San Antonio Spurs 112, Boston Celtics 100: Tiago Splitter crashes a rivalry
Kevin Garnett was incredulous. A night with the San Antonio Spurs is supposed to be a night between him and longtime rival Tim Duncan, and in that regard neither disappointed.
Garnett notched 14 points to go with his typically stellar defense, and Duncan anchored his team on both sides with 20 points, 14 rebounds, and four assists. And each had their one-on-one showdowns in the fourth quarter.
But throughout this rivalry, even as both big men ceded offensive responsibilities to their dynamic point guards, the Rasho Nesterovic’s, Joe Smith’s, and Fabricio Oberto’s of the world were supposed to know their place. Sure, each brought subtle contributions, but the night always belonged to Duncan and Garnett.
So who was this Tiago Splitter guy attempting to cross him over on a fourth quarter drive? Incredulous I tell you.
Splitter crashed the longtime rivalry with perhaps the essential perfect Tiago Splitter game. The scoring was efficient to an extreme, 23 points on 9-11 shooting and 5-5 from the free throw line (!). The rebounding? Much to be desired, especially given the opponent, but Splitter is who he is on the boards—average at best.
And though Splitter receives his share of criticism on defense, anchoring a defensively deficient second unit, there’s something to be said for being really tall and putting your hands straight up in the air.
Against the Celtics it was enough to draw a charge from Rajon Rondo, alter several others, and block Celtics rookie Jared Sullinger at the rim.
As we’ve noted several times throughout the season, Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich is turning to the Splitter-Duncan lineup more this season, working out the kinks in spacing and roles that could prevent this from being a viable combination in the playoffs.
Now in his late 20’s, Splitter is largely fully formed as a player—there appears to be no major leaps ahead.
Perhaps visions of throwing the ball to Splitter in the post were always deluded; the footwork and craftiness remains, but the ability to hold his position and a lack of range on that ugly hook shot will always prevent him from being a force in creating his own offense.
But knowing how to play and where to be on the court are underrated and important skill sets.
The threat of Splitter diving on pick and rolls balances the floor and actually spaces things for shooters. On one play in the fourth quarter Splitter received the ball on the move in a pick and roll, quickly noted the collapsing defense, and made a pass out to Danny Green for a corner three-pointer.
That specific pass is one NBA All-Stars like Amare Stoudemire or Dwight Howard still struggle to comprehend.
And while many wish Splitter would simply dunk the ball more, the man understands finishing around the basket like few others, using the rim to protect his shot and his length to create separation while taking contact.
Splitter has always been able to draw contact and generate free throws, converting them is the difference between him being an adequate backup or a difference maker. Last night it worked.