Spurs slowly acclimating Tiago Splitter
AT&T CENTER — By now you’ve probably seen the numbers for Tiago Splitter. 18 points on 7 of 10 from the field. Five rebounds, two assists, two steals and two blocks in 26 minutes of action. After not playing in the previous two games, Splitter entered the game with 8:12 left still left in the first quarter.
As much as I’d like to write about something other than Tiago Splitter’s performance on Saturday night, it was the story of the game. The Spurs beat a bad Cleveland Cavaliers team in convincingÂ fashion.
Coach Pop was non-committal before the game as to when Tiago Splitter would play.
“He’ll play when he plays,” Coach Pop said. “I don’t have a thought in my head about when I’m going to play him or how I’m going to play him. If it’s appropriate, he’ll play.”
But I think coming into the game, Pop knew Splitter would get heavy minutes against Cleveland, considering the circumstances (second night of back-to-back, bad opponent, Orlando on Monday).
Coach Pop had previously expressed concern that Splitter’s summer schedule was too much for him thus far. Going from a Spanish ACB League season that ended in a title right into preparation for the FIBA World Championships and then Spurs training camp, Popovich felt that Splitter’s preseason injury was the Brazilian’s body telling everyone he needed a little break.
Most of Splitter’s action so far this season was in five minute bursts. But on Saturday night, with the Spurs trying to rest the veteran’s as much as possible, Splitter got his first stretch of extended action.
At one point in the fourth quarter, Tim Duncan teased Splitter about not quite being in game shape. Leaving the timeout, Duncan tried to demonstrate how the winded Splitter should breathe deeply.
The interesting thing is how Splitter is being inserted into the lineup. At this point in Tiago’s NBA career, he’s almost exclusively handcuffed to Matt Bonner in live action.
This is both an advantage for the Spurs and a necessary partnership. Tiago Splitter is excellent at running the pick-and-roll, as his performance last night indicates. Pairing Splitter’s talents on the offensive end with Bonner’s floor-stretching ability creates a dangerous offensive second unit.
If the pick-and-roll is working well, there is time and space galore for Bonner on the perimeter. Likewise, if Bonner is shooting well, there are plenty of driving and cutting lanes for pick-and-roll action.
On one play last night, Tony Parker (I think) and Tiago Splitter ran the pick-and-roll. Bonner was on one of the blocks and as Splitter rolled to the basket, Bonner popped out to the corner. Bonner’s movement meant that the man guarding him shouldn’t have been able to help out on Splitter’s roll to the basket. But he did, and Tony Parker found Bonner in the corner for a wide open 3-pointer.
One player who you will almost never see Splitter in the game with is DeJuan Blair. Both have similar skillsets that don’t necessarily complement each other. Offensively both are pick-and-roll players with extremely limited shooting ability. You also have to pick and choose when to throw the ball in the post to them.
If Splitter can develop a similar big-man-to-big-man passing chemistry that DeJuan Blair enjoys with Tim Duncan, eventually Splitter can be the game-closing big man that many hope to see. Just as long as he gets over the burning in his lungs.