Although Boris Diaw drawing the defensive assignment on Tony Parker is a rarity in the NBA — it happened a few times in last year’s playoffs — the former’s knowledge of what to expect from the latter goes back a decade.
As teenagers, they were teammates at the French Athletic Academy in the late 1990s and “everyday in practice I was the one playing against him,” Diaw said.
Back then, though, Parker would always get the best of the matchup.
“At that point he could score whenever he wanted to anyway,” Diaw said.
But over the years, the playing field has leveled out, Diaw said. The two have waged one-on-one battles nearly every summer since their friendship started and today “It’s pretty much even.”
“Sometimes I’m winning, sometimes he’s winning,” Diaw said.
“Because I’m taller and he’s quicker, we change the rules. No shooting in the paint, no post-ups.”
While those offseason contests played a part in the Suns forward limiting the San Antonio Spurs guard to 7-of-17 shooting in Game 4, Diaw said his 6-inch height advantage assisted him even more.
“I think what helped me the most was using my length, using my long arms to bother his shots,” he said.
“I know you have to stay close to him because he becomes dangerous once he gets separation.”
SHAQ IN FIRST
Overshadowed by Diaw (20 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists) and Raja Bell (27 points) on Sunday was the performance of Shaquille O’Neal, particularly in the first quarter.
While neither his 14 points nor his 12 rebounds were series highs, coach Mike D’Antoni said O’Neal’s overall play was the best it has been this postseason.
“I thought he set the tone yesterday. I thought he was good both ways,” D’Antoni said. “He might not have scored as much or gotten that little jump hook in there, but I thought him running the floor and being active and being on (Tim) Duncan was a presence. It doesn’t come down to stats. His presence was felt and that’s what’s important.”
Parker and Manu Ginobili got a first-hand taste of the center’s massive presence via a pair of hard fouls.
“I was really more focused on not letting Mr. Parker get 41 and Ginobili get 23,” he said.
O’Neal also delivered a message from the free-throw line, hitting five of eight attempts in the first quarter. San Antonio didn’t use the Hack-a-Shaq strategy after that, but O’Neal said he expects more of it tonight.
“I just find it quite funny that when you’re up 20 that you do it. It just tells me that I’m the most feared 36-year-old guy on the planet,” he said.
NO HILL AGAIN
With Grant Hill such an integral part of the Suns’ success in the regular season (13.1 points, 5.0 rebounds and 2.9 assists in 70), deciding whether or not to sit him because of his mild abdominal/groin injury has been difficult for D’Antoni, known for his loyalty to his players.
“It’s a real tough call,” the coach said. “The guy not only deserves to play, he was good (all season). He was important to us. We kept thinking he was 100 percent and he wasn’t. In hindsight, it’s easier to make a decision, but he gave everything. I’m proud of him for that. I feel bad for him.”
Hill didn’t practice Monday and D’Antoni said his status for tonight will be the same as it was on Sunday when he dressed but didn’t get off the bench.
“I don’t think he can play,” D’Antoni said.
After hitting just 11 3-pointers (on 35 attempts) in the first three games combined, Phoenix rediscovered its touch from long range on Sunday, sinking nine 3s. The Suns believe the Spurs will try to take away that part of their game tonight.