AT&T CENTER--Seated in front of his locker, quickly changing clothes before the horde of cameras make their way two seats over and invade his space for Manu Ginobili's customary post game media scrum, Boris Diaw hastily throws on a custom t-shirt with a cartoon likeness of himself. His physique, while far removed from the Charlotte Bobcat post-lockout days that spurred a thousand overweight jokes, still remains far from the sculpted pinnacle of physical perfection we associate with world class athletes.
Conversing with Diaw is Matt Bonner, a pale, red-headed big man who looks and dresses like what you what expect from a basketball player from the basketball hotbed of New Hampshire. Alongside Manu Ginobili, Marco Belinelli, and Patty Mills, the San Antonio Spurs second unit is perhaps the least physically imposing lineup in the NBA today. And perhaps its most entertaining.
The Spurs foreign legion lineup of Mills, Ginobili, Belinelli, and Diaw plus an additional big man (normally Tiago Splitter, but ably filled by Bonner--who is as Canadian as an American can get--during Splitter's second half absence due to a slight ankle sprain) has been destroying NBA benches during this 11-game winning streak. Mills (12), Ginobili (16), Belinelli (14), and Diaw (13) each scored in double figures to pace the Spurs in their 112-93 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans.
They've had plenty of time too, with the Spurs opening up leads of 37, 29, 25, 12, 19,16, 43, and 32 in the past eight games (h/t Dan McCarney of the Express-News), leading to some hilarious bench-time shenanigans in recent weeks.
"They've proven that they bring that energy and they really change the pace of the game when they get in there," Tim Duncan said after the game. "They've been great all season long. We're excited about the second group. We sit there and we're excited for them."
Though Diaw and Ginobili have been mainstays the past few season, Belinelli is new to the team and Mills new to the rotation. The Spurs system, notoriously difficult to grasp, is largely set aside as this group plays a simple-but-effective brand of drive-and-kick, spacing the floor and reversing the ball from one corner to the other in a symphony of passing that yields open three-pointers and lay-ups--such as the MIlls-to-Belinelli-to-Bonner with a bullet pass for a layup executed in the second quarter.
Against an athletic team anchored by Anthony Davis, a legitimate franchise talent, the Spurs bench played the role of old school recreational league team that lays waste to bigger and fast players, embarrassing the college-aged kids in front of their girlfriends sitting in the stands. And not player embodies this essence more than Boris Diaw.
No one has ever questioned Diaw's basketball IQ, but not since his breakout season in Phoenix has he used that IQ in a manner that has kept him a constant threat from everywhere on the floor. Buoyed some by his successful international play this summer, Diaw returned to San Antonio aggressively seeking catch and shoot opportunities, backing down overmatched, smaller defenders, and using surprising (though not great) mobility and craft to attack the basket. In today's NBA, even the most brilliant passers need to present the threat of scoring to succeed; and while it would be an exaggeration to state that the 11 shots Diaw put up tonight would once be considered an entire month's worth of work, it wouldn't be a huge exaggeration.
With Diaw joining Manu as another scoring threat off the bench, Mills, Belinelli, and whoever the Spurs trot out with them are allowed to work on the fringes of the defense, creating havoc against rotations and creating simple shots despite lacking a single dominant shot creator.
"They execute well. They're a veteran team that knows their offense really well," Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday said. "They know where they're supposed to be, and their execution is pretty good."
The Pelicans execution is not. Especially on the defensive end. Despite the game-changing talents of Anthony Davis, the team is young and inexperienced. They help one or two passes too early, overreaction to dribble penetration despite featuring one of the premiere young defensive big men in the NBA. All of the Spurs made field goals in the first quarter were in the paint, near the rim, until Ginobili hit back-to-back corner threes at the end of the quarter.
Defensively, the Spurs held the Pelicans (a top-10 offense with an explosive Davis-Ryan Anderson pairing) to 38.1 percent shooting. Duncan, off to a sluggish start offensively this season, contributed three blocks and a steal in a little under 25 minutes, while also shooting 4-8 from the field, hitting a vintage bank shot for a second straight game, and a few and-ones.
With so many blowouts, there hasn't been much to clean up heading into a game against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Of course, this is a team that has played together for years, as Russell Westbrook noted early Monday. And though they may not be as physically imposing as their younger counterparts, they know the ball moves faster than bodies, even those infinitely more gifted than their own.
Once again, if you wish for your team to be a title contender (i.e. one of the top 4 or 5 teams), you have to accept the fact that the regular season is just going to be as boring as all hell.
Because, just like every other recent year, you have about 25 teams that suck so bad that they should open up a level between the NBA and the D League for them.
And the only games are that even interesting during the regular season are among the top 4 or 5 which come around very rarely.
IE I am really looking forward to Wed. Hope Pop doesn't bench his big 3.
@angel jordan I'd go with GLOOM.