Valdosta Daily Times

Local Sports

June 15, 2014

Role players have Spurs rolling in NBA Finals

SAN ANTONIO — Tony Parker is still thankful for the role players who helped carry San Antonio to its last NBA title in 2007.

There was Robert Horry, a seven-time champion and official finals good-luck charm if there ever was one. Michael Finley, who was hitting 3-pointers at a much better rate in those playoffs than he did in the regular season that year. Fabricio Oberto, who probably never had a play called for him but found ways to get things done.

The Spurs had a ‘Big 3’ then, the same one that they have now.

But three is rarely enough, and that’s been proven once again in these NBA Finals.

Kawhi Leonard and Boris Diaw have been exactly what San Antonio needed in this matchup against the Miami Heat, and might be the two biggest reasons why the Spurs are one win away from their fifth NBA championship. The Spurs lead these finals 3-1, and will look to end Miami’s reign in Game 5 at home tonight.

“If you want to win championships, obviously you need a ‘Big 3,”’ Parker said. “But you need your role players to play great too. And every time we won championships in the past, the ‘Big 3,’ we played great, but we had great role players. ... If you want to go all the way, you need the whole team to play great.”

That’s what the Spurs are getting.

Parker is leading the Spurs in scoring, Tim Duncan is leading in rebounding and the Western Conference champions are outscoring Miami by 62 points so far with Manu Ginobili on the floor — so yes, the ‘Big 3’ is doing its part.

But when the Spurs took control of the series by winning Games 3 and 4 in Miami, Leonard led the charge by averaging 24.5 points on 68 percent shooting. And Diaw has 23 assists so far in the series, more than anyone else and none probably better than his behind-the-back offering out of the post that set Tiago Splitter up for a dunk in Game 4.

There’s already talk that Leonard could be in line to win MVP of the finals. In an absolutely not-shocking development, he wanted no part of that talk.

“It feels the same for me as any game going into it,” Leonard said of the anticipation level for Game 5. “All I’m thinking about is playing. I’m not worried about what if we win or lose, and we just want to go out and play.”

Such is the Spurs’ way.

The makeup of a player who perfectly fits into the San Antonio system has remained unchanged for the better part of two decades. He values team play over any individual accolade. He never says too much, particularly about himself. He stays in the moment, avoiding the urge to look ahead or behind.

Leonard and Diaw meet all those characteristics.

“San Antonio is playing great,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “They’re moving the basketball. They’re exploiting where we’re normally good, so we have to do a better job. Even when we’ve made adjustments, they’ve still been able to stay in a rhythm and a flow.”

It’s hard to remember now that Diaw couldn’t get minutes with the 2011-12 Charlotte Bobcats — a team that finished with the worst record in NBA history — in part because then-coach Paul Silas was frustrated with Diaw’s penchant for passing the ball instead of taking shots at times.

So the Bobcats waived him late that season. The Spurs picked him up and in Game 4 of these finals, Diaw had more assists (nine) than shots (six).

Go figure.

“He really has a high basketball IQ,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said of Diaw. “I think he raises the level for everyone. At the defensive end, he’s pretty heady, not the quickest guy in the world, but really smart. Does his work early and understands what’s going on. At the offensive end, he can score inside and out, and he passes the ball really well. He’s a consummate team sort of guy.”

Diaw is just the third player to have a game with at least nine rebounds and nine assists during these playoffs, with Oklahoma City stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook being the others.

For his part, Diaw said he’s never cared about scoring. If the team scores, that’s good enough for him.

“It’s just moving the ball, playing with everybody,” Diaw said. “There is nobody really just watching. Everybody’s involved, and everybody gets the ball at some point. So it’s been good.”

Good, indeed.

One more win, and these Spurs officially become great.

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