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Hoop it up all week with SI.com's writers in the NBA Playoffs Blog, a daily journal of NBA commentary, on-site reporting and reader-driven discussions.
2:20 AM ET, 5/25/06

Diaw asserts himself with Suns

Posted by Kelly Dwyer
Boris Diaw
Boris Diaw has emerged with the Suns after two quiet seasons with the Hawks.
It's one of the great fallacies in all of sport: Steve Nash makes everyone around him better.

Out and out bollocks, I say. Nash's play turns just about everyone around him into a better player. He puts pressure on the defense, encourages his teammates to run and make themselves available for a pass, and contributes mightily to every Phoenix score -- even if he doesn't register an assist or a bucket. Nash is a remarkable, remarkable athlete.

But the man has no claim to Boris Diaw's emergence. Diaw's improved play since coming over to the Suns last summer can be credited to his personal insistence on making himself an offensive threat, along with coach Mike D'Antoni's encouragement.

Diaw was a waste in Atlanta during his first two seasons, floating around the perimeter and barely looking for his shot. But you can't tell me that a position change in Phoenix (from guard to forward/center) turned Diaw into the type of guy who can score 34 points in a playoff game. You are allowed to post up guards -- I've seen it happen -- and if either Terry Stotts or Mike Woodson calls a bum play that forces you into wandering the perimeter for 24 seconds, then break the play. Diaw showed no interest in that during his first two NBA seasons, and it was only after he was traded to the Suns as a salary-cap throw-in last August that he looked to start making a difference on offense.

D'Antoni gave him a chance, in the frontcourt, during the preseason, but Diaw still had to make the choice to look for his own shot in concert with finding his teammates for assists. If Diaw had brought that Atlanta mind-set to the Pacific Division this year, even with D'Antoni's position change and the requisite 37 minutes a night, he still would have broken some sort of Charles Jones-esque record for the least amount of shots taken by a prominent frontcourt player with a first name that included only two syllables. Thankfully, Diaw stayed aggressive, and the payoff came Wednesday -- a team- and career-high 34 points, the game-winning shot with less than a second left (posting up a guard, 'natch), as the Suns stole home-court advantage from Dallas in the Western Conference finals.

Even after pulling in last year's Coach of the Year award, D'Antoni doesn't receive nearly enough credit. The freedom he affords his players forces them into eschewing instinct, blocking out any semblance of an orthodox thought process and going up with the quickest and best shot possible. It's the sort of system that forces Diaw into throwing up a jump hook before he has time to think his way out of it. It's the sort of system that has put the Suns in two consecutive conference finals and made an MVP out of Nash.

Nash didn't have the ball nearly enough in his time in Dallas, despite then-coach Don Nelson's implicit trust in the player he traded for (and the player his son Donnie scouted and helped draft for Phoenix in 1996), and this was one of the reasons the Mavs fell short in the postseason -- Nellie chasing down mismatch after mismatch while Nash waited for a pass on the weak side. D'Antoni has no interest in that sort of gimmickry; he wants the ball in Nash's hands on every possession, with Diaw as the only low- or high-post passing threat.

The MVP was amazing Wednesday, scoring 10 points in the final 3½ minutes while finding Shawn Marion for Phoenix's first lead in over a quarter and a half with 18 seconds to go. Nash was the most dangerous man on the court, finishing with 27 points, 16 assists and just three turnovers. The Suns won't let up; they haven't changed their style of play since Nash came on board, and they won't look any different on Friday during Game 2. It's up to Dallas, and coach Avery Johnson, to adjust.


Posted: 3:10 AM   by James, Nottingham
You make good points throughout, and this comes from a big Steve Nash fan. Coach D'antoni doesn't get enough credit for how his system has enabled the Suns to prosper.
Posted: 3:25 AM   by Dante
I hope the Suns win it all, not because I care about the Phoenix team, but because if they do, the rest of the league might get off the four yards and a cloud of dust nonsense that basketball has become. It helps that SA has lost. Now if Detroit loses, there might be some hope.
Posted: 4:45 AM   by Anonymous
Even more impressive was to see that Dallas doesn't really have an answer for Diaw. Diaw/Nash combo could easily cost Dallas the series.
Posted: 5:31 AM   by mattus
Mi-chael. Yes, Michael Ruffin's first name has 2 syllables.

He attempted 77 shots total, this regular season. That's in more than 1000 NBA minutes.

Even Mi-chael Curry used to shoot more than that

Charles Jones? Eat your heart out.
Posted: 7:49 AM   by Anonymous
I will try not to go into the usual overreaction mode after a team loses a game but I believed before this series started that Suns would win. "Nellie" basketball is more suited for the style that Suns play and defense isn't a key factor.

Avery Johnson will have to get more shooters and athletic players on the floor because Phoenix loves to run. It will be interesting what adjustments Avery makes. I wouldn't be surprised if Dirk is the only big man to start and he's surrounded by guards.
Posted: 10:09 AM   by Anonymous
Dallas made the mistake of celebtating their victory three minutes before the end of the game. On good nights, Phoenix can use three seconds to score and practice with a 15 second shot clock. Three minutes is a long time when you play at the speed Phoenix does. Dallas should have learned that last year when Steve Nash won the last game in the last second on a three point play.

Why not show Mark Cuban when they lose as well as when they win?
Posted: 10:48 AM   by Anonymous
That's right, Nash makes everyone better, no doubt about it, and Diaw would probably not have earned the MIP title if Nash hadn't been his teammate.
And that's right, Diaw was a "waste in Atlanta".

Still, despite his two disappointing seasons with the Hawks, Diaw has always been an incredible player, and the way he plays now does not surprise any european basketball fan.
As a young forward back in Pau Orthez, he was one of the most physically and technically gifted players in the league. Everyone thought that he was an NBA-type player, and could take his versatile game to the best league in the world.
During the last European Championships in 2005, when France finished 3rd, he was one of the dominating forces of the team, and was choosen for the All-Tournament team. He showed his all-around game during the tournament, and proved that he was one of the best European players.

Nash and D'Antoni have been important factors in Diaw's emancipation this season, sure. But the turning point was the EuroBasket2005 tournament, were he played his true game. He played the way he was supposed to play for the Hawks. And he played the way he is playing right now with Nash and co. around him.
So give more credit to the man himself, his skills and his mental game. Watch some games of the Euro championship, you will see that without the best PG in the world, Diaw can still be an unbelievable player.

Jordan was a key in Pippen's improvement. But Pippen was an exceptionnal player before and after Jordan.
Diaw was, is, and will still be an incredible player, with or without Nash and D'Antoni.
Posted: 11:08 AM   by Anonymous
I'm glad someone finally said this. Diaw just needed a chance to shine and yes, Nash, makes everyone better, but Diaw deserves far more credit for his accomplishments this year than the media has been giving him.
Posted: 11:57 AM   by Andy
Wait, are you saying that Terry Stotts and Mike Woodson can't coach? What's next? You're going to tell us that Patrick Swayze and Don Johnson can't sing?

Great. Now I have to figure out how to purge "She's Like the Wind" and "Hearbeat" out of my iPod.
Posted: 12:05 PM   by Anonymous
I sure like all teams in the playoffs. But no big guys, but having all players do their parts and capable of handling pressure Suns are the best.
Posted: 12:41 PM   by Sarain Soonias
Great article on Game 1 of the Western Finals. I know I may be beating a dead horse here, but not a single post-game analysis of the game mentioned the fact that Marion made a few huge plays himself down the stretch on a clearly lame ankle. What really impressed me was the fact that one play required him to bail out Nash's over-penetration by throwing down Nash's pseudo-oop/air-ball before wincing every stride back to the defensive end. His other notable offensive contribution down the stretch was finishing a gorgeous pick and roll in the midst of the gut-check run that propelled the Suns to victory.

I realize that Diaw was magnificent and Nash absolutely willed his team to victory in magnificent fashion. However, I was also very impressed by Marion's play under the distressing condition of his ankle. Keep up the great work Kelly and I look forward to reading your continuing coverage of the playoffs.
Posted: 12:54 PM   by Frank White
Just wondering, does Diaw score 34 and establish that deep post-position to win the game if Howard is still in the game?
Posted: 6:29 PM   by Anonymous
i think diaw is not a good player a turn around jump shot is a joke. wo deos that nowadays. today people r working on their right hands and bounce passes. a turn around i too risky. after a lucky net like that diaw should be benched
Posted: 8:03 PM   by Heathen Dan
Josh's injury obviously changed the outcome of the game, but let's not talk about what-ifs. Otherwise, I have one word for you: Amaré. But injuries do happen and both teams have learned to adjust to the situation. It's the Western Conference Finals and its no use crying over spilt milk.
Posted: 12:20 AM   by Anonymous
I'm sure glad they called Devin Harris for that offensive foul in the last minute. What right does he have to move his arm when it's being held? Doesn't he know that offensive players are only allowed to jump sideways into a man flying buy to draw a foul? Besides only Cuban and Steve Nash are allowed to complain about calls.
Posted: 12:27 AM   by Anonymous
The Suns are going to miss Raja Bell. He knows how to draw a foul. When the defender jumps to your side, you jump sideways into him. He could teach Devin Harris a few things. Devin gets called for an offensive foul in the last minute by trying to free his arm from Nash (who then grabbed his jersey). Rookie! Go Suns!
Posted: 12:28 AM   by Anonymous
Phoenix is the heck excellent team. Their energy, speed, and heart is very fun to watch.

But make no mistake, Dallas will win in 6. Reason because they were underestimated Phoenix and listened too many analysts that predict Dallas will win this series. So they forgot that THEY have to play them very hard, as hard as they played Spurs if not harder, to actually win the series.

Like Detroit, they were 'sleep-walking', guess from victory of dethrowning champ, and read too many great things about them from lot of media last few days.

So, like Detroit, they will win Game 2 for sure, then at least split the game at Phoenix before taking Game 5 and 6(If necessary).

So, Dallas will win in 6 IF Howard healthy OR in 7 without Howard. Yes, you can quote me on this. Like a lot of people says, this is MAVS time!
Posted: 6:39 AM   by Anonymous
It's true, Diaw's going to have a much harder time with Howard in the game. But they still have Marion out there, and if Diaw emerges as a threat and Dallas has to put Howard on him, then Marion can guard Nowitzki. I mean, Nowitzki is great, but he's nowhere near the athlete that Marion is.
Posted: 10:09 AM   by Anonymous
I've been saying that this is the Mavs time since the begining of the season, there was no qestion that they had a talented team. To add to this Avery Johnson has done a heck of a job.
Posted: 4:33 PM   by Anonymous
tha sunz are going 2 win. N thats it! B'cuz Phx has experience n Dal. does not. c'mon. they're like rookies playin. All but dirk, that is.