Charlotte Bobcats guard Gerald Henderson did his best to be diplomatic Saturday in addressing the obvious: Boris Diaw is pudgy.
“Boris isn’t going to impress you just looking at him,” Henderson said following the Bobcats’ 104-100 loss to the San Antonio Spurs. “But he’s a (heck) of a basketball player.”
Henderson went on to describe ex-Bobcat Diaw as savvy, strong and versatile. All that was true and appropriate to Saturday’s outcome, because when the Spurs covered center Al Jefferson with the 6-foot-8, 250-pound Diaw, rather than Tim Duncan, things shifted.
Jefferson went 6-for-8 from the field in the first quarter for 12 points. Over the next three quarters, mostly guarded by Diaw, Jefferson went 6-for-13 for 14 points.
Diaw’s defense wasn’t the only reason the Spurs held off the Bobcats at Time Warner Cable Arena, but it was reflective of how well constructed San Antonio’s roster is, allowing the Spurs to be a contender for more than a decade.
Duncan had a rough night. While the former Wake Forest star finished with 16 points and 13 rebounds, he had four first-quarter turnovers – all resulting from Jefferson steals.
This was one of those nights when San Antonio’s aging stars – Duncan and point guard Tony Parker – couldn’t carry that team. So a far lesser-known Spur, Patty Mills, came off the bench to score 32 points on 10-for-13 from the field and 4-for-5 from 3-point range.
Bobcats coach Steve Clifford said all four of Mills’ 3s reflected a relatively undisciplined Charlotte defense. The Spurs (37-14) made up an early 12-point deficit and shot 55 percent in the second half. Mills had 18 points in the fourth quarter when San Antonio built as much as a nine-point lead.
“We didn’t play with nearly the discipline we need to defensively,” Clifford said. “If you don’t have five guys all together, you’re going to give up the shots we did.
“If you’re going to beat those teams, you can’t make those mistakes.”
Clifford said the Spurs’ Gregg Popovich switch of Duncan off Jefferson reflects how well coached they are. Diaw, who was bought out of his Bobcats contract in 2012 to sign with the Spurs, often fronted Jefferson defensively. Not having to guard Jefferson allowed Duncan to play more help defense, his strength.
So the Bobcats (22-29) wasted a prime opportunity to beat one of the NBA’s better teams and validate the 3-1 West Coast trip. The Spurs usually pummel the Bobcats – 30-point margins have been common of late in this series – but a close loss didn’t feel of any consolation.
Clifford got plenty of opportunity to study the Spurs when he was a Houston Rockets assistant. Everything he saw then still applies, even as Duncan and Parker age out of center stage.
“They have skilled, smart players,” Clifford concluded. “They don’t put anyone in the game who doesn’t know how to play or (lacks) the skill.”
Bonnell: 704-358-5129; Twitter: @rick_bonnell