Here come the adjustments:
Whoa, Spurs changed lineup, Diaw now stating in place of Splitter.— Ira Winderman (@IraHeatBeat) June 11, 2014
That's right: San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich has elected to move Boris Diaw into the starting lineup for Tuesday's Game 3 of the 2014 NBA Finals against the Miami Heat, and put power forward Tiago Splitter to the bench for the opening tip.
This isn't the first time Pop has sent Tiago to the pine in the post postseason, of course. He benched the Brazilian big man prior in Games 5 and 6 of the Spurs' Western Conference finals series against the Oklahoma City Thunder, leaning on floor-spacing shooter Matt Bonner to start, and on Diaw for the bulk of the action, to draw shot-blocker Serge Ibaka out of the paint and play havoc with Scott Brooks' defensive rotations. The gambit worked, as a smaller San Antonio blew the doors off Oklahoma City in Game 5 and outlasted them in Game 6 to make their second consecutive finals.
Pop pulled the same trick in last year's championship round, too, starting Manu Ginobili in favor of Splitter for Games 5, 6 and 7 against the Heat. Last year, the swap was a reaction to Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra going small by inserting sharpshooter Mike Miller into a Miami starting lineup that suddenly offered nobody for Splitter to guard. This time around, the change comes at least partly in response to the effectiveness of resurrected stretch four Rashard Lewis, whom Spoelstra removed from mothballs midway through the Eastern Conference finals against the Indiana Pacers.
The former Seattle SuperSonics and Orlando Magic star took a couple of games to rediscover the touch on his jumper, but instantly paid dividends in improving Miami's floor spacing and working hard to fluster both Pacers power forward David West and crank up the pressure when trapping Indiana ball-handlers. Since finding his stroke in Game 5 against Indy, the 34-year-old vet has shot 50 percent from the field and 48.3 percent from 3-point range, scoring in double figures in four consecutive games for the first time since January 2011.
With Lewis holding down the fort at the four spot, Spoelstra has been able to rely largely on one-big lineups featuring either Chris Bosh or Chris Andersen at the center position, maximizing the Heat's floor-spacing and making it difficult to find both workable matchups for Splitter defensively and opportunities he can exploit on offense. Diaw, however, has been mostly sensational through two games; while he's struggled to a 28.6 percent mark from the floor, he's averaging 10 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game thus far in the finals, helping keep possessions moving with the extra pass while offering a threat of shooting and off-the-dribble attacking that the stalwart but somewhat floor-bound Splitter (two points, six rebounds and five assists in 19 minutes in Game 2) just can't match.
The Spurs' new-look starting lineup — Diaw, Tim Duncan, Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green and Tony Parker — has shared the floor for less than one minute through the first two games, but is a +15 in 22 total minutes this postseason, shooting better than 62 percent from the floor as a team. It was San Antonio's fourth-most used lineup during the regular season, too, outscoring opponents by a whopping 27.2 points per 100 possessions in 104 minutes of shared floor time. Whether the addition of Diaw's playmaking and ability to chase floor-spacing bigs around on defense makes that level of impact in Miami on Tuesday remains to be seen.
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