First off, if you don't recognize that Boris Diaw was the MVP of Game 1, I've got no time for you. Simple as that.
Because I don't have much to do right now and there's no way I can just watch this Celtics-Sixers game without bludgeoning myself.
I mean, good lord was he awesome. The individual defense on Blake Griffin. The rotations on defense to snuff all their pick-and-rolls and backdoor cuts. His awesome board work on both ends. His timely cuts on offense. The high post passing that absolutely RUINED the Clippers defense. All in all, that has to be the finest playoff performance for a stretch four in a Spurs playoff game since Game 5 of the 2005 Finals, no? Or at least since Game 7 of the same.
I can't stress emphatically enough how impressed I was by Diaw's all-around game at both ends of the floor. The Clippers came in with a fantastic defensive game plan to take away Tony's scoring, not giving him the time or space to drive to the hoop or shoot his mid-range jumper. I haven't seen him defended that well, as far as taking him away as a scorer, since those vintage Mavericks teams with Avery Johnson. Even the Lakers, who've notoriously been successful against Tony over the years, especially when it mattered, were so mainly to Parker's jumper going wonky. The Clips managed to take the drive and the jumper away, completely selling out on Tony.
It's a strategy that would've probably been successful for the first 50 games of this regular season. The acquisition of Diaw (and to an extent Duncan's resurgence and Ginobili's return to health) has changed the equation into one few if any teams in the NBA can solve, and certainly not the over-matched Clippers. Now, when Parker is trapped he simply tosses it out to Diaw on the high post and lets his fellow Frenchman carve up the Clippers with five different options at his disposal. Diaw can shoot it, drive it off the opponent's run out to him, drive and kick to either corner or drive and dump it down to Tim for a lay-up after Duncan's man comes out to contest the drive. Combine all that with the five offensive caroms he collected, and Diaw simply made the starting unit devastating to behold.
To be fair, Parker was anything but horrible. Quite the opposite. I've long despaired that his biggest failing as a player, and the reason why I've felt for some time that he was overrated by Spurs fans even though he's underrated by the rest of the planet, is that until this season it was impossible for Parker to contribute to a win (at least in his mind) if he's not scoring. In 2012 though his game is developed -- or at least he's finally gotten a pair of young horses in Green and Leonard who can run and shoot -- to the point where he not only has an answer for every coverage he sees but is secure enough in his own game to trust those answers. Parker forced very few shots, especially in the second half, and it's no small feat that he racked up 11 assists considering how many possessions Diaw, Duncan and Ginobili used.
Defensively Parker deserves a ton of credit too, for helping to shut down Chris Paul. Danny Green did most of the grunt work, and it was plain that his size bothered Paul (full credit to Pop by the way for giving Green some experience in the regular season against CP3), but Parker has his part in it as well for steering Paul into corners and traps or for being the trapper himself. The two of them expended a lot of energy in their own, as the did the bigs who came over to close on his shots and clog passing lanes. To be honest I'm not sure what Paul and the Clippers can do too differently to combat this defensive strategy. I imagine they'll try to use Eric Bledsoe or Mo Williams to initiate the offense more, but neither of those guys are any good at creating shots for others, and Paul isn't nearly as useful as a shooting guard.
I'm not too worried about their offense, really. In game 1 Caron Butler and Bledsoe got off. In game 2 it may be Williams and Randy Foye. Very rarely will it be all four or even three of the four. It's true enough that the Spurs shot a crazy percentage from 3 (13-of-25, 52%), but so did they (9-of-19, 47%). The shooting wasn't what separated the teams. Besides, if you had to bet on one team's shooting from deep staying at this level and the other team's to wane a bit, wouldn't you bet on the Spurs for the former and the Clippers for the latter? After all, their defensive strategy seemed to be to take Parker's scoring away at all cost, at the expense of allowing open threes with a couple simple passes. It's pick your poison. The Spurs are allowing their share of open threes, but not as many, because the Clippers don't have a Diaw of their own, nor a Ginobili or a Duncan, when you think about it.
As superb as Reggie Evans was in the first round against Memphis, it seems clear that he's going to be a spectator in this series. Diaw has changed everything. The Clippers' only shot is to go small and hope their wings shoot and make better decisions off the drive than our wings do. Both teams will furiously trap the pick and roll. The difference is that the Spurs can play 4-down with Duncan -- who not only is a better passer and a shooter than Griffin but would simply destroy him on post-ups -- and they have a guy in Manu who might go for 30 and 10 dimes if the Clips decide to defend him the way they did in the 4th quarter, with his man desperately running at him off a double team and only one big in the lane. Manu will have a lay-up, a floater, some FTs an easy pass for a corner three or a dump off to Duncan for a dunk every time. Or a wide open three if his guy doesn't come. Pretty much what Diaw got last night when the Clips played with two bigs, in other words. Pick your poison.
My one concern: Our bench. I'm not too worried about Tiago, yet, and I still think he'll get his off the pick-and-roll or the high screen with Manu. He's a rhythm guy and the long lay-off hurt his timing on those rolls. He should be better. With him my only fear is that Del Negro might borrow a page from Pop's playbook and start sending him to the line on purpose.
No the bigger worry is Gary Neal, who really shouldn't be playing in this series anymore. The Clips have too many small guys who are quick and can score and pressure the ball. Neal can shoot, and he plays better with Ginobili, but I don't really trust him to dribble or pass or guard anyone on that team. Give Patty Mills a shot, with strict instructions that lackadaisical defense, hurried jumpers with 18 seconds left on the shot clock and looking off that guy with the jacked up nose are three quick ways to go back to the bench tootsweet. I suppose one or the other have to play, especially when Tony needs a blow and the Clippers are small, but Mills may be the lesser of two evils here.
The other issue is Matty. Like Evans for LA, if this series goes small then he's glued to the bench. No complaints or issues with defense yesterday, save for the dumb foul on Bledsoe, but he passed up one open three and didn't look to be moving too aggressively in the search for real estate. The Spurs look crazy deep, ladies and germs, but I kid you not when I say that for most of the 2005 season that squad was considered deep too. You'll be amazed how quickly 11-man rotations shrink to 10, then 9 then 8 when the stakes get higher and Pop's patience gets shorter. Championship Spurs teams have usually gone with three bigs, so it won't be too shocking to see Bonner, as awesome as he was during the regular season, joining Blair and Neal on the bench, wondering what happened. Our opponents are just gonna get smaller and smaller as we go...
Your Three Stars (with apologies to Manu, Kawhi and Tony, who were all quite good)
3. Danny Green: Pretty damn close to perfect, except for a couple of missed lay-ups and that horrid floater/charge. Stop that.
2. Tim Duncan: If you haven't read Chris Ballard's sensational article on Timmeh, do so, immediately. Best article on Duncan that's ever been written. I disagree with Ballard on one thing though. He wasn't always a center. He actually was a legit PF when he started. Once Horry entered the picture and Pop fell in love with the concept of a "stretch-4" (no doubt influenced by 'Sheed's success against LA in '04) then his philosophy changed. Or maybe he realized it's a lot easier to find 6-10 guys who can shoot than the next David Robinson, even at the '99-'03 stretch of his career.
1. Boris Diaw: It's not even fair anymore. Can we install a seatbelt to the bench when he's sitting? I'm sure Stern will be looking for any way possible to suspend him.
P.S. Three stars used to be so much easier. Spurs screwed it up by getting a bunch of good players. Jerks.