Boris Diaw has gone from Bobcats castoff to NBA Finals difference maker

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MIAMI — There was a time, just a little more than two years ago, when a Charlotte Bobcats team with the worst record in the NBA was more than happy to buy out an overweight Boris Diaw and get him off their roster. He was averaging 7.7 points points a night shooting 41.4 percent overall and 27 percent from three, plus he was unhappy and almost eating himself out of the league.

Now, he’s a key starter on a San Antonio Spurs team on the doorstep of winning an NBA Finals.

“I just think the Bobcats were not the right fit for him because he’s the ultimate team player and needs a system and stuff like that,” said Tony Parker, who has played with Diaw since they were teenagers together in France. “He’s a perfect fit for us.”

That’s could be an understatement.

Diaw’s overall play could land him on some NBA Finals MVP ballots — since Gregg Popovich inserted him into the starting lineup in Game 3 the Spurs have just steamrolled the Heat. In the Finals Diaw is +15 per 48 minutes and the Spurs main lineup of him, Tim Duncan, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker is +51 per 48. He has the second most touches and the second most passes on the team, behind only Parker, in those two games — he is a hub of the Spurs’ offense.

To use Popovich’s words, Diaw lets the Spurs go small without actually going small (he is 6’8” and still carrying a little extra luggage listed at 250 pounds).

“You know, Boris pretty much does the same thing every night as far as helping us be a smarter team, at both ends of the floor,” Popovich said after Game 4. “He knows what’s going on most all the time.  At the offensive end he’s a passer.  He understands mismatches.  He knows time and score.  At the defensive end, he knows when to help.  He’s active.  So he just helps the whole team have a better IQ, I think.”

“Pop just told me that I was going to start the game and trying to be a facilitator out there, just trying to make plays for others and try to make the right choices,” Diaw said of being inserted into the starting lineup (which is “just” +6.3 per 48 with Diaw). “So I was just focusing on that role.  Being able to be a relay.  They’re pretty aggressive on their pickandrolls, so just try to be somebody that gives an outlet pass and looking for the open man.”

What he does well presents a challenge for Miami.

“He’s a crafty player man,” Chris Bosh said of Diaw. “He’s difficult, you never know what he’s going to do. You don’t know if he’s going to shoot it, you don’t know if he’s going to drive it, pass it, shoot it again, you don’t know what he’s going to do. I think his ability to do everything in that point forward kind of position makes it difficult…. He’s just one of those players that confuses the hell out of you. The minute you’re not watching he’s walking to the rim or shooting a set, wide-open three pointer.”

Popovich’s gift is defining roles that play to a player’s strengths then putting them in when they are in a position to succeed. Don’t ask a guy to be what he is not, ask him to do what he does well. 

For Diaw that is passing, facilitating. He drives to dish, but if you leave him open he can drain the three and if you close out he can put the ball on the floor and drive and draw defenders so he can make the right read and pass.

Diaw sees what he has done this series as taking what the Heat are giving him.

“I mean, obviously we were looking to pass the ball to each other,” Diaw said. “But they forced us into that, too, because they are very aggressive on the pickandrolls.  They don’t let us have any air, any space.  So we’ve got to drive, we’ve got to kick, and we’ve got to make a few passes before we get an open shot.  If we would have to do only one dribble and find somebody open and shoot it, we’d do it, too, but they force us to make three, four, five passes.  But at some point we find somebody….

“I always try to read on the floor who is going to be open.  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.”

In Game 4 Diaw had 8 points, 9 rebounds and 9 assists — he was on the verge of a triple-double. That he didn’t quite make the numbers does not detract from his overall impact — without him this would be a different series.

“I think he’s really found his rhythm,” Tim Duncan said. “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.”

So effective the Spurs are one win away from a title. 

Cleveland GM David Griffin: “I hope everybody says we have no chance”

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The Golden State Warriors are heavy favorites to win the NBA title. According to bovda.lv, bet $100 on the Warriors to win the title and you get $41.7 dollars. Bet $100 on the Cavaliers and you get $200. And that number is likely to get worse for Warriors fans.

The Cavaliers are okay with that. They like being the underdogs. Look at what GM David Griffin said in a televised interview after they eliminated the Celtics in Game 5, via Cleveland.com.

“I hope everybody says we have no chance,” General Manager David Griffin said during a TV interview following the Cavaliers’ 135-102 win Thursday night against the Boston Celtics, clinching a third straight NBA Finals appearance.

“Obviously the team we’re playing is as good as you can possibly put together, it’s going to be an unbelievable battle for us, but I think [the Cavs] love battling together. The greater the odds, the better we seem to play together. We really do rally around each other in that sense.”

There is some truth to that.

There’s also a difference between that truth and slowing Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant. How the Cavaliers are going to do that will be the interesting part of these playoffs.

Detroit’s Van Gundy honored for cooperation with media, fans

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AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) — Stan Van Gundy of the Detroit Pistons has won the Rudy Tomjanovich Award, which honors an NBA coach for his cooperation with media and fans, as well as excellence on the court.

The Professional Basketball Writers Association announced the winner Friday. Van Gundy was one of five finalists for the award. The others were Steve Clifford of the Charlotte Hornets, Mike D’Antoni of the Houston Rockets, David Fizdale of the Memphis Grizzlies and Brad Stevens of the Boston Celtics.

Dwane Casey of the Toronto Raptors won the award last season.

No surprise: It’s Cavs-Warriors in the NBA Finals, again

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OAKLAND (AP) — Here they go again.

For the third straight year, it’s Cleveland and Golden State in the NBA Finals. The 2016 champions versus the 2015 champions . The first “threematch” – rematch of a rematch – in league history. It’s the matchup most expected, the matchup most predicted, and probably the matchup the Cavaliers and Warriors wanted as well.

Let the hype, and the waiting, begin: Game 1 isn’t until June 1.

“I’ve been very blessed the last few years to be a part of this league and play on the big stage,” said Cleveland star LeBron James, who has now reached the Finals for the eighth time – including each of the last seven years. “But we’re going to enjoy this for a couple more days before we have to lock in on that juggernaut out west.”

The Cavaliers and Warriors split their two meetings this season, both winning at home. Cleveland won by one on Christmas Day, Golden State prevailed by 35 on Jan. 16.

Golden State led the league with 67 wins this season and is a staggering 27-1 in its last 28 games – including a perfect 12-0 in the Western Conference playoffs, the first time a team has gone this deep into an NBA postseason without losing. Cleveland, which seemed sleepy at times in the regular season, went 12-1 in the Eastern Conference playoffs that ended with a win over Boston on Thursday night.

“Playing in this league, you can’t take anything for granted,” Warriors guard Stephen Curry said. “Thirty teams suit up every year trying to get to this point, and only two teams do. So you have to appreciate it. … We need to understand the privilege that we have and the opportunity that we have to play in the Finals again, to have the opportunity to win a championship.”

Already, the back-and-forth is underway.

Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue was quoted earlier this week saying he thought Boston’s offense was “harder to defend” than Golden State’s. Countered Golden State acting coach Mike Brown, when asked about it Thursday: “That’s his opinion. It’s cute.”

And there will be reminders of the Halloween party that James threw for the Cavaliers last fall, with “3-1 Lead” – a nod to what the Warriors lost in last year’s Finals – prominently displayed on the drum set.

Much more of that sort of that will likely follow over the next week, filling time before Golden State plays host to Game 1. But there’s also a clear respect level between the clubs as well.

“The best team in our league the last three years,” James said of the Warriors. “And they’ve added an unbelievable player in Kevin Durant this year. So it makes it even more difficult. They’re going to challenge us a lot, offensively, defensively, mentally, physically. We have to be ready for the challenge.”

For James, the Finals are an annual rite.

For Durant, this trip ends a five-year wait.

Durant’s only other time in the Finals was 2012 when he was with Oklahoma City. The Thunder lost to Miami in five games, a series that made James a champion for the first time.

At the very moment where the clock ran out in that series, the person James was embracing was Durant – telling the then-Thunder star, his offseason workout partner at the time, how proud of him he was.

“Hopefully,” James said that night, “I don’t continue to have to run into him.”

They’ll collide again, starting next week.

Durant’s decision to leave the Thunder for Golden State as a free agent last summer meant the Warriors went from mere overwhelming favorites to win the West again to super-duper-overwhelming favorites to win the West again. They got a big scare in late February when Durant had a left knee injury, but he’s back and the Warriors have rolled since.

“It’s a little different, definitely. I can’t lie,” Durant said, when comparing the 2012 Finals trip to this one. “I went when I was 23 years old, and it felt like the Western Conference Finals was almost like the championship. Just getting to that point, you know how hard it is and how much work you put in to start the season. So it’s a little different now, obviously. We have a bigger goal in mind.”

The storylines are many. Can James win his fourth ring? Can Durant win his first? Will the Warriors be haunted by letting last season’s 3-1 lead slip away? Will they become the first team in NBA history to go undefeated in a postseason? How will Golden State guard Kyrie Irving? How will Cleveland try to contain Curry?

There’s also the irony that Brown, the first coach who took James to an NBA Finals in 2007 – Cleveland was swept by San Antonio – will now coach against him, likely in the same leading role he’s had for Golden State since head coach Steve Kerr was forced to take a break because of continued problems with his surgically repaired back.

“I don’t care who you’re playing, to make it to the NBA Finals, to win your conference finals, it’s a big task,” Brown said.

The biggest task awaits.

Isaiah Thomas wants Celtics to sign free agents, reportedly they are not looking to trade him (yet)

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The Boston Celtics made a huge leap forward this season: They got the No. 1 seed in the East and made it to the Eastern Conference Finals. For a team on the rise, that’s impressive.

However, as soon as they landed the No. 1 pick in this draft, a big question started to bubble up:

What is the future of Isaiah Thomas with this team? Which is a strange thing to say about a guy who averaged 28.9 points per game and was All-NBA this season, but here we are.

First, the Celtics are not looking to trade IT this summer as some have suggested, reports Sean Deveny of the Sporting News.

That starts with All-Star Isaiah Thomas, whose name has lately been the subject of trade speculation. But league sources indicate that any talk of dealing Thomas is strictly speculation at this point — the Celtics have had no such discussions. Not yet, at least.

The challenge for the Celtics seems to be this: If they draft Markelle Fultz No. 1 (as is expected by everyone around the league), then what is the future for Thomas? Do you want to pay Thomas max money just as he turns 29 when you have a stud young point guard coming up behind him?

That led to talk of extending Thomas this summer with the team’s cap space (which assumes they do not sign Gordon Hayward). Except Thomas would rather the money be spent on free agents than himself, as he told Chris Forsberg of ESPN.

“We need the best possible player that’s gonna help us win, and I’m with that,” said Thomas. “Anything Danny and this organization need me to do to help bring even more talent to this city, I’m all for that. I want to win a championship and being so close to getting to the Finals, that makes you want it that much more.

“I’m all help if they need it. I’ll be around.”

Nothing is certain in the NBA, but here is the most likely outcome of the Isaiah Thomas situation: They keep him, they draft Markelle Fultz, they do not extend Thomas (whether they land Hayward or not), and they see how it all fits together for a season. Then they make a decision on Thomas in the summer of 2018. The bottom line is he may well have more value to the Celtics than another team, and while he’s certainly getting a raise from the $6.3 million, he will make next season he may fall short of the max, and in a zone where the Celtics are willing to keep him.

In pure basketball terms, the Celtics may be hesitant to spend on Thomas, but he is also the most popular player on the team by a mile. Letting him go is not that simple.

There are a lot of questions to be answered between now and next summer when it comes to IT.