:30 p.m., ABC
Game 4: Sunday, @Clippers, 9:30 p.m., TNT
* Game 5: Tuesday, @Spurs, TBA, TNT
* Game 6: May 25, @Clippers, TBA, ESPN
* Game 7: May 27, @Spurs, TBA, TNT
* If necessary