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.”

Pacers erase 17-point deficit to take 2-1 lead over Cavs

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Bojan Bogdanovic scored 30 points, leading the Indiana Pacers back from a 17-point halftime deficit for a 92-90 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday night for a 2-1 lead in their first-round series.

Cleveland was 39-0 during the regular season when leading after three quarters and kept that perfect mark intact with a Game 2 win.

The incredible second-half charge came exactly one year after Indiana blew a 26-point halftime lead in a historic playoff collapse against the Cavs.

This time, the Pacers delivered a devastating blow to the three-time defending Eastern Conference champs – on a night LeBron Jones joined Michael Jordan as the only players in playoff history to record 100 double-doubles. James finished with 28 points and 12 rebounds, but it wasn’t enough to prevent Cleveland from losing its first game this season after leading following the third quarter.

The biggest reason for the collapse: Bogdanovic.

After charging back with striking distance, he completed a four-point play to finally give the Pacers an 81-77 lead with 6:10 left. Bogdanovic followed that with another to make it as seven-point game.

Then James answered with the next seven to tie it.

Bogdanovic came right back with a layup and another 3 before Thaddeus Young scored to give the Pacers a 91-84 cushion with 53 seconds left.

James knocked down a 3 to cut the deficit to four, and the Cavs got another 3 from Kevin Love with 7 seconds left to make it 91-90.

Darren Collison made 1 of 2 free throws with 5 seconds left, giving Cleveland one more chance. But J.R. Smith‘s long desperation heave came up short..

Shaq attacks verse in new TV series "Poetry in America"

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Shaquille O’Neal called himself “The Big Baryshnikov” and “The Big Socrates” in his days in the NBA. Now he can add “The Big Shakespeare.”

The basketball Hall-of-Famer, TNT TV analyst, commercial pitchman and onetime rapper is putting poetry on his lengthy resume as part of a new public television series.

He brings his best bard to a dramatic reading of a poem in his episode of the 12-part “Poetry in America ,” then discusses it with Elisa New, a Harvard English professor who hosts the show.

“I’ve always been into poetry,” O’Neal said in an interview with The Associated Press in a sunlit conference room overlooking the Los Angeles skyline. “I’ve been writing rhymes all my life.”

“Poetry in America,” distributed by American Public Television and presented by WGBH in Boston, is airing at various times on local public TV stations. Some episodes, including Shaq’s, are already available to stream.

On the show the 46-year-old former All-Star from the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat recites “Fast Break,” a poem by Edward Hirsch from his 1986 book “Wild Gratitude.” It describes some very imperfect players who manage to put together a perfect basketball play.

“A hook shot kisses the rim and hangs there, helplessly, but doesn’t drop,” the poem begins, “and for once our gangly starting center boxes out his man.”

O’Neal, whose 350-pound bulk would never be called “gangly,” still related to the center in the verse, but said he initially missed the poem’s point.

“The first mistake I made was thinking it was about basketball,” he said. “I read it real quick I said `fast break, shovel passes, sure, this is what I do.”‘

He said New, who sat next to O’Neal in the interview and like almost everyone is utterly dwarfed by him, gave him whole new insights that led to a fast friendship.

“When she broke it down intelligently for me, I was very astounded and very amazed,”

The poem is written for a close friend and playing partner of Hirsch’s who had just died. That’s easy to miss if you skip past the dedication at the top, as most readers do.

“It’s fun that only later as you’re reading, you look back at that dedication,” New said. “One line can change everything.”

Suddenly it becomes an examination of transcendent moments and human connections.

“It’s about friendship, it’s about caring, it’s about emotions,” O’Neal said. “I had missed that.”

His latest learning experience took O’Neal’s thoughts back to high school, where he had a 69 percent in English after blowing a test during the basketball playoffs, and needed a 70 to stay eligible for sports.

The teacher allowed him a retest, and suggested a tutor.

“This guy, his name was McDougal, he was a geek, he saved my academic life,” O’Neal said. “Everybody bullied him in school, except me.”

O’Neal said he took the work and “broke it down, made it seem so simple.”

“I retook the test, got an 80, and we won the state championship,” O’Neal said.

“Now,” he said, “I always tell kids I’m a geek.”

The professor had another name for him. “He’s a learner!”

O’Neal partly looked the poet during the interview in a polo shirt and jeans, having traded his basketball sneakers for a pair of slip-on Toms shoes, size 22.

When he wanted them, a company executive told him “it wouldn’t be worth it to make them in my size unless I bought 500 of them,” O’Neal said. “I told him to give me 2,000.”

 

Rumor: Grizzlies had to choose between Marc Gasol and David Fizdale

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David Fizdale has been linked to most of the NBA’s head-coaching vacancies.

He developed a legion of backers as lead a Heat assistant, and he did good things guiding the Grizzlies before they unexpectedly fired him. He deserves consideration.

But he also must explain his fractured relationship with Memphis star Marc Gasol. They weren’t speaking for a while.

And maybe the problem was even worse than that.

Marc Berman of the New York Post:

According to a source close to Fizdale briefed on the Grizzlies’ decision, it was ownership having to make a choice — trade their All-Star center Marc Gasol, who has fallen in love with its small-market city, or fire the coach. Their relationship had gotten that bad.

If Grizzlies ownership felt it had to choose between Gasol and Fizdale, it’s not clear why.

Fizdale benched Gasol down the stretch during the coach’s last game, and Gasol publicly expressed his frustration.

But Gasol denied issuing a me-or-Fizdale ultimatum. Fizdale said focus on his relationship with Gasol was “overblown,” adding he cared far more about whether he could win with a player than whether they got along personally.

Memphis obviously sided with Gasol – probably too strongly.

LeBron James bought Cavs teammates matching designer suits to wear to game tonight

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I’m still trying to decide if this is cool or a little too Stepford.

The Cavaliers rolled into the Bakers’ Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis tonight wearing matching designer suits, all paid for by LeBron James and custom fitted to each player.

If a college team rolled into a game in four-digit designer suits, the NCAA would have questions. And not about the vests.

The Cavaliers are LeBron’s team, and if he wants to buy his teammates suits and tell them to wear them it’s going to happen. Is it a bonding thing that helps bring them together? Sure. Is it in place to make sure LeBron remembers which ones are his new teammates? Probably not.

Do the suits help on the court? No. And the Cavaliers better bring it in Game 3 because if they go down 2-1 in this series — something that is a realistic possibility — the whispers of doubt are going to get a lot louder.