2014 NBA Finals - Game One

Versatile Boris Diaw draws raves from teammates, becomes Heat challenge

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SAN ANTONIO — If you just looked at a traditional box score, you’d shrug at Boris Diaw’s Game 1 — 2 points on one-of-5 shooting, although he did grab 10 boards.

But to do that would miss his impact completely.

Diaw was a team best +30 in Game 1 for San Antonio. He had 71 touches and made 63 passes (both second on the team to Tony Parker, showing how they ran part of the offense through Diaw), he had six assists, and his size and floor spacing changed everything for the Spurs — their offense scored at a 133.9 points per 100 possessions pace when he was on the court, 78.9 when he was off. Plus he spent some time defending LeBron James, giving Kawhi Leonard a break.

Boris Diaw was essential for the Spurs’ Game 1 win and he’s a guy the Heat have to account for in Game 2.

“He’s a very versatile, versatile player,” Spurs’ coach Gregg Popovich said. “Some players have a feel for the game that is better than others. And he’s one of those. He can pass the basketball. He sees the floor in a spatial relationship sort of way. He knows where people are. He knows where the ball should go. He anticipates. On defense, although he’s carrying around a little bit of luggage, he does his work early and positions himself pretty well.

“He allows us to play big and play small at the same time, is what it amounts to.”

And that’s why he is so key against the Heat — Miami wants to go small (with Chris Bosh at the five), the Spurs can counter with Diaw (he played 30 minutes in Game 1) and match that while keeping some size on the court to protect the paint and grab rebounds. Technically you would call Diaw a stretch four, but his ability to put the ball on the floor and serve as a distributor on offense makes him much more than that.

“I was always doing a little bit of everything on the court,” Diaw said of his career. “Always been pretty much a three who could play up at the one or two, or could help at the four or the five. Now for a few years I’ve been more on the four side, but always playing away from the basket, trying to face the basket more than being inside and pounding. I think my whole career I played pretty much the same way.”

Diaw has been important at both ends of the floor (the Spurs defense was more than 30 points per 100 possessions better when he was on the court in Game 1). While Kawhi Leonard has the main LeBron James assignment, Diaw gets some turns as well.

“If I’m guarding him I try to use my length because I’m a little taller than if it’s a guard guarding him, he’s way faster than me so I have to give him a little room,” Diaw said.

It can get lost on some fans, but Diaw’s teammates get how important he is to the Spurs.

“I think coming in here he was a point guard or he was a guard all of his life, and he has those skills,” Tim Duncan said. “He has that skill set, and to have the body that he has and to do what he’s done especially in these playoffs this year, it’s been a huge boost for us and it’s really changed our team.”

“It’s been an incredible journey to play with your best friend on a championship team, and I hope we can do it and try to win a championship with him, it would be his first one,” said Tony Parker, a fellow Frenchman who has played with Diaw since youth national teams. “We dreamt about the NBA when we was in France, so we keep living our dream.”

After two years off court, Joel Embiid says he “probably” will have minutes restrictions

PHILADELPHIA, PA - OCTOBER 30: Joel Embiid #21 of the Philadelphia 76ers takes a shot from the bench prior to the game against the Utah Jazz on October 30, 2015 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 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 Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
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Joel Embiid could be the best player on the Philadelphia 76ers in a couple of years — many scouts had him the highest rated of all the first-round draft picks the Sixers have had in recent seasons.

But after two foot surgeries and two seasons sitting on the sidelines, we don’t know how good Embiid can be. We should find out starting in October when Embiid is part of the Sixers training camp. Embiid says he feels 100 percent, but he expects there will be restrictions on him at first, he told Jessica Camerato of CSNPhilly.com during the Sixers Beach Bash community event this weekend.

This is the smart move by the Sixers — they are not competing for a title, the games in November have minimal meaning long term, bring him along slowly and make sure he can make each step along the way. Let’s see what he can do, then worry about how much run he can get in games that matter.

It’s going to be interesting to watch how Embiid, Ben Simmons, Nerlens Noel, and Jahlil Okafor all fit together up front — and which one of them gets traded this season.

Celtics’ Avery Bradley on defense: “Kyrie Irving, none of those guys scare me”

BOSTON, MA - MARCH 09:  Avery Bradley #0 of the Boston Celtics celebrates after scoring against the Memphis Grizzlies  during the first quarter at TD Garden on March 9, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts.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 Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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Avery Bradley was first-team NBA All-Defensive team last season, and his coach Brad Stevens lobbied for him to get the honor. Bradley picks up guys full court, pesters, and plays physical — we can debate if he is as good defensively as his reputation, but guys like Damian Lillard think he’s tough to go up against.

Bradley, for his part, says he has no fear going up against the best. Here is what he said to Tom Westerholm of Masslive.com.

“I love the challenge,” Bradley said on Friday, making an appearance at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. “I love going up against the best players. I don’t care who it is. I don’t care about getting embarrassed. I don’t care. Kyrie Irving, none of those guys scare me. I know some players in the NBA probably get butterflies before the game, but not me. I’m licking my lips. I come excited. They need to prepare for me at the end of the day. That’s how I think.”

That’s exactly the attitude you want an elite defender to have.

Bradley injured his hamstring in the first game of the playoffs last April and sat the rest of the Celtics’ one series. Then this summer his name came up in potential Jimmy Butler trade rumors (that deal never actually came close to getting off the ground). Expect Bradley to put that all behind him by the time training camp opens.

Watch highlights of LeBron James’ playoffs, Finals run

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LeBron James was dominant — the clear best player on the planet — when the Cleveland Cavaliers needed him most. That’s the reason Cleveland got its first major sports title in 52 years.

It’s the dead part of the NBA season — training camps don’t even open for a month — so why not enjoy a look back at LeBron’s amazing run to a legacy-defining NBA ring. Like you don’t have 15 minutes for this. What are you going to do, watch more preseason football?

It’s Joel Embiid’s turn to swat a little kid’s shot (VIDEO)

TARRYTOWN, NY - AUGUST 03: Joel Embiid #11 of the Philadelphia 76ers poses for a portrait during the 2014 NBA rookie photo shoot at MSG Training Center on August 3, 2014 in Tarrytown, New York. 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 Nick Laham/Getty Images)
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It’s a summer tradition — tall NBA players swatting away the shots of young kids at camps/clinics.

Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid has yet to step on an NBA court — this fall, finally? — but he is part of the youth tradition now, destroying this young man at the Sixers Beach Bash event Saturday.

This summer Embiid has arm wrestled Justin Bieber and looked good working out in an empty gym, and to add to that list here is Embiid overpowering an average guy at Beach Bash then throwing it down. The man at least provided a little more resistance than a chair.