In Game 3 of the NBA Finals, coach Gregg Popovich made a series-altering move by replacing Tiago Splitter in the lineup with Boris Diaw. With the move, the San Antonio Spurs become much more respectable on the offensive end. As seen in various times this postseason, when the Spurs go small, their offense is seemingly impossible to defend.
Although Splitter has been efficient on both the offensive and defensive ends this season, he does not give the Spurs the versatility that Diaw does. Diaw, who entered the league as a guard, is one of the most difficult matchups for the Miami Heat defense. By inserting Diaw into the starting five, the Heat defense will be forced to guard the perimeter, opening the floor and creating more scoring opportunities. The ball also tends to move much more fluently with Diaw on the court.
This move also gives the Spurs another player on the court to defend LeBron James. With Kawhi Leonard and Diaw on the court, the Spurs have two options to defend the league’s most dominant player.
In the Western Conference Semifinals, Popovich made a similar move by removing Splitter for Matt Bonner. This move did not yield tangible results statistically, but its impact was undeniable. This meant that Tim Duncan and Splitter were never on the court together at the same time. Comparatively in this series, Diaw allows the Spurs to go small in a similar fashion as Bonner did in the Oklahoma City Thunder series. Now with only one true big man on the court for the Spurs, the Heat lineup, which utilizes only one traditional big man in Chris Bosh, is a lot easier to defend. Furthermore, Rashard Lewis, who is now guarded by a smaller player, can be closed out upon much easier. Splitter and Duncan are not known for their perimeter defense, and this lineup change accounts for that.
As evidenced in Game 3, the ball moved well and the Spurs achieved a historical offensive performance. In the end, Diaw’s insertion into the Game 3 lineup may pay large dividends for Popovich and company, possibly securing him his fifth NBA title.