With less than a week to go in the regular season and the Spurs locked into the two seed, the Silver and Black find themselves two games into a three-game mini road trip. And so far the most important factor hasn't been Kawhi Leonard or even LaMarcus Aldridge—it's been the lack of Boris Diaw.
The Spurs announced Monday that the Frenchman would not travel with the team to square off against the Jazz, Warriors, or Nuggets. Sidelined with an adductor injury, the portly power forward is at home in San Antonio, where I can only assume he’s killing the time by picking up the occasional shift at Creme de la Creme, the haute food truck opened last month by his countryman Tony Parker.
The Spurs escaped Salt Lake Tuesday night with a two-point victory after surrendering a sixteen-point fourth quarter lead. With 4:24 left in the contest, and the Jazz’s Rodney Hood and Joe Ingles having their way, Gregg Popovich pulled Tim Duncan—who has played fewer fourth quarter minutes than any Spur other than Matt Bonner. (Not than I’m complaining—it bears reminding that Duncan is just a few weeks away from his 40th birthday and playing on one good knee.)
Pop brought in Kyle Anderson, who, despite a fine offensive effort, found himself in the situation below, matched up with Trevor Booker and getting switched onto Rodney Hood, who blew through him like a saloon door for a floater.
A healthy Diaw with his size and crafty footwork fits better into those Duncan fourth quarter minutes.
Last night, the Spurs fell to the Warriors 112-101, in the first meeting of these two juggernauts since their glacially-paced March 19 match-up at the AT&T Center. In that game, with Andrew Bogut, Festus Ezeli, and Andre Iguodala injured, Steve Kerr started a pseudo-version of the Warriors’ small-ball, Draymond Green-at-center lineup.
Pop countered by playing Tim Duncan off the bench (for just the third time in the Big Fundamental’s career) and inserting—you guessed it—Boris Diaw into the starting lineup at center.
In both that game and last night’s contest, the Spurs seemed committed to switching every Steph Curry pick and roll—a strategy that only works when the big man getting switched onto Curry has the mobility to stick with him. Boris Diaw has the requisite footwork; Tim Duncan does not. See below as Old Man Riverwalk—again, 40 years old, one good knee, etc.—switches onto Curry and gets torched.
Without Diaw, the Spurs’ bench also lacks sorely for passing and playmaking, with no other big man who comes close to Diaw’s ability to effortlessly flip a no-look rocket over those big shoulders or use those Shakira hips to clear out space and get a good look. Last night, the bench started the game 1-8 from the field and never really picked up much more momentum during the competitive part of the game.
So on this Friday afternoon, let’s raise a cappuccino to the Big Croissant.
Tonight his teammates will take on the Denver Nuggets, just a day after the NBA Players’ Association ran a piece profiling Diaw’s extra-curricular interests, including, among other things, his plans to become an HBO documentarian and travel to outer space. He truly is a Renaissance Man. But don’t take it from me when you can take it from the great Bill Walton.