Danny Green, Patty Mills, Boris Diaw

Tony Parker’s injury highlights Spurs’ unique depth


Two years ago, the Charlotte Bobcats – on their way to the worst record in NBA history – waived Boris Diaw. He was out of shape and out of favor. Less than a month from turning 30, he appeared to have a short future in the league.

Saturday, he led the San Antonio Spurs in scoring during a closeout game of the Western Conference Finals.

Diaw scored 26 points – his most since Charlotte and most in a playoff game in eight seasons – in the Spurs’ 112-107 Game 6 overtime win over the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili return to the Finals – to face the Miami Heat once again – but the Spurs’ big three has gotten this far due to teammates like Diaw, Cory Joseph, Patty Mills and Kawhi Leonard (can we call him a role player anymore?).

Parker (ankle injury) left the game at halftime with San Antonio down seven. But Joseph stepped up with a couple big plays, and Mills proved steady enough down the stretch.

I repeat: Cory Joseph and Patty Mills proved instrumental, at the pivotal point guard position no less, in a closeout conference finals game. The only reason that doesn’t sound crazy is because it’s the Spurs.

This was San Antonio’s progressive philosophy paying off. All season, Gregg Popovich trusted his role players, starting them and sticking with them in crunch time. He used 30 starting lineups, and he limited everyone to fewer than 30 minutes per game. No other team promotes depth to that extent.

And quite possibly, no other team would have won like the Spurs did Saturday.

Make no mistake: The Spurs are better with Parker. They’ll almost surely need him in the Finals, forcing the action against Mario Chalmers. But they sure made Parker look expendable in the final 29 minutes against Oklahoma City.

It seems no matter who San Antonio plugs into its system, it works – though, that’s obviously because the the Spurs are selective about who they plug into their system.

They saw more in Diaw than the Charlotte did, and they were proven correct. Matt Bonner once again started, pulling Serge Ibaka from the paint and throwing Oklahoma City’s defense off balance. But the Spurs really took off when Diaw – a better player – took Bonner’s stretch-four spot. Diaw can draw defenders outside, but he can also batter players in the post when the opponent goes small. All the while, he makes impressive passes and keeps the ball moving.

Leonard (17 points, 11 rebounds and four assists) had another energetic and effective game, but he really belongs mentioned with the Spurs’ big three at this point. Heck, he’s better than at least one of them, though he takes a backseat in perception.

Not that the big three has fallen off a cliff (at least as long as they’re healthy).

Ginobili made a huge 3-pointer with 27 seconds left in regulation, and Duncan (19 points and 15 rebounds) scored seven of San Antonio’s overtime points.

Yet, the Spurs only put those two in position to make the big shots thanks to their heralded role players. And those role players were only ready to meet the moment thanks to San Antonio empowering them all season.

Of course, the Spurs were afforded this luxury by the sustained excellence of their big three. San Antonio always knew, whatever its role players did, it could fall back on Duncan, Parker and Ginobili.

The Spurs want to be deep. They also had a setup conducive to being deep.

But when Popovich smelled blood in Game 6 – the best opportunity either team has had all series to win on the road – he didn’t hesitate. Duncan, Leonard, Green, Ginobili and Diaw each played series-high minutes during regulation alone. Duncan played this much overall (39:01) just three times all season.

The Thunder closed ranks, too – but out of necessity.

It took more than 34 minutes for an Oklahoma City player other than Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka or Reggie Jackson to score. Those four finished with 102 of the Thunder’s 107 points.

Oklahoma City got here and wanted to win. San Antonio has been prepping for this level all season.

Teams want to rely on their star players in the postseason. They often can.

But when a Tony Parker goes down, very few teams can overcome that on the road in a tight series.

There has never been a team like these Spurs.

Yet, these Spurs are like so many Spurs teams before them – back in the Finals

Duncan, Parker and Ginobili led them here. Diaw, Joseph, Mills and Leonard are following not too far behind.

Archie Goodwin requests trade, Suns waive him

PHOENIX, AZ - APRIL 13:  Archie Goodwin #20 of the Phoenix Suns handles the ball in the second half of the NBA game against the Los Angeles Clippers at Talking Stick Resort Arena on April 13, 2016 in Phoenix, Arizona.  The Suns defeated the Clippers 114 - 105.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images)
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Archie Goodwin had been stuck behind better guards with the Suns, most notably Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight.

But when Goodwin lost playing time to someone better and younger – Devin Booker – it became time to exit Phoenix.

Suns general manager Ryan McDonough complied.

Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic:

McDonough said they did not see a way Goodwin would play meaningful time in a fourth Suns season.

“We told Archie Goodwin and his agent at the end of last season that if there wasn’t going to be an opportunity for him to play going into the last year of his deal, that we would try to help him get to a good spot,” McDonough said. “We explored some trade scenarios throughout the summer and into the fall. We tried to help him get elsewhere in a trade.“

Unable to fulfill a trade request from the Goodwin camp, the Suns waived the 22-year-old

This allows Phoenix to keep two players without guaranteed salaries, John Jenkins and Derrick Jones Jr.

Jenkins, the No. 23 pick in the 2012 draft, previous played for the Hawks and Mavericks. He looks like a good spot-up shooter and shot well from beyond the arc in Phoenix after being claimed on waivers last season. But he was dreadful from beyond the arc in Dallas and has had other lulls prior. Despite quality defensive rebounding for a shooting guard, he’s a defensive minus.

Undrafted out of UNLV, Jones is a phenomenal athlete. But he needs to develop his skills and, at 6-foot-7 and 190 pounds, his body. He’s an intriguing project.

So was Goodwin, but the guard didn’t progress enough in three NBA seasons. He remains a lousy 3-point shooter and unreliable defender. His ability to penetrate goes only so far without better finishing or floor vision.

Goodwin’s athleticism and raw tools could convince a team to take a flier on him. But he has a long way to go to being a helpful NBA player. The team that knows him best being willing to let him walk says something.

PBT Podcast: Predicting NBA playoffs, Finals. Yes, meaning Warriors vs. Cavaliers

CLEVELAND, OH - JUNE 16:  Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors reacts to a foul call during the fourth quarter as LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers looks on in Game 6 of the 2016 NBA Finals at Quicken Loans Arena on June 16, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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The Golden State Warriors vs. the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Like virtually every other prognosticator, we at PBT are predicting that as the NBA Finals as well.

Is having the same teams in three straight Finals good for the league? Which teams could get in the way of that rematch? Kurt Helin and Dane Carbaugh of NBCSports.com discuss just that, including the Celtics, Spurs, and Clippers. They also talk surprise teams and the log jams in both conferences after you step back from the top few teams on each side. There’s a lot to cover.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, or listen and subscribe via iTunes (check there to see all the NBC Sports podcasts), subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out our new PBT podcast homepage and archive at Audioboom.com.

Warriors, TNT to begin NBA season with tribute to Craig Sager

LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 13:  Honoree Craig Sager accepts the Jimmy V Award for Perserverance onstage during the 2016 ESPYS at Microsoft Theater on July 13, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
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NEW YORK (AP) — The Golden State Warriors and TNT will begin the season with a tribute to sideline reporter Craig Sager, who is battling leukemia.

TNT will unveil a T-shirt during its Tuesday night studio show that was inspired by the suit Sager wore while receiving the Jimmy Valvano Award at this year’s ESPY Awards. Proceeds from the sale of the shirt will benefit the SagerStrong Foundation .

The Warriors will then give their fans at their season opener against San Antonio a Sager Strong T-shirt. The team also will play a message in the arena supporting his fight.

The popular reporter, best known for his colorful suits, won’t be able to work the game as he continues treatment for the disease.

He also designed a special edition Nike sneaker, and 100 pairs will be available via online auction beginning Tuesday through Nov. 4. A portion of the proceeds from the auction will benefit the SagerStrong Foundation.

Before season starts, watch top 10 dunks of preseason

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Starting Tuesday night, the games matter. The dunks matter.

But before we move onto those dunks, let’s have some fun with the top 10 dunks of the meaningless preseason. They may not matter, but they certainly were fun.

Of course there are some expected highlights — can you have a dunk reel without Russell Westbrook? — but game-winning dunks always get the top slot.