San Antonio Spurs' Matt Bonner shoots the three-ball well. Save for an excellent final round from Kyrie Irving in this year's NBA All-Star 3-point shoot out, he would have claimed the crown. Add the fact he connects with both the fans and media, it makes him an excellent, and generally well-liked Spur.
Except Bonner is subjected to an undeniable stigma that is supported by multiple years of data: He can't produce in the playoffs.
Playoff Bonner has played poorly since the 2008-09 postseason, when he began receiving regular minutes in coach Gregg Popovich's exclusive playoff rotation.
His efficiency — an integral part of his game — dropped. (Note: Playoff sample sizes aren't that reliable.)
The veteran power forward struggled to adapt to postseason basketball. Opposing defenses, conscious of his perimeter exploits, closed out with more purpose, preventing wide-open perimeter shots that he normally subsists on. Bonner's rudimentary skills were exposed. Eventually, fans expected Bonner to falter in big games.
It's a bit too early to wave off four years of poor play but Bonner's Game 1 performance in the 91-79 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers may encourage Popovich to increase his minutes. In 29 minutes, the nine-year veteran sandwich enthusiast chipped in 10 points, five rebounds and one 3-pointer. His plus/minus was (+18) was second on the team behind only a rejuvenated Manu Ginobili.
"Matty's minutes are almost necessary in the position we are now," Popovich said. "He understands what we're doing. He's been in the playoffs before. He spreads the floor. There are a lot of reasons why he's important to us. Hopefully he'll remain healthy."
Entrusting Bonner with regular minutes will require more playoff consistency, however. Tiago Splitter labored through the victory, finishing with two points and four rebounds. His absence against a tough Lakers frontline — who combined for 36 points and 31 rebounds — opened up improbable minutes for Bonner.
Instead, Popovich willingly sacrificed rebounding for excellent spacing, perimeter opportunity and favorable matchups. Neither Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard can cover Bonner on the perimeter. Placing a burden of this magnitude on their shoulders, especially when Mike D'Antoni is essentially forced to play the duo the entire game to have any chance at generating a reliable offense, exacerbates the Lakers' defensive miscues.
At this point in his career, Bonner is best utilized against teams with a traditional front-court tandem since he's a natural stretch four with an awkward in-between game.
In this instance, the Lakers appear to be just the perfect matchup for a perennial playoff underachiever. Maybe, just maybe, the old playoff Bonner won't make his annual appearance — for the time being, at least.