Posts Tagged ‘Spurs’

Hang time podcast (episode 165) featuring NBA.com Draft guru Scott Howard-Cooper


VIDEO: NBA’.com’s Draft Yoda Scott Howard-Cooper joins the Hang Time Podcast for an update a week before the Draft

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Before we can get to the NBA Draft and the future of the league and guys like Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker, we have to talk about those players and teams dominating the league in the here and now.

The San Antonio Spurs are on top of the basketball world right now, and rightfully so after blasting the Miami Heat off the court in the final three games of The Finals.

The results put the futures of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh into question (at least as a trio), while solidifying the legacies of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Gregg Popovich in the annals as some of the best we’ve seen in their respective roles and positions.

Episode 165 of the Hang Time Podcast provides us with an opportunity to review what we saw in The Finals in both San Antonio and Miami (where the first annual Hang Time Pigcast, thanks to Genesis Rodriguez and family, was a rousing success) and to preview what’s to come in the Draft and beyond with NBA.com’s Draft Yoda, our main man Scott Howard-Cooper.

Who are the Draft’s risers and fallers? Who goes No. 1? And is there a franchise savior among the bunch? We answer all of those questions and more, along with some drowsy analysis from a certain someone who decided an all-night drive to Las Vegas to clear his mind after The Finals was the only way to deal with what lies ahead this summer.

You get all of that and more on Episode 165 of the Hang Time Podcast featuring Scott Howard-Cooper

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com,  Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand and the best sound designer/engineer in the business,  Jarell “I Heart Peyton Manning” Wall.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.

Spurs belong with all-time elites


VIDEO: Tim Duncan on the court after winning his fifth championship in San Antonio

SAN ANTONIO – If you ask the San Antonio Spurs about the greatest sports dynasty of our time, they’ll probably caution you not to rush to judgment.

After all, they might not be finished.

When the Spurs put the finishing touches on the destruction of the Miami Heat on Sunday, with one last whipping in Game 5 of The NBA Finals, maybe the only thing more impressive than their sheer dominance of the two-time defending champion was the simple fact that the Spurs, inexorably, keep on winning.

Kawhi Leonard, the Spurs’ taciturn forward who was named The Finals MVP, was only 7 years old when his teammate Tim Duncan raised the same trophy over his head in 1999, when the Spurs won their first title by beating the New York Knicks. Through the interim, the Los Angeles Lakers have risen and fallen and risen and fallen again, and now lie in a ditch so deep they might need more than a long rope to climb out. The Boston Celtics resurrected their past glory for a few shining seasons but have now fallen on hard times. The would-be contenders, the Oklahoma City Thunder and Memphis Grizzlies, have changed cities and, in one case, changed names.

The Spurs have changed, too, from a deliberate, rugged team built on a foundation of tough, unyielding defensive chops to a work of offensive artistry that emphasizes quickness, ball movement and 3-point shooting.

What’s stayed the same is an organizational philosophy that promotes professionalism, selflessness and sacrifice. It is those core beliefs, and the way they have been carried out over so many years, that have produced the five championships that solidify San Antonio’s case as one of North America’s greatest sports dynasties ever.

When asked by ESPN’s Stuart Scott the biggest difference between the two titles, 15 years apart, Duncan gave the simplest and most accurate answer: “Fifteen years, probably?” (more…)

Spurs’ redemption makes game better


VIDEO: Spurs storm past Heat for their fifth NBA title

SAN ANTONIO — It was a season that the Spurs attacked like the world was their piñata, determined to keep hitting and hitting it, smacking and banging it until one day it would burst open.

When the prizes finally fell at their feet on Sunday night, it was relief and release and redemption.

“It makes last year OK,” said Tim Duncan.

He hugged his two kids. He wrapped Manu Ginobili up in a bear hug. He clamped a headlock on Kawhi Leonard. And he practically swallowed Gregg Popovich up in a grin that was as big as Texas.

Twelve months ago, there were the last 28 seconds of Game 6, Duncan’s own missed put-back in Game 7, followed by a year that probably seemed longer than a journey across purgatory on a lawn mower.

It drove them, but not to distraction. It pulled them along, but never pushed them over the edge. It, OK, spurred them with just enough sharp pain in their flanks to know they never wanted to feel that again.

“We wanted to redeem ourselves,” said Tony Parker.

It was a relentless, astonishing campaign of atonement through artistry, reshaping that ugly lump of lost opportunity into the basketball equivalent of Michelangelo’s David.

The Spurs won a league-best 62 games during the regular season and then sculpted a playoff drive that only got better as it went on and culminated with this jaw-dropping masterpiece against the two-time defending champion Heat.

In the process, the Spurs reintroduced the world to what it means to play the game at its purest form, the linear descendants of the 1960s Celtics and the 1970s Knicks, who share the ball and take away the breath of anyone who has ever loved the game.

Quite fitting that the culmination came on the opening weekend of the World Cup. So often called “the beautiful game,” futbol looks like a faded starlet with too much mascara when compared to these Spurs.

There are more passes in an average Spurs offensive possession than a singles bar on a weekend night, more cuts than a butcher counter, more bodies moving than in an earthquake. Their style of play practically comes with a musical score you can hear in your head.

They are the 38-year-old Duncan spinning in the paint to knock down turnaround jumpers, the 36-year-old Ginobili reaching into his past and rising up to throw down a thunderbolt dunk over Chris Bosh and the 32-year-old Parker conducting the symphony.

Now the Big Three have the 22-year-old company of Leonard as Finals MVP for a franchise that has stretched excellence over 15 years with five championships.

“Great coaches, persistence, drive and a love for the game,” said Duncan.

They wanted LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Bosh and the rest of the South Beach spectacle that are the Heat precisely because they were the ones who benefited from the Spurs’ mistakes a year ago and that loud backdrop would make the brushstrokes of the Spurs’ collaborative game practically leap off the canvas.

This wasn’t a mere beating of Miami. They couldn’t have pulverized the Heat more by using a mortar and pestle.

The Spurs were the black velvet jeweler’s cloth that shows off the flaws in a low-grade diamond. They shot the ball better than any team in Finals history against a team that prides itself in playing a disruptive, smothering defense. They won all four Finals games by 15 points or more and it was an NBA-record 12th time in their 16 playoff wins with such a margin.

After dominating the first quarters of the first four games of the series, the Spurs devilishly spotted the Heat a 16-point lead in the clincher and then stepped on their throats.

James battled valiantly with his 31 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and two blocked shots, but he might as well have been a lamb taking on a pack of wolves. By the middle of the third quarter, if his teammates were any deader there would have been guys in white coats standing around waiting to harvest organs.

The plight of the four-time MVP James trying to carry the entire Heat cause on his shoulders was in direct contrast to the Spurs roster that is deeper than a philosophy class at the bottom of the Marianas Trench.

They had Boris Diaw doing sleight-of-hand passing, rebounding and taking his turns playing defense on James. They had Tiago Splitter mixing it up under the basket and doing throwback Larry Bird impersonations with touch passes in the lane. They had Patty Mills from halfway around the world, the first Indigenous Australian to reach The Finals, slinging in killshot 3-pointers. They had the flinty Popovich to keep them looking ahead even while feeling the sting of the past like lashes on their backs.

With the exceptions of Marco Belinelli and Jeff Ayres, they were all there a year ago in Miami when the dagger went in and the blood of remorse first rose up their throats and gave them a hint of what rejuvenation, reinvention, redemption might taste like.

“Last year was a tough one for all of us,” said Ginobili. “We felt like we had the trophy, that we were touching it, and it slipped away. It was a tough summer. We all felt guilty.

“Last year made us stronger.”

Now the game is better for that.

GameDay Live: Heat-Spurs Game 5


VIDEO: Kawhi Leonard did it all to pull the Spurs through against the Heat in The Finals

SAN ANTONIO — Fifteen years later, it still has to taste as sweet as the first time for San Antonio Spurs legend Tim Duncan and his coach Gregg Popovich.

Feels like the first time, indeed, even though this makes three titles in three difference decades and five total.

Larry O’Brien never looked so good.

The mighty San Antonio Spurs are your 2014 NBA champions, defeating the Miami Heat in five games and three straight breathtaking performances to dethrone the two-time NBA champs.

They did it on Father’s Day, too, a sweet day for their oldest player and proud father Duncan, the backbone of the franchise, and a bittersweet day for its young star, Kawhi Leonard (the youngest MVP of The Finals since Duncan 15 years ago), whose father was shot and killed at the family car wash in Compton, Calif., back in 2008, just as he was becoming a basketball star.

We can talk about LeBron James and the Miami Heat later, but tonight, it’s all about the “Spurs Way,” the blend of the old (Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili) and new (Kawhi … Patty Mills Boris Diaw and the rest) and one of the league’s true dynasties and the fact that team triumphed over talent when it mattered most.

And yes, they avenged that loss to the Heat in The Finals last year in the best way possible (outscoring the champs by 70 points in the five games and winning every game by 15 or more points), better known as …

#TheSpursWay

The “Beautiful Brand” wins out

There will be more converts to come, trust me. There will be more!

All respect due …

They do indeed. And they’ll get it around here.

Leonard’s time to shine is now!

You pick up a pen, write Kawhi Leonard’s name and then hand it to someone. Pretty simple.

#SpursWay

All team, all the time!

A timeless tradition … 

Old Man River Walk


VIDEO: Manu with the nasty lefty throwdown over Chris Bosh

Not the “Framily Plan” 

Low blow alert!

Kawhi-V-P 

There is no choice but to give this quiet warrior his due!

(more…)

Spurs say rematch not about revenge


VIDEO: Gregg Popovich talks about his team’s preparation heading into Game 5

SAN ANTONIO — It’s been a long year since those 28 seconds slipped from their grasp like Waterford crystal smashing onto a concrete floor.

If that painful experience from Game 6 of the NBA Finals hasn’t lived in the forefront of their everyday existence, neither has it climbed down completely off the backs of the Spurs.

“I don’t know that that’s left any minds,” Spurs general manager R.C. Buford said Saturday, with his team on the cusp of turning the page. “But I don’t think it’s what you or why you do it.

“We try to put our best team together. Those [players] are thrust into their moment more often than we are. But our commitment to this group doesn’t change because of last year. We still have to put the best team can together with them, for them, and then it’s fun to see them play well have success.”

Buford joked about looking down the line to a future when Tim Duncan has stopped playing and coach Gregg Popovich has followed him out of the locker room.

“We’ve already got Tim’s successor picked out,” Buford said laughing.

“I think we’re always considering it. I don’t know that you’ll know what the opportunity is. Hopefully you’ve built your program to be as flexible as it can be at the time that opportunities are created.

“I can’t predict when that will happen and know when one of the great players of all time and one of the great coaches of all time leave, not knowing how you’re gonna fill those shoes.”

It was suggested that it will feel strange one day walking through the door of the Spurs’ training facility knowing that Duncan and Popovich are not inside.

“Who says I’ll be walking in?” Buford cracked. “There have been worse ideas.

“It will be numbing, changing. Those are the people you worked with, battled with, committed ourselves to as they’ve committed themselves to the rest of us. That will be hard. I don’t know why we’re talking about this.”

The NBA Draft came just five days after the Heat closed out the Spurs’ miserably lost opportunity in Game 7 last June. Then free agency began on July 1, followed by summer league. There were plenty of times to look back and feel the pain, just not right away.

“We’re still in a mourning period,” Buford said. “It’s not any time that begins and ends.”

It could end as soon as Sunday with the Spurs taking a 3-1 lead into Game 5 at the AT&T Center.

The Spurs insist that their motivation every moment of this season has not been about seeking vengeance from the Heat.

“In my case, not that much,” Manu Ginobili said. “I face every season the same way. If we win it. If we lost it. If we lose in the first round. I love doing what we do. You do love it more if you do well and you win. So in my situation I didn’t really take this season thinking that we have revenge because we lost. I just played the same way.”

It was, according to Duncan, one more lesson.

“I think we go back to last year and we learn from that,” he said. “We’re 30 seconds away. We feel that we have it in the bag and it slips out of our fingers.

“So I think we learn from that and we draw on that and we say, hey, it’s not over till it’s over. Our goal right now is to just win one more game. We’d love to do it [Sunday]. We’d love to do it in one game. But luckily we’ve put ourselves in a situation where we have a couple opportunities and we’re going to take whatever it takes.”

Duncan, Ginobili not looking at exit


VIDEO: Duncan talks about his future, closing out the Heat

SAN ANTONIO — Maybe it’s human nature. We like to write endings to other people’s stories.

But just because it might fit into a neat narrative, don’t think that the chance to raise another NBA championship trophy over their heads sometime in the next week should automatically mean Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili will walk out the door and bring an end to the era of the Spurs’ Big Three.

“I don’t have any plans on doing anything,” the 38-year-old Duncan said Saturday. “I’m going to figure it out when it comes. I’m not saying I’m retiring. I’m not saying I’m not retiring. I’m not saying anything. I’m going to figure it out as it goes. I’ve always said if I feel like I’m effective, if I feel like I can contribute, I’ll continue to play. Right now I feel that way, so we’ll see what happens.

Duncan, who is finishing his 17th NBA season, just passed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and has now played more playoff minutes (8.869) than any player in history. His 10 points and 11 rebounds in Game 4 of The Finals also moved him ahead of Magic Johnson with 158 double-doubles for the postseason record.

“I don’t have a time frame,” Duncan said. “I don’t think about it. Whatever people are saying or who has insight on whatever, they’re getting it from somewhere else because I haven’t told anybody anything nor have I thought about it in any respect.”

Ginobili dismissed the rumor out of hand.

“You have no data to support that,” he said. “You haven’t talked to any of us to support that. It’s just irrelevant. At this point we are focused on the next game.”

Their 32-year-old partner Tony Parker said he has had no indication that the gang is on verge of breaking up and that he’s looking forward to being on the court with Duncan again next season.

“I know he’s got one more year on his contract, and he loves being with us, loves playing basketball,” Parker said. “Either way, whatever he decides, I’ll support him. But if I have to choose, obviously, I would love him to keep going. I love playing with him.”

For what it’s worth, coach Gregg Popovich has said that he expects Duncan will one day just decide the game is no longer fun and then — “probably in the third quarter of game” — will just walk off the court. Popovich said he’d be “10 minutes behind” Duncan.

But the only coach that Duncan has ever had in the NBA did not sound like he was expecting it all to end, no matter what the outcome of The Finals.

“I don’t feel tired,” Popovich said. “I mean, I’m tired today, but I mean in general. I’d like to continue to coach.”

Beyond this year?

“Sure,” he said. “I didn’t think I was going to have to answer those kind of questions today.”

The questions have been swirling for at least five years as the outside world mistakenly viewed the Spurs’ time as past.

“We’ve been on our last run for the last five or six years from how everyone wants to put it,” Duncan said. “We show up every year, and we try to put together the best teams and the best runs possible because what people say doesn’t matter to us.

“As I said, as long as we feel we’re being effective, we’re going to stay out here and we’re going to play. We feel like we can be effective, and we have been.

“With the front office putting the teams together that we’ve had and us playing smaller roles and our roles changing over the years, and us happy to accept the roles that we’re in, I feel we can do it until we feel we don’t want to do it anymore.”


VIDEO: Popovich addresses the media before Sunday’s Game 5

Divac aiming for NBA return next season

Former beloved Kings center and Shaq tormentor Vlade Divac hopes to join an NBA coaching staff soon.

Former beloved Kings center and Shaq tormentor Vlade Divac hopes to join an NBA coaching staff soon.

TREVISO, Italy – This was pure Vlade Divac, awash in endless optimism while dealing with the latest in a life of personal tragedies, expressing hope he will soon return to the NBA, smiling a lot and volleying that, honestly, he didn’t get a good seat on the Spurs bandwagon because Divac is Serbian and Gregg Popovich has Serbian roots.

Divac was sitting in a chair on the baseline of one of the three gyms at the La Ghirada Sports Complex a few days ago after an appearance as a guest speaker at the adidas Eurocamp. It is a time of particular upheaval, five months after his father had been killed in a car crash in Serbia that also injured his mother, possibly a few months before he will move back to the United States to join a front office, all while serving as head of the Serbian Olympic committee as his daughter attends high school in Belgrade, one son is in college in California and another in New York. But one of the most-likable players of his or any other NBA generation seems as at ease as ever.

He grew up in the former Yugoslavia, lived through a war there that caused death and destruction all around him with the collateral damage of an emotional divide that ended friendships. He had a 16-year NBA run and a highly decorated international career. And now he is trying to get back to the future.

NBA.com: What would you like to do when you come back to the U.S.?

Divac: I would definitely find some involvement in the NBA with some team. Right after my retirement, I was doing some scouting for the Lakers. I tried to see how management works. I went to Real Madrid, worked for them for a year. That helped me to kind of develop some interest in management. So now my second term on the Olympic committee of Serbia — and I’m so proud of that, we did a great job — so something in management.

NBA.com: Have you had any conversations with anybody?

Divac: With the Kings, yeah. We’ll see.

NBA.com: What do you think you would do with them?

Divac: My ultimate goal is one day — it doesn’t have to be tomorrow or two days, three days — I want to be a GM. Go level by level.

NBA.com: Have they told you “When you’re ready to come over, we definitely want you”?

Divac: No. We just talked. I told them my view about plans. We’ll see.

NBA.com: I know it’s been a difficult time the last few months. How are you doing with the tragedy in your personal life?

Divac: OK. Life is a roller-coaster. You just have to balance. There’s always tomorrow.

NBA.com: Has it been difficult?

Divac: Sometimes, yeah. Sometimes. But when you look, there’s a lot of different stories, worse stories, than my life. What are you going to do?

NBA.com: And you’ve lived through a lot of those in your younger days.

Divac: Yeah. Absolutely.

NBA.com: Do you think you have a unique perspective, different than a lot of other people because of what you (grew up around) in your
youth?

Divac: Of course. If you went through things like that, you just learn how things can change the next day. Either positive or negative. Even when you’re so high and positive, you have to keep a balance.

NBA.com: Do you still watch a lot of NBA?

Divac: I do.

NBA.com: What jumps out to you about the game now compared to when you played?

Divac: It’s obviously more physical and faster. What bothers me is the tendency for low-post guys to not play with their back to the basket. It’s more facing. I think basketball needs that inside-outside game. If it doesn’t have that, that’s like taking heart from basketball.

NBA.com: Do you have a favorite player?

Divac: No. But I have a favorite team. I think the Spurs is a team that plays basketball the way it’s supposed to be. Sharing the ball. Gregg is a great coach.

NBA.com: What’s his background? What’s his heritage?

Divac: He’s a Serbian. But I’m not saying that because of that. You know how many people I met in the NBA. Jerry West, Gregg Popovich — that’s my two favorite guys. Even though they are totally, completely different, I have a lot of respect for them.

NBA.com: How much would your game have been changed by these new flopping rules that are in place now?

Divac: They wouldn’t take that away from me. Especially playing against Shaq. I mentioned that’s not my rule. That’s Shaq’s rule. He forced us to do that. I think it’s good that they changed because whenever you overdue it, it just takes away from the game.

NBA.com: How much money would you have been fined? How much money would you have lost over the years?

Divac: Not that much. I was doing that just against the Lakers, when I played Shaq. I don’t know. I think it’s good that they put it in. Games, that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

NBA.com: You would have had to get a new contract, right, just to pay all your fine money?

Divac: The agent would make a clause. ‘The team pays the fine.’ Because I was doing that for the team, not for me.

GameDay Live: Heat-Spurs Game 4


VIDEO: Old man River Walk (Tim Duncan) and the Spurs looked just as good away from home in The Finals

MIAMI — Didn’t see it coming.

None of us did.

Not like this.

Not from the San Antonio Spurs or the Miami Heat.

Not like this.

In the span of eight quarters the Spurs took the Finals and flipped it upside down and inside out, pushing their lead to 3-1 after Thursday night’s 107-86 thrashing of the Heat at AmericanAirlines Arena. The best road team in the NBA this season showed themselves to be every bit of the juggernaut away from home that their record indicates they should be.

All that’s left is the close out. It could come as early as Sunday night in San Antonio, provided the Spurs keep this up. No team has ever come back from a 3-1 deficit in The Finals (0-31). No team has won consecutive road games by 15 or more points in The Finals … until now.

History will be made in this series, one way or another.

But I promise, no one saw this coming.

No one!

The Spurs didn’t.

And the Heat certainly didn’t see it coming!

Revenge of the Spurs

Tony Parker said he likes the term “rematch” better. Call it what you want. But two straight beatdowns on the road gives the Spurs the right to call it whatever they want.

(more…)

Pop’s lesson: Learning to shut up


VIDEO: Popovich discusses Game 3 and looks toward Game 4

There have been so many great speeches delivered by leaders down through the years:

FDR’s pep talk during the Great Depression: “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

JFK’s inaugural address on the steps of the Capitol: “ask not what your country can do for you…”

John Belushi in Animal House: “Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?”

But even to those who know him only through those grumpy, often hilarious in-game TV interviews, after nearly 18 years on the job, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has learned that delivering messages and speechifying is often vastly overrated.

“I think I’ve learned to shut up more, and that probably is due to Manu Ginobili,” Popovich told reporters in Miami. “When he first came, I was going to make him a heck of a player. And after 20 minutes I realized that he didn’t need me to do that. He was already a heck of a player. Sometimes being quiet and letting the player play is much more important than trying to be Mr. Coach and teach him this or teach him that.

“So I think as time evolves and you get older in the business you figure out what’s really important, and you don’t waste time trying to make people what they’re not going to be.

“I didn’t make him a competitor, and there is no way I could make him a non-competitor, so you’ve just got to figure out who people are and what they can give you and take advantage of their positives.

“A lot of people talk about they’re going to draft this guy or that guy and in time he’s going to really be something. It’s usually with big guys. You look around and you say how many big guys, these 7-foot guys have really gotten better five years later?

“You look at Hakeem (Olajuwon), and Hakeem was Hakeem when Hakeem started to play in the league. He didn’t become Hakeem; he already was.

So you learn that you can’t make everything the way you think you might. You can’t make somebody great, so you don’t waste your time. You make a trade. You get rid of somebody. You make sure you’re bringing people in who fit in all the areas you want. Competitiveness and team play, that kind of thing. So I’ll just leave it at that. That’s all I can handle this early.”

Pop’s Law: Sometimes the best words are none at all.


VIDEO: Sounds of the Finals

Diaw finally finds comfort zone


VIDEO: Tony Parker on the words of wisdom he had for his longtime friend Boris Diaw earlier in his career

MIAMI — The first nervous steps of Boris Diaw‘s NBA career were tough to watch.

The talent was obvious: A 6-foot-8 basketball savant with point guard skills and the size, length and ability to play as many as four positions. What was also clear is that Diaw’s understanding of the game was beyond that of a normal rookie. The Atlanta Hawks’ front office knew it, which is one of the main reasons they selected the young French prospect with the 21st pick in the 2003 Draft.

But there was glitch in the system. Diaw’s coaches had no idea how to use him. The Hawks, at the time, hadn’t figured out how to use a player with Diaw’s hybrid skill set. They couldn’t figure out if he was a point guard or a center or whatever was in between. So they tried him everywhere, from point guard to center … and sometimes all in the same half of the same game.

“Well, I did a little bit of everything,” Diaw said with a smile Wednesday at AmericanAirlines Arena, the day after helping his San Antonio Spurs to a 2-1 lead over the Miami Heat with a huge Game 3 win in The Finals. “It was helping me to learn pretty much every position. I remember starting the game at the five and going out to do the [opening] tip and then playing point guard during the same game.”

It was a testament to his polish and professionalism at such a young age that the Hawks leaned on him that way, not to mention their sheer desperation, what with a roster that was being rebuilt from the ground up at the time. Diaw, however, wasn’t necessarily ready for a role like that. He’d played at the highest level professionally in France but needed time to adjust his game to the NBA, time he didn’t get in Atlanta.

Back then his teammates whispered about how long he’d last, whether or not he was truly cut out for the NBA and if and when he’d scurry back to Europe.

It wasn’t until much later in his career, after he left Atlanta via the controversial Joe Johnson sign-and-trade deal with Phoenix in the summer of 2005, that Diaw’s best was revealed. He earned the league’s Most Improved Player Award in 2006 the with the Suns, thriving in Mike D’Antoni‘s free-flowing system.

He opened some eyes around the league as the NBA game was evolving into its current form, with floor spacers and a global style that has been the trademark of the top international leagues for years.

San Antonio has proved to be the ideal fit, complete with playing alongside his friend since childhood Tony Parker and in a system that prizes ball-sharing and versatility like no other system in the league. That would explain Spurs coach Gregg Popovich inserting Diaw into the starting lineup before Game 3. His presence forces the Heat into some uncomfortable matchups, specifically for Chris Bosh, who cannot take advantage of Diaw on the perimeter the way he can Tiago Splitter or even Tim Duncan.

In fact, Diaw ends up with the advantage because he can play inside and out while also serving as an extra ballhandler and facilitator and rebounding like a power forward and guarding both in the paint and on the perimeter. He’s one of the best and most creative passers in the league, big man or not. And he’s unselfish to a fault, making him the ideal teammate in today’s NBA.

Again, the Spurs’ system (impact over stats and detail over flash) and Pop’s methods, are the perfect fit.

“Every coach is different, everybody has a different philosophy,” Diaw said. “I’ve had a lot of teams and a lot of coaches in my career. So it’s definitely gratifying when you get a coach like Pop recognizing a little bit of the background and the way we play in Europe, the way we share the ball and not so much the one-on-one basketball. It’s just a lot of fun to play on this team.”

The best part, for both Diaw and Parker, is the chance to realize their hoop dreams together. They won gold at EuroBasket last year as leaders  of the French national team and are two games away from winning a Larry O’Brien trophy together with the Spurs.

“For me it’s a little bit different,” Parker said of Diaw’s career renaissance with the Spurs. “Everything that you see him do today I’ve seen him do it the last four or five years doing that. He was playing great basketball in Phoenix and had some rough years with the Bobcats. When the Spurs asked me about Boris and should we take him, I was like ‘he’ll be a great fit for our team.’ I’m so happy for him, to see him blossom at the big stage. And everybody can see what he’s doing and what he’s capable of.

Diaw’s work with the French national team should not be overlooked. Parker said it was a career-changing time for Diaw, who has made adjustments to his game and lifestyle in the wake of that huge summer.

“It was a big thing for us and I think it made Boris keep improving and keep getting better,” Parker said. “Since he’s been with us we have high expectations every game. We want to win a championship. So it made him be even more focused and take care of his body. He’s got a chef and he’s being very healthy and is playing his best basketball right now. As his friend since I’m 14 years old, it’s like a dream to win a gold medal with the national team and  this year have another opportunity to win a championship. You have to put it in perspective … when we grew up there were not a lot of European guys in the NBA. I never thought I’d be with him on the same team and being two wins away from winning a championship.”

If Parker didn’t, no one did.