Mar 6, 2014; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs forward Boris Diaw (33) gets fouled while shooting against Miami Heat forward Michael Beasley (8) during the second half at AT&T Center. The Spurs won 111-87. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

2014 NBA Finals: Appreciating Boris Diaw then and now

Following the Phoenix Suns’ 2006 playoff run, I had an argument with a friend.

He saw Amare Stoudemire’s face-up moves that allowed him to separate from defenders working with limited space in the post. I saw Boris Diaw’s hook shot and his ability to pass out of the post. Vaguely remembering the exact language, I said that Diaw was the better post player.

I’m sure digging up two high schoolers’ crude arguments that took place on AIM wouldn’t be healthy. The unrefined basketball talk and straight idiocy — that being unrelated to any basketball talk — would probably make me cringe.

Still, it’s important to remember the idea of the argument, however poorly I executed it. To this day I don’t think many people appreciate Diaw like they should.

The 2005-06 season was the year the Suns were without Stoudemire, remember, which meant that a good deal of fans were still steaming at owner Robert Sarver for his failure (if it were completely on him) to extend Joe Johnson the year prior. It didn’t help that the player Phoenix got from the Johnson sign-and-trade with Atlanta, Diaw, was filling in for an All-Star forward.

Even in averaging 18.7 points, 6.7 rebounds, 5.2 assists and 1.1 blocks per game during a 20-game run that ended in the Western Conference Finals, Diaw probably didn’t get enough credit. During a six-game series loss to the Dallas Mavericks in the conference finals, he poured in 24.2 points per game and 8.5 rebounds, doing his best to match Dirk Nowitzki’s 28 points and 13.2 rebounds per game.

By the end of the Steve Nash era in Phoenix, the Nash-Diaw combo in 2005-06, sans Stoudemire, still had produced the 23rd most efficient offense in the past two decades. Nash obviously deserved credit, but Diaw since hasn’t had a better season.

Today more than ever, it doesn’t help that people see Diaw’s belly rather than how swiftly he moves, how smart he plays or how unique he really is.

Some Suns fans who witnessed Diaw’s best NBA season still fail to recognize the French forward, thinking more about his shapely figure and maybe his humorous appearances on TMZ-esque “The Dirty.”

But if the San Antonio Spurs break the Miami Heat’s championship bid, maybe it’ll be enough for Diaw to have his due credit.

With a big postseason already in his backpocket and with the ability to defend everyone from Chris Bosh, to Rashard Lewis, to stints on LeBron James, Diaw could swing the finals in San Antonio’s favor.

When James left Game 1 of the 2014 NBA Finals with cramps, the Spurs got their Spursiest.

Diaw re-entered with his team trailing 85-79 and less than 10 minutes to play. On his first touch, he sent a zipping, overhead pass from the left wing to the right, allowing the receiving Kawhi Leonard to take his man off the dribble and get to the hoop to draw a foul.

With six minutes to play, another Diaw skip-pass from the right wing found Danny Green in the shooter’s pocket and resulted in a made three from the left corner. A play later, he drove the right baseline and with one hand (on the move, mind you) whipped a belt-level pass to Green, who this time was standing on the left side of the arc. The in-rhythm, perfectly-placed pass ended with another triple to give San Antonio a lead it wouldn’t relinquish.

Diaw scored his only point with just more than three minutes left, when he earned low-post position by fronting Lewis, on a fastbreak no less. Diaw’s only points of the night came on the layup, but the thing that stood out was Diaw’s plus-minus.

The Spurs outscored the Heat by 30 when Diaw was on the floor, and the forward finished with 10 boards and six assists.

Coincidence? Hardly.

Diaw’s best individual season in 2005-06 was highlighted by a Game 1 game winner in the conference finals against the Dallas Mavericks, and his 2014 postseason run had a familiar start.

From his best season to his current one, it’s come full circle.

It’d be nice if he could get a little credit.

  • EarlBlackJesusMonroe

    Most of us know that Diaw has mad skills. It seemed that after his Most Improved Player season he became fat and lazy, more interested in French pastries and young girls. Diaw is very similar to James, a big 6′-8″ player who has all-around skills. With that large Barkley derriere and hook-shot, he had/has a far superior post game to Amare and the majority of today’s players.

    I’m actually surprised Pops tolerates his perceived lack of effort or interest in the game and now is totally confident in him and fully utilizes Diaw. It sure looked like Diaw wouldn’t be back this season the way Pops seemed to be frustrated with him in Diaw’s first and second seasons. Remember that Buford claimed Diaw off the scrap heap after the Bobcats waived him at Parker’s request.

    Tony needed a French-speaking wing-man to go chasing after young girls with!

  • DBreezy

    It’s rough seeing Diaw play such a prominent role with the Spurs after he disappointed so much at key times here. It would be one thing if he were misused or hadn’t been supported by the staff, but D’Antoni trusted him to a fault at times. Before Channing Frye became the local internet forum punching bag, we had Boris Diaw.

    He plays well off Duncan, but he basically refused to do the same with Amar’e. He was and/is perfectly capable of being a strong post player, but instead he often decided to make it a battle with Amar’e for the elbow and screener roles when they were on the court together and pout when he didn’t get his way. With all due respect to Grant Hill, he should have been the 6th man if Boris didn’t pout and get out of shape.

    History is written by the winners, so the SSOL offense will pretty much go down as a complete failure but there were several articles back then that showed that even playoff level defenses and intensity couldn’t stop that offense from scoring. What the Spurs in particular were great at doing though is getting stops on key individual possessions in the last 5 mins of the game and I lay a lot of that at the feet of Diaw. The Spurs were almost always able to use Bowen anyway they wanted. They could either use him to completely stymie Matrix’s activity/hustle game or to pester Nash. Parker could get a rest guarding Raja and often Manu got a relative rest guarding the mid-range jump shooting Hill and they could get away with a guy like Horry holding Matrix off the glass and cuts for stretches. Diaw was the best way the Suns could have punished those cross-matches. If he would have posted up Manu and punished him, Pop would have no choice but to pull Bowen off of Nash. Manu still gets a rest on Bell, but Parker now has to work on both ends and he wasn’t that good at guarding Nash. How many points is that worth on both ends? How often would it force Pop to go to his less preferred 4th quarter offensive lineup with Bowen on the bench?

    In many respects, Boris’ play vs the Spurs is harder for me to let go of than some of the more commonly talked about disappointments from that era because it had to do with effort. You can fault guys like Nash, D’Antoni, Stat, Trix, Shaq, Kerr, etc for certain things but it’s hard to say that those guys didn’t try hard. Diaw didn’t beyond that 2005-2006 season and it’s not like he was afraid of the stage-he wasn’t then and isn’t now.