Matt Bonner has only played garbage time against the Blazers after often being the second big off the bench against the Mavs. This pragmatic, match-up dependent use of Bonner is what most fans have been wanting to see for years. Bonner was much more valuable than his staunchest critics have ever allowed, but he has always been a specialty big man. And over the past couple of years, his flaws have only gotten more odious.
So why am even thinking about Bonner as an option? Because I think some floor spacing from the bigs could snap Manu Ginobili out of his funk.
When to do it
Lopez usually subs out for the Blazers near the end of the first quarter and Robinson checks in. That makes Aldridge the de facto center. Just before that time, Boris Diaw has been replacing Splitter. But there's a bit of cross matching going on. Diaw usually takes Aldridge even after Baynes checks in to give Duncan a breather.
I think it's obvious that Bonner can't check neither Lopez nor Aldridge. They would get offensive rebounds galore and Aldridge could eat him alive despite Matty playing solid position D. But with Robinson in, having Bonner on the court next to Diaw is a legitimate option.
Why it should be considered
With Baynes and Diaw on the court, the spacing is all out of whack in the half court offense. This is because Baynes is only a threat from right at the rim and the Blazers are willing to take their chances leaving Diaw alone beyond the arc -- dropping their bigs back, daring the Spurs to hit jumpers. That's the reason Manu is taking mid-range looks instead of driving: there's just no room. Baynes and Manu have made it work because the Aussie crashes the glass after Manu shoots and has gotten offensive boards as a smaller player switches onto him. But that's doesn't seem like a sustainable strategy.
I'm willing to bet having Bonner out there would result in some breakdowns for the Blazers that the Spurs -- particularly Ginobili -- could exploit.
With Bonner spacing the floor, it makes it impossible for whoever guards him to help inside without leaving a knock-down shooter open. If the Spurs have Ginobili and Diaw doing dribble pitches or side screen and rolls on a cleared strong side, there should be enough room to get an easy shot at the rim for one of them. If the defense switches, Diaw can take the perimeter defender into the post. And involving Bonner on pick and rolls as a screener would prevent the big from dropping back, as Matty would just pop for the open three. It should provide Ginobili with some interesting options to get his driving game going, which is key when his shot isn't falling. And as Matthew Tynan wrote today, Manu's shot has not been falling.
The trade offs
On defense, Portland might decide to try to exploit Bonner's presence like so many teams have misguidedly done in the past. I can't think of a better outcome for the Spurs than having the Blazers feed Robinson in the post. If they instead realize that there are no shot blockers and drive, it could definitely be a problem. Not to mention how problematic a Diaw-Bonner pairing could be in the rebounding department. So the Spurs might suffer when it comes to defending in the half court. But there's a hidden benefit from having Bonner on the floor: transition defense.
When the Spurs trot out the Diaw-Baynes pair, the Blazers run like crazy and have had success at it. They sub in Robinson and then Barton and increase their athleticism. They force mid-range shots, grab the rebound and off they go. With Bonner on the court, one of the bigs needs to be in the perimeter instead of under the rim, which means a wing needs to help on the boards instead of leak out. Meanwhile, the Spurs have a big of their own who will not crash the offensive glass and will go back on defense instead. Teams scored the lowest amounts of fast break points by a wide margin in the regular season against the Spurs when Bonner was on the floor because he's presence immediately improves floor balance.
So by playing Bonner instead of Baynes, the Spurs would put themselves in a compromising position on the defensive boards and lose some physicality and rim protection but would gain significant flexibility on offense and would likely limit the Blazers' fast break opportunities. Considering how well things have gone for the Spurs so far in the series, Game 4 notwithstanding, I think Pop will likely not make that gamble.
At the same time, as I read how J.R. and Dave talked about potential adjustments in their conversation, this is the only one I could see the Spurs making, especially if they are leading as Robinson enters for Lopez. By sending in Bonner instead of Baynes, the Spurs would have the opportunity to confuse an inconsistent Blazer defense. And if they managed to do that, I could see a little run coming as Portland tries to figure out how to take advantage on the other end. By the time they do that, Splitter should be ready to check back in. The beauty of it is that it would just last a handful of minutes and the Spurs would be ready for it while Portland wouldn't.
Is it a no-brainer of an adjustment? Far from it. Is it something the Spurs need to do to fix something that it hasn't been working? Not really. But if the objective is to catch Portland off guard, giving Baynes' minutes to Bonner might do the trick.