By Sarah Cilea
“Throwing the ball into the post settles your offense.”
Jeff Van Gundy once offered this commentary while working a Spurs game. It was Game 3 of the 2014 NBA Finals. The Spurs had just dumped the ball down to Tim Duncan on the left block; he responded with one of his patented turnaround-jumper-off-glass buckets.
At the time there were about three minutes to play till halftime. The Spurs were looking to settle their offense because the Heat had just put together a run… and pulled within 15.
The circumstances were a little different Sunday night, a mid-January meeting between Texas teams. The frost that San Antonians had awoken to Sunday morning seemed to still be hanging over the AT&T Center. Both the Spurs and Mavericks started the game so cold that they combined for just 30 points in the first quarter.
Patty Mills threw a pass to David Robinson, sitting courtside in the second row. It was only a few feet or about 13 years removed from landing in the hands of an active Spur. Tony Parker rifled another off LaMarcus Aldridge’s head. Boris Diaw attempted a three-pointer that hit nothing but the bottom of the net–from the outside. Everything was a struggle and nothing was beautiful.
About the only part of the Spurs’ attack that did go well in the early going was a pair of Diaw buckets in the paint late in the first quarter. It came as no surprise.
Over nearly four years with the Spurs, Diaw has cemented himself as a skeleton key of sorts. When the Spurs’ offense finds itself locked up, Diaw routinely opens up the floor and the scoring. With a little shimmy–an upfake here, a fadeaway there, above all, a thorough understanding of how to best use his body–Diaw creates an advantage. He scores for himself, and creates inside-out opportunities for teammates.
His approach is deliberate. There’s no hurry. He always takes his time, and chaos dissolves into calm.
Last summer the Spurs laid out another place setting. And during the third quarter of Sunday’s contest with the Mavericks, Aldridge pulled up a chair at Diaw’s tea party. After he scored his first bucket of the quarter by collecting an errant Duncan shot and laying it home, the Spurs realized they should start serving him.
Over the next nine possessions the Spurs repeatedly fed Aldridge the ball. Neither JaVale McGee, Dirk Nowitzki, Charlie Villanueva, nor anyone in the Mavericks’ organization had an answer. In little more than four minutes Aldridge had scored 13 points in the quarter and extended what was an eight-point lead to 15.
Diaw entered to continue the good work, and the the game completely opened up for the Spurs. They scored 98 points over the final three quarters, led by Aldridge’s 23 and Diaw’s 16. Kawhi Leonard, who also got himself going in the post, had 15, and Jonathon Simmons scored 14 with a balanced inside-out attack that included going 2-for-2 from three.
In the end the Spurs rolled to a 112-83 victory, with the bench extending the lead in the fourth quarter and having no small amount of fun (see: Anderson-Green oop, Simmons wearing airplane wings better than Jason Terry ever did, Boban “taunting”) along the way.
The glacial start felt like a distant memory, and a couple of big men reminded everyone that a cold snap, even in-game, is often the perfect time for a tea break.