As I watched Boris Diaw and Manu Ginobili dissect OKC’s defense in Games 5 and 6 of the West Finals, it became clearer that this San Antonio Spurs team’s depth continues to be its greatest strength. After a regular season in which minutes were distributed in a egalitarian fashion (as has been oft-repeated, no starter over 30 min/game), the trend of sharing the ball, the minutes, and the glory continues.
Gregg Popovich choose to start Matt Bonner in Game 5, after Serge Ibaka suffocated the Spurs with his length and agility in Games 3 and 4. Bonner was as much a decoy as anything else. He’s hit enough threes in his playoff career to demand some attention. Bonner’s presence led to Diaw’s multi-faceted attack. After undergoing back surgery to remove a cyst in April of 2013, Diaw played sparingly in the 2013 Finals, entering 6 games, but spending 13 minutes or less on the court in all but 2 of those contests. Popovich used Diaw as a point forward against the reserves. This year, Diaw’s minutes and impact are on the rise. In the opening round against Dallas, Diaw’s influence helped swing the series after San Antonio got off to a bumpy start. Diaw contributed a line of 17/4/4 in the Game 4 win. Jumping ahead to the West Finals, Diaw’s penetration and scoring from the elbow were critical. In Games 4-6, the big Frenchman averaged 17.3 ppg, 6.8 rpg, and 2.6 apg, while shooting 7 of 14 (50%) from deep. Diaw’s ability to stretch the floor neutralized the Ibaka nightmare that Popovich had been living in Games 3 and 4. Expect more of Diaw at the power forward in the Finals, as the Heat will likely go small.
Manu Ginobili. Playing through injuries last year, Ginobili’s performance in the Finals was nothing if not uneven. In 3 of the 4 Spurs losses, Ginobili wasn’t just bad, he was atrocious. In those three games (Games 2, 4, and 6), Ginobili combined for a plus-minus of negative 66. He sunk the Spurs with eight turnovers in the pivotal Game 6 loss. Fast-forward to this year’s Western Conference Finals. A healthy Ginobili annihilated OKC’s second unit. Basketball-Reference has a “Game Score (GS)” which combines all relevant stats to put a single number on a player’s performance. Anything over 10 is a solid game. Over 15 is a very good game. Considering Ginobili only plays 25-30 minutes per game, it’s unusual for him to compile enough shots to get to 15. Still, in these playoffs, Ginobili has put together a GS of over 15 in 6 of the Spurs 18 games. He’s had a GS over 10 in 12 of the 18 games, and 12 of 15 if you discount the three blowout wins over Portland, where Ginobili played fewer minutes. Ginobili’s game has always been wondrously creative and unpredictable. To see him impacting these games at this stage of his career is awesome. Fans of court-vision, ball-handling, and players that usually rise in the biggest moments have to be rooting for Ginobili to propel the Spurs to one more ring.
No, this is not a full-on analysis of both teams. You already know all about that team from Miami.
Prediction: Spurs in 7.