The Spurs lost Game 1 in no small part because they squandered opportunities. Those missed free throws really came back to haunt them and had some of their open shots fallen, they might have had a lead to reduce the impact of the Clippers' killer stretch in the third quarter. On the other end their were too many miscues in transition defense to count and some late or missed rotations. No one player is responsible for the loss. It was a combination of Spurs mistakes and a great performance by the Clippers, who made them pay for almost every one of them.
Going over the game, however, it's impossible not to note some poor individual performances. Cory Joseph and Danny Green struggled throughout the game, Aron Baynes had a nightmare of a third quarter and Tony Parker wasn't even close to Chris Paul's level. Yet who stands out the most in a bad way on a second and third viewing is Boris Diaw.
Diaw is not a strech four and the Clippers know it
The Clippers are hedging hard on pick and rolls, trying to stymie dribble penetration. If you recall, the Miami Heat used to do something similar, trapping or at least hedging hard on almost every pick and roll to force the ball out of the guards' hands. Diaw was very good against them as a safety valve, a way for the ball-handler to give up the rock without it resulting in a reset of the possession. Diaw would catch it and reverse it and the Spurs would attack again or he would put the ball on the floor and drive. When the other team rotated to him, he found the open man, as he did when Jamal Crawford left Patty Mills open.
In theory, he's perfectly suited to exploit an over-aggressive defense on secondary action. For him to excel, however, he needs the other team to scramble to stop him. That didn't happen often on Sunday. The way Crawford defended that play was an exception, a mistake. Boris would set a screen and stay in the perimeter, trying to use the Clippers' aggressive approach to work against them and find open shooters. The problem is they were not concerned at all with him as a stretch four.
They continued to hedge hard and instead of rotating to him, they just left Diaw wide open from outside, daring him to shoot. To his credit, he did but the results were not positive. Diaw went 0-5 from on three-point attempts, which made Los Angeles' decision look inspired in retrospect.
His inability to hit the three consistently has been a problem all season long. He has upped the number of attempts but his accuracy hasn't improved. Whenever Diaw decides to settle for three-pointers for an entire game, he bails opponents out. He obviously needs to fire one on occasion to keep defenses honest. If he hits, it completely changes the game, giving the offense a huge boost. But he simply isn't a volume shooter from outside like Matt Bonner or any of the league's traditional stretch fours and the Clippers know it.
Things were different when Diaw attacked after receiving the pass. When instead of fading beyond the three-point line he slips the pick and makes a short roll, the defense has no choice but to commit. That's how he found Aron Baynes beneath the basket for an easy shot.
He can also simply drive to the rim, especially when Jordan is resting. That's when Diaw has to make his damage.
Glen Davis is just not a rim protector and the Spurs need to go at him as much as they can when he's on the court.
Instead of fading and settling for the shot, Diaw needs to be more assertive because the Clippers are not going to guard him far from the basket. He won't be able to go all the way every time because the paint will be clogged but at least it might get the defense moving.
There's no good matchup for Diaw on defense
Diaw not only struggled on offense but also on defense. Blake Griffin and Davis went at him on the post and both overpowered him. That's a big problem with Splitter limited, as Diaw will have to spend time on Griffin by necessity. Fronting him before he receives the entry pass is a risk because he can break free for an alley oop but it might be the Spurs' best shot, as there's not much Diaw can do once Blake has possession.
Yet even that isn't enough because Griffin is a good enough ball-handler to create his own post opportunities with the ball in his hands.
Diaw doesn't have the length to force Griffin into a tough shot. Every time Blake backs him down someone has to help him or the result will more often than not be a bucket.
Post defense is not the only problem. In Paul-Griffin pick and rolls the Spurs had Diaw switch, which when executed correctly -- the two plays in which they botched it resulted in highlight dunks for Griffin -- is a smart way to take away at least the quick pass to the dive man. Paul is so good that there's no perfect way to stop him from hurting you on screen and rolls, so that's a good way to at least contain the most devastating option.
When Joseph is guarding Paul the switch creates a significant mismatch with Griffin in the post. If Leonard is guarding him, it has the potential to take Griffin out of the play, as giving him the ball against Kawhi is not an ideal option unless he has deep post position. Unfortunately Paul has a huge advantage when Diaw is on him, so the Clippers don't have to go to Griffin at all if they don't want to. Boris was not able to bother Paul at all when he was guarding him. He hit jumpers when Diaw gave him room and attacked the rim when he played him close.
Even when the Paul-Griffin pick and roll is not killing the Spurs in the obvious way, it's still a huge problem in part because Diaw, to no fault of his own, can't really contain Paul in the perimeter.
This might not be a good series for Diaw
There are no obvious solutions to these issues. Diaw needs to take at least some shots from outside but he also needs to mix it up and attack after getting the ball, especially if Jordan is resting. Having Mills on the court with him instead of Joseph helped with the spacing in Game 1 so it wouldn't be surprising if Mills gets the back up minutes from now on. That should help.
On defense the team will need to cover some of Boris' weaknesses because the matchup is not good for him. If Splitter gets more minutes that would be a huge plus, as he's a more disciplined defender and a better rim protector than Baynes. A split second is the difference between a tough shot and a dunk or easy layup for Paul and Griffin. If everyone else is on point, Diaw will have a neutral impact on that end.
The playoffs are all about matchups. That phrase is a cliche for a reason. We've seen Tiago Splitter's impact reduced significantly simply because of the style of the opponent and the Spurs have neutralized players that give other teams fits. While it's early to say that Diaw won't make a big difference against the Clippers, it looks like this might not be the best series for him. If the Spurs advance, Diaw will have his time to shine later on. For now, expecting excellence from Boris might not be reasonable.