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.”

Second chance points, clutch LeBron defense earns Lakers win to go up 3-1 on Denver

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It’s a simple and obvious truth about any basketball game: The team that shoots better usually wins.

The Denver Nuggets shot 50.6% in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals, including 10-of-28 from three (leading to a true shooting percentage of 62%). The Lakers shot 47.5% overall and 10-of-30 from three (a true shooting percentage of 59.7%). The Nuggets shot better Thursday night.

However, the better shooting team does not win when it gets crushed in another key area.

The Lakers grabbed the offensive rebound on 40.4% of their missed shots — including at three critical possessions in crunch time — and scored 25 second-chance points to Denver having six. Combine that with an aggressive and attacking LeBron James and Anthony Davis getting to the free-throw line 28 times — Denver as a team had 23 free throw attempts — and LeBron playing fantastic defense down the stretch on Jamal Murray, and a team can overcome a shooting deficit.

The result was the Lakers holding off a resilient Denver team to win 114-108, taking a commanding 3-1 series lead. Game 5 is Saturday night.

While the Nuggets came back from 3-1 down on the Jazz and Clippers, this series feels different — Denver may have run out of miracles. The way the Lakers closed out this game showed why the Lakers will not go the ways of Jazz and Clippers.

Once again, Davis was the best Laker on the floor, scoring 34 points on 10-of-15 shooting plus playing strong defense (his light rebounding numbers, five in this game, are overblown because the Lakers as a team are rebounding well).

But there are two key reasons the won the Lakers the game — two critical reasons they were able to hold off a Denver comeback when the Jazz and Clippers faltered in similar situations:

• The Lakers were dominant on the offensive glass, as mentioned above. They got a second chance on four out of 10 missed shots (the league average is about 26-27% of missed shots become offensive rebounds). Dwight Howard was doing it early, Davis was doing it late (plus Rajon Rondo had a critical one), but the Lakers getting a second chance to score and run off some clock down the stretch changed the game.

• LeBron James asked to guard Jamal Murray down the stretch — in the final five minutes of the game Murray was 0-of-3 shooting.

“LeBron asked for the assignment and obviously I granted it…” Lakers’ coach Frank Vogel said postgame. “Nothing was really working in terms of trying to slow him down until ‘Bron took that assignment.”

Vogel isn’t kidding. Murray was torching the Lakers, getting into the lane, and finding a way to finish — including maybe the best layup of the playoffs so far.

Murray finished with 32 points on 12-of-20 shooting, but LeBron held him mostly in check down the stretch (Murray did hit four free throws).

LeBron also had a strong game despite his jumper not falling because he hunted mismatches, throwing the Denver defense into a scramble, plus LeBron commands a double team when he gets the ball at the elbow or on the block and that opens things up.

Another key for Los Angeles was a great first half from Dwight Howard, who had 11 points and 10 rebounds in the first half while keeping the ball out of Jokic’s hands. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope had 13 points.

Davis rolled his ankle in the fourth quarter, limped around on it, stayed in the game and made some plays down the stretch. A slowed Davis would be a reason for concern for the Lakers.

“My ankle feels fine,” Davis said postgame. “I’ve got tonight, tomorrow, before the game to get it back to where it is, but it’s good enough to play. I rolled it pretty bad, but not too bad. I’ll be fine.”

If Denver is going to shock the world, it needs to keep Paul Millsap and his defense on the floor more, then the Nuggets need Gary Harris and other bench players to step up with big moments.

The Nuggets also need to find a way to slow LeBron and Davis. There may not be an answer to that question.

Watch Jamal Murray hit insane hand-switching layup around LeBron

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Are. You. Kidding. Me.

You are not going to see a better layup these playoffs than this one by Denver’s Jamal Murray, going around LeBron James near the end of the first half of Game 4.

Murray went up thinking dunk, had to change his mind because of LeBron, brought it down, went around him, and spun it in off the glass. Insane. It had some people on Twitter referencing the legendary Michael Jordan hand-switching shot. Not sure I’m willing to compare this Murray shot to a layup that helped launch a dynasty, but it’s close.

Murray had 16 in the first half but the Nuggets trailed at the break 60-55 in a high scoring first half. Anthony Davis had 19 to lead the Lakers.

Former Louisville star Donovan Mitchell “sad, angry, disgusted” with Breonna Taylor decision

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NBA players — like large swaths of the United States — are shaking their heads at the decision not to prosecute the police sho shot Breonna Taylor in her home. That includes LeBron James, who said the walls of Taylor’s neighbors got more justice than she did.

Now former Louisville star Donovan Mitchell has spoken out on the issue.

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We’re Sorry Breonna😔🤦🏾‍♂️

A post shared by Donovan Mitchell (@spidadmitchell) on

The hate and racism in too many of the responses to that Instagram post highlight the injustice and additional hurdles Black people in America have to clear every day.

Louisville has faced a night of protests and backlash to the decision by the grand jury, which included the two police officers getting shot (they both survived).

 

Report: Bulls paying Billy Donovan $6 million-plus annual salary

New Bulls coach and former Thunder coach Billy Donovan
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
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Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf just spent the NBA hiatus – at least if you looked beyond “The Last Dance” itself – getting dragged for not spending enough to give Michael Jordan another year of title contention in Chicago.

Paying to hire Billy Donovan is a way for Reinsdorf and the Bulls to repair their reputations.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

I’d be surprised if all four years are fully guaranteed. Coaching contracts of this length usually contain a team option or two.

But that’s still a hefty salary. Especially in these times. Especially considering it was believed the Bulls would keep Jim Boylen for financial reasons.

Donovan left the Thunder despite them offering him a new contract. He likely knew he could get more elsewhere.

Credit Chicago for being the team to spend. The Bulls needed a solid coach after Boylen and Fred Hoiberg.

Donovan won’t solve all Chicago’s problems, but he should help on multiple fronts. This upgrade costs nothing but Reinsdorf’s money, which every Chicago fan is perfectly willing to spend.