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Boris Diaw turns around career with Spurs, but don’t call him rejuvenated

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AUBURN HILLS, Mich. – Boris Diaw was playing some of the worst basketball of his career in 2012 – when he was playing at all. Not even the Charlotte Bobcats, en route to the worst record in NBA history (7-59), deemed him worthy of minutes every game. Diaw looked out of shape and lethargic. As his production and conditioning worsened, the Bobcats finally, mercifully bought him out.

Two years later, Diaw was in the running for NBA Finals MVP with the Spurs.

Did San Antonio rejuvenate him?

“No!” Diaw snaps before breaking into a laugh.

“If I was rejuvenated,” Diaw says, “that means I got old at some point.”

Diaw certainly hasn’t looked over the hill with the Spurs, whom he signed with after his 2012 buyout. He has played in more wins (204) than anyone the last four years. His combination of points (1,270), rebounds (617) and assists (420) as a reserve in that span is unmatched.

And he has helped the Spurs to a 34-6 start and nine straight wins this season heading into their matchup with the Cavaliers tonight.

“He’s a really smart basketball player, probably one of the most intelligent players in the league,” San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said.

Draft buzz in 2003 called Diaw a 6-foot-9 point guard. Now, the Spurs list him as a 6-foot-8 center-forward. He has also played both wing positions during a 13-year that also included stops with the Hawks and Suns.

He has shown amazing athleticism. Yet, his weight – listed at 250 pounds – is a common concern.

And as he put it, “I’m at the same time very easy to coach and at the same time very hard to coach.”

Diaw was difficult to coach in Charlotte, where then-Bobcats coach Paul Silas ripped his effort and commitment. He was also difficult to coach in Atlanta, where he told isolation-favoring coach Mike Woodson he couldn’t play for him.

The common theme: Both coaches wanted Diaw to score more.

“I’m not that,” Diaw said. “I need teammates and good teammates. I need a system where the ball is moving, where it’s team basketball.”

Diaw said he has long recognized how much his team’s style affects him, but he can’t always control it. He fit with the Hawks, who drafted him No. 21 in 2003, until they fired Terry Stotts for Woodson. He clicked for Mike D’Antoni’s Suns, but then they replaced him with Terry Porter and traded him to Charlotte. There, Diaw meshed with Larry Brown before the Bobcats fired him and hired Silas.

So, Diaw knew what he wanted when he became a free agent in the spring of 2012: a team that shared the ball, was headed to the postseason and could become a long-term fit.

The Spurs just weren’t certain they wanted him.

Though Popovich declined to look back on Diaw’s Charlotte-to-San Antonio transition – “When did he play for Charlotte? Twenty years ago or something?” Popovich said. “It’s 2016” – Tony Parker remembers it well. The Spurs point guard, who grew up with Diaw in France, recalls Popovich and San Antonio general manager R.C. Buford asking about Diaw.

“Charlotte was saying stuff about him,” Parker said. “I’m like, ‘Are you serious?’ I’m like, ‘I’ve been playing with him with the national team. There’s no way Boris is like that.'”

Parker’s message to Popovich and Buford: “We have to do it. He’s going to be perfect.”

In many ways, Diaw has been.

He appears to get along well with Popovich, and the Spurs’ emphasis on ball movement suits him to a T. Diaw also  provides them with a versatility that creates mismatches.

Start with Diaw’s scoring ability.

Put a smaller player on him, and Diaw will post him up. Put a bigger player on him, and Diaw will take him to the perimeter. Guard him too closely there, and Diaw will drive to the basket. Too loosely, and he’ll shoot 3-pointers.

Diaw is the only player shooting 60% on both post-ups and drives (minimum 10 attempts of each). Here’s the field-goal percentages of all 90 qualifying players, Diaw represented by a black dot and everyone else gray:

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Player Team Post-ups Drives
Boris Diaw SAS 61% 63%
Kevin Durant OKC 63% 58%
Nikola Vucevic ORL 53% 61%
Blake Griffin LAC 43% 66%
Charlie Villanueva DAL 60% 49%
Giannis Antetokounmpo MIL 55% 52%
Andrew Nicholson ORL 50% 56%
Arron Afflalo NYK 59% 47%
Kawhi Leonard SAS 53% 52%
Chris Paul LAC 50% 55%
Shabazz Muhammad MIN 55% 50%
Kelly Olynyk BOS 57% 47%
Paul Millsap ATL 53% 49%
Jabari Parker MIL 53% 48%
Evan Turner BOS 46% 54%
Thaddeus Young BKN 50% 49%
Karl-Anthony Towns MIN 47% 52%
Nikola Mirotic CHI 45% 54%
Carmelo Anthony NYK 45% 54%
Dwyane Wade MIA 45% 53%
Greg Monroe MIL 43% 55%
Shaun Livingston GSW 56% 42%
Mirza Teletovic PHX 44% 53%
Harrison Barnes GSW 52% 44%
Luol Deng MIA 44% 52%
Derrick Williams NYK 46% 50%
Marcus Morris DET 50% 45%
DeMar DeRozan TOR 43% 52%
Andrew Wiggins MIN 46% 48%
LeBron James CLE 43% 51%
Amir Johnson BOS 53% 40%
Brook Lopez BKN 48% 45%
Al Horford ATL 48% 44%
Russell Westbrook OKC 42% 49%
Danilo Gallinari DEN 53% 39%
David West SAS 51% 40%
Chris Bosh MIA 39% 51%
Lance Thomas NYK 50% 40%
Rudy Gay SAC 53% 37%
Kenneth Faried DEN 53% 37%
Zach Randolph MEM 43% 46%
DeMarcus Cousins SAC 44% 44%
Jared Sullinger BOS 42% 46%
Deron Williams DAL 39% 48%
Ryan Anderson NOP 47% 39%
Ersan Ilyasova DET 40% 46%
Mason Plumlee POR 53% 33%
James Harden HOU 38% 48%
Rodney Hood UTA 40% 46%
Josh Smith LAC 44% 42%
David Lee BOS 43% 43%
Joe Johnson BKN 40% 44%
Kyle Lowry TOR 38% 46%
Khris Middleton MIL 41% 43%
Pau Gasol CHI 40% 43%
Marvin Williams CHA 60% 23%
Jeff Green MEM 43% 40%
Jon Leuer PHX 40% 43%
Wesley Matthews DAL 35% 47%
Spencer Hawes CHA 41% 42%
Luis Scola TOR 45% 38%
Klay Thompson GSW 40% 42%
Bojan Bogdanovic BKN 41% 40%
Kobe Bryant LAL 35% 45%
Jimmy Butler CHI 34% 46%
LaMarcus Aldridge SAS 47% 33%
Nerlens Noel PHI 39% 41%
Anthony Davis NOP 34% 46%
Nicolas Batum CHA 41% 36%
Derrick Favors UTA 45% 30%
Gordon Hayward UTA 31% 44%
Markieff Morris PHX 32% 42%
Gerald Henderson POR 33% 41%
Kevin Love CLE 53% 21%
Andre Drummond DET 41% 33%
Tobias Harris ORL 32% 40%
Stanley Johnson DET 36% 34%
Kristaps Porzingis NYK 39% 31%
Kevin Martin MIN 27% 42%
Terrence Jones HOU 42% 27%
Draymond Green GSW 28% 41%
Aaron Gordon ORL 25% 43%
Michael Carter-Williams MIL 21% 46%
Julius Randle LAL 30% 38%
PJ Tucker PHX 26% 40%
Marcus Smart BOS 30% 36%
Paul George IND 20% 46%
Frank Kaminsky CHA 33% 30%
Noah Vonleh POR 15% 38%
Metta World Peace LAL 8% 30%

The only other player in Diaw’s class is Kevin Durant.

Diaw’s 3-point shooting has also jumped to 38% after dipping last year. He’s shooting 37% from beyond the arc with the Spurs, more than enough to force defenses to account for him.

And scoring just scratches the surface of what Diaw brings to the table.

Whether he’s spotting up on the perimeter, driving to the hoop or posting up, Diaw is looking to pass. Thought he pre-draft evaluations were overblown, Diaw often resembles a point guard in a power forward’s body.

Diaw is a solid position defender. He helps on the glass, too.

All this adds up to a prime playoff contributor. Opponents will have a difficult time finding a weakness to exploit. Meanwhile, Diaw will create mismatches.

The Spurs – with Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Danny Green and Parker – have the talent to compete with anyone. Diaw help them turn the style of any game to their favor.

That’s why Parker, who has played only for San Antonio and never even entered free agency, is so glad the Spurs listened to his recommendation. It’s telling that, when trying to clear cap space for Aldridge, San Antonio traded Tiago Splitter rather than Diaw.

Unlike most post-buyout free agents, Diaw wasn’t looking for just a few-month destination to finish the season in 2012. He wanted to find a long-term home, and it appears he has.

“Hopefully,” Parker said, “we can finish our careers together.”

Cavaliers cruise past Celtics in Game 3, change complexion of Eastern Conference finals

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The Cavaliers were heavy favorites over the Celtics entering the Eastern Conference finals. LeBron James has dominated the East for years, and Cleveland appeared to hit its stride in a sweep of the Raptors last round. Boston was shorthanded and inexperienced.

Were the Celtics’ two wins to open the series, as impressive as they were, really enough to override everything else we knew about these teams?

The Cavs walloped Boston in Game 3, 116-86, Saturday. Cleveland now has four of the NBA’s last five 30-point playoff wins – two against the Celtics last year, one over Toronto last round and tonight. (The Cavaliers lost the league’s only other 30-point game between, to the Pacers in the first round.)

Boston still leads the series 2-1, and teams up 2-1 in a best-of-seven series have won it 80% of the time.

But the team up 2-1 is usually the one seen as better entering the series. That isn’t the case here, not with LeBron on the other side. And the leading team usually isn’t so woeful on the road, which will remain a major storyline entering Game 4 Monday in Cleveland.

The Celtics bought themselves margin for error, but they blew a lot of it tonight.

It’d be an oversimplification to say the Cavs just played harder, but they did, and it went along way. They chased loose balls, tightened their defense and moved more off the ball offensively. Cleveland jumped to a 20-4 lead, led by double digits the rest of the way and spent most of the game up by at least 20.

LeBron (27 points, 12 assists, two blocks and two steals) dazzled as a passer and locked in as a defender. He received help from several players:

In a low-resistance effort, Boston didn’t goon up the game at all.

The Cavaliers still have plenty of work ahead to reach their fourth straight NBA Finals, but tonight, they showed a path to advancing. Climbing out of their early series deficit now looks far less intimidating.

Luka Doncic named EuroLeague MVP at age 19

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Luka Doncic, the likely top two pick in the upcoming NBA draft, has led his Real Madrid team to the EuroLeague finals at age 19.

Now he has been named the youngest player ever win the EuroLeague MVP.

For those unfamiliar, EuroLeague is the equivalent of the Champions League in soccer — the very best club teams from around the continent face off against each other. On this biggest of European stages, Doncic has been a force. He is a gifted passer with great court vision. He can take his man off the dribble. He can hit threes. And he knows how to be a floor general and run a game. Did we mention he’s just 19?

Doncic said before the start of EuroLeague that he hasn’t decided what he is going to do about coming to the NBA or going back to Real Madrid. Don’t buy it. This is like asking a major college basketball star right before the NCAA Tournament if he is coming back to “State U” next year, they don’t want to say “no” right before the tourney so they give a non-committal answer. Same here. He’s not leaving millions on the table, he’ll be in the NBA next season.

And he’ll bee good.

Playoff losses wearing on LeBron James: ‘I lose sleep’

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Last season, the Cleveland Cavaliers lost one game before reaching the NBA Finals. The season before that, two. The season before that also two. In Miami before that, the last couple of years they went to the Finals the Heat lost three and four games before reaching the Finals.

This year, the Cavaliers have lost five games already and find themselves down 0-2 to the Boston Celtics heading into Game 3 Saturday night in Cleveland.

The losses do weigh on LeBron, as reported by Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

“I mean, I lose sleep,” James said after shootaround Saturday morning. “I mean, at the end of the day, when you lose any game in the postseason, [you lose sleep], so it’s never comfort. Playoffs is never comfort. There’s nothing about the playoffs that’s comfortable until you either win it all or you lose and go into the summer.

“So, for me, it’s always [a] day-to-day grind to figure out ways that you can be better.”

Cleveland has a lot to figure out to win the next two games because if they don’t and go down 3-1 in this series, it’s hard to envision how LeBron can drag this roster back to the Finals (what would be his eighth straight trip).

Offensively Cleveland has to get consistent play from guys other than LeBron (and to a lesser extent, Kevin Love) — J.R. Smith has been awful and needs to find a rhythm at home, George Hill needs to make some plays, Kyle Korver needs to get open and knock down some looks, and some help from the bench is needed.

But that’s not even the end of the floor that is the Cavs real problem. Defensively the Cavaliers recognition and communication has been dreadful, and the passing and player movement of the Celtics has carved them up. Cleveland has outscored teams and not defended all that well for a long time now — that’s how they made the Finals a season ago — but it’s not enough now. The offense and LeBron can’t carry them all the way.

We’ll see after Game 3 if LeBron is going to be able to get any sleep Saturday night.

Bulls’ Paul Zipser has surgery to repair broken left foot

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CHICAGO (AP) — Chicago Bulls forward Paul Zipser has had surgery to repair a broken left foot.

The team said Friday the operation was performed in his native Germany. The Bulls gave no timetable for his recovery.

Zipser averaged 4.0 points in 54 appearances before sitting out the final nine games last season.