When Gregg Popovich shoved Matt Bonner into his starting lineup last night, it seemed clear he was making a decision in strategy and trying to shift the tenor of the series. But in perfect Popavellian fashion, Bonner turned out to be more decoy than secret weapon. The real genius of the lineup change materialized elsewhere—namely, in Boris Diaw's indomitable, irresistible fat-guy game.
Diaw played 28 minutes last night, and his primary function, like Bonner's, was to break up the Duncan-Splitter frontcourt and return some much needed spacing to the Spurs' offense. He did a fine job at that, but any stretch-4-Donyell-Marshall-type asshole can provide spacing if he just stands in the corner, or far enough out of bounds. Diaw did plenty of floating around the three-point line, but he also proved—while scoring 13 points, grabbing six rebounds, and dishing three assists—that his game has enough facets to make him the kind of pain in the ass that can swing a series.
Diaw didn't dominate last night's game by any means, but he attacked the Thunder with his full array of skills, and in turn reignited the Spurs' offense (his plus/minus was a solid 19, and the Duncan-Diaw-Leonard-Ginobili-Parker lineup posted an offensive rating of 133.9 in 12 minutes). There was the dribble-drive where Diaw spun right past Nick Collison, and finished with a nifty reverse layup in the lane; there were the two spot-up threes he hit in the flow of the offense; there was the whip pass that found Duncan underneath basket for the easy layup; there was the smooth step-back jumper that he dropped in right over Serge Ibaka in the post. There was also this:
This is just what Boris Diaw does. He's not great enough at anything to be a star, or ever truly take over a game, but he's really good at enough things—shooting threes, posting up, passing, getting his big fat body in the way just enough to ruin a Kevin Durant dunk—to wreak a little much-needed havoc from any angle. Want to take advantage of his height and stay big? That's fine, he'll just rain threes while your lumbering power forward fails to close out. Want to go small and try to punish him on the offensive end? He'll just drag your undersized forward into the post and beat him to death. (He really will. Diaw scored 0.97 points per possession on post-ups this year, according to Synergy Sports.)
One of the best things about a great playoff series like this one is that it gives ancillary players like Diaw a chance to shine. Everyone already has their eyes on the stars, and as a series wears on the opposition's cracks and weaknesses become harder and harder to find. But there's always space for a guy like Diaw to cause trouble, because he's not good enough to justify a concentrated attempt at shutting him down, but he's not bad enough that he can just be ignored. Diaw's the knight on the chess board. He's the piece you're never as worried about as you should be, but sometimes he'll zip around the board and fuck your shit up.