He came from Brazil


During the regular season, his “upside” (an euphemism for height and athleticism, usually, or just height in this case) and limited minutes were enough to make many Spurs fans’ mouths water. If the Spurs were at the top of the league without a honest-to-goodness backup center, what could the Spurs be if Tiago became, if Tiago was? The first loss to the Grizzlies only exacerbated that feeling, since Memphis’ success depended largely on the scoring of the Gasol-Randolph twin towers. Bonner was easily pushed around, Blair could be shot over, and Gasol was able to play Tim Duncan fairly, one-on-one. Yet losing the first game of the playoffs was old news – the Spurs had been there, gotten the t-shirt.

Losing Game 3 was the proverbial straw the broke the poor camel’s back. The uproar has been heard in every Spurs-centered forum and blog, with threads of all sorts flooding the sites. Fire Popovich, trade Parker, throw Tony Allen in a trunk, burn the AT&T down. And as the insults and wild theories spread, the savior has been anointed: Tiago Splitter must play now.

And why not? Tiago’s strengths are well known by Spurs enthusiasts. He is perhaps the second best defensive big man in the Spurs roster, even trumping McDyess’ bottomless court savvy with his ever-improving help defense and unflappable presence around the hoop. McDyess is hurt, and Popovich has been losing faith in Blair, as evidenced by his diminishing playing time through the series (Game 1: 21:55; Game 2: 13:04; Game 3: 9:37). If there were ever minutes available for Tiago, it is now, right?

I decided to hunt down the statistics necessary to support his status. Stats Cube, NBA.com’s new stats page, is extremely useful for fans trying to investigate head to head match-ups between teams and players. With it, I investigated how Tiago Splitter fared against the Memphis Grizzlies as a whole, and also against the players that he is more likely to guard, in case Popovich decided to heed the popular clamor: Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol and Darrell Arthur. The site calculates how teams or players have played with Tiago on the court and on the bench, and compares the results with the season averages. Let’s take a look at the data.

Tiago Splitter has played only 43 minutes against the Grizzlies during the regular season, while accumulating 153 bench minutes. According to Basketball Value’s team versus team analysis, his most significant minutes have come as Tim Duncan’s backup, playing alongside McDyess. Tiago’s presence appears to have little effect on the Grizzlies’ field goals, but their plus-minus shows a marked variation in favor of the Spurs while he’s on court. Unfortunately, Memphis’ offensive rebounds almost double their average when Tiago is on the court. Moreover, Memphis’ shooting percentages at the hoop and in the paint, an area where Splitter’s presence should help, both increase significantly when Tiago is on the court. Tiago’s performance against the three Grizzlies big men can be considered inconclusive because of the small sample size, but Tiago has done well against Zach Randolph, broken even with Darrell Arthur and been obliterated by Marc Gasol.

I am in an odd position. I believe that Tiago should be given a chance to show whether he can have a positive influence in the game, because the Grizzlies have put the Spurs in a hole and they are running out of both options and time. However, I do not believe that he is the key to this series, or even part of it. The series will be won or lost by the team as a whole first, and by our stars second – Tony’s fast break, Manu’s layups, Timmy’s bankers. It is Tony’s decision-making and the accuracy of our 3-point specialists that keeps me up at night, the missed layups and inexplicable turnovers. 98 – 93 – 88, that’s the progression of points scored throughout three games. The Spurs, the would-be offensive juggernaut, cannot score. I wonder, friends, how will Tiago’s airballed free throws and forced hook shots help us score? Or in broader terms, can the Spurs win this series through defense? Is that who they are, who they can become?

Personally, I hope the Spurs regain the identity that brought them here. There is still time.

  • Hobson13

    To play Splitter or not to play Splitter, that is the question. If Pop were to play him now, he’d look like he was admitting his mistake, which he WILL NOT do. I really don’t expect Pop to play Splitter in this series. He already made a colossal mistake by playing Bonner and Blair during the regular season instead of developing a potential game changer in Splitter.

    In all honesty though, the offense has been more of a problem than the defense. Besides the game 1 outburst of Gasol and Z-bo, they haven’t scored more than 91 pts against the Spurs. IMO, our two biggest deadweights have been Parker and Bonner. Parker has been strangely quiet and Bonner has been complete shit (pardon my language). I never thought much of him before, but now I’m firmly in the Bonner Hater camp.

    The team really has fallen apart in the last month, but there is still time to get it together again. I will say that game 4 is the biggest game of the season for this team. If game 4 is lost, the series is over. Period.

  • Fkj74

    I do not understand why this guy, Splitter has not played in this seris. I turst Pop, but why?

  • Anonymous

    Great article, everyone knows Splitter will be a big improvement on the defensive end but it’s the offensive struggles of our guards that’s been the difference. We aren’t moving the ball for huge periods of the game, some of that can be attributed to Memphis’ good defense but if you look at what NO are doing against the Lakers, they are finding ways to score with much fewer options against a better Lakers defense. I want us to get back to playing the way we played in the regular season, at least offensively lol

  • DBAGuy

    Screw Pop, look at the Hornets, playing Aaron Gray, he has no offensive skills whatsoever but is helping big time in the defensive end. Pop is an idiot an will not play Tiago because Blair/Bonner hold seniority in the Spurs “business”. Someone needs to step up, and it should start with this damn coach, and then yes Tony fricking Parker who apparently has decided that the season is over.

  • Ryan

    As much as I wanna say that Tiago IS the answer, it’s almost a loaded question to even ask if he’s going to play at all during this series. If it were a rebounding problem or ONLY a defensive issue then I’d say give him a shot, but putting him in there effectively means that you’re playing 4-5 on offense… and he’s a terrible free throw shooter. It’s like playing with fire…

  • NDSpursFan

    I think one of the main things that Splitter can bring is his ability to draw fouls. What is it going to hurt to give Splitter some of Bonner’s minutes, besides Pop’s pride in admitting that he made a mistake in not playing him earlier. It’s painful watching Splitter at the foul line but if that means that Randolph and Gasol get in foul trouble and go to the bench like in game 2 when Randolph got in early foul trouble. At least it would open up the lane a little for our guards penetration and take out one of the Grizz’s main weapons on offense and defense. It’s not like Splitter taking Bonners minutes is giving up anything on the offensive end since the Red Rocket has once again fizzled and crashed come playoff time.

  • Lvmainman

    Watching the playoffs and seeing Aaron Gray, Ronny Turiaf, Jeff Foster, Jermaine O’Neal, Jarron Collins???, all play and do decent jobs just because they’re big men and knowing the Spurs have Splitter just wasting away on the bench is extremely depressing.

    Thinking Blair and Bonner can stop other bigs is just foolish.

  • idahospur

    We need to take the next game in Memphis, then Game 5 in SA and put Memphis down 3-2. The Spurs found ways to win games this year through offense while letting defense struggle. While most, including myself, would say that defense wins championships, we all understand we must get to the championship first to have it make a defense. Would we rather see the Spurs lose the first round by attempting to return to their defensive style, or push through the next few rounds playing the game that got them 61 wins. We can beat Memphis through offense, so let’s do it. Parker needs to make his baskets and someone needs to make 3’s. We made those shots all year, time to do it now.

    GO SPURS GO!!!

  • Bruno

    Now is too late.

  • Bob

    I agree. You need your star players to play like stars in the playoffs. But you also need your role players to step up at times. Teams don’t usually run 10 man rotations in the playoffs. The one exception was the Suns last year. The Grizzlies are playing their best players ~40 minutes and the Spurs are playing Bonner/Blair 30+ minutes.

    All the talk about offense is not that useful. The defense needs to be equal to the offense. If the offense is not that great the defense has to pick up the slack. Sometimes players just miss shots but you can’t let winning always rely on that. As they have all season, the Spurs struggled to play defense. Part of it I think is change in Pop’s philosophy. If you can hit a 3 appear to be trying on defense you get 20 minutes. If you hustle, rebound, play good defense but don’t shoot 3’s your out of luck.

    If Splitter plays the Spurs will need less help defense and can focus on locking down the Grizzlies perimeter players. The Spurs have tried to do both and it doesn’t seem to be working. They need to force Gasol and Randolph to beat them against their best inside defenders (Duncan, Splitter, and Dice). A benefit of playing Splitter with Duncan is it would force Randolph to defend Duncan. Duncan would have much easier time scoring over the shorter Randolph.

  • Anonymous

    This is what it seems happens to Bonner when the playoffs start

  • angryfan

    I knew (even when the season was going well) if bonner got more than 15min in the playoffs, our team was doomed. It sucks having to hope for BONER to have a decent game for the spurs to win. I’m surprised they even have a chance with him playing 20+ min

  • TD BestEVER

    Bonner should be in the basement!!!!!!!!!! and then let Tiago/Blair eat up those minutes and have an all hustle 2nd team………….That energy alone could put us over the top in a tight game…………….

  • angryfan

    of course pop is NOT gonna play splitter at all these playoffs, but i still see the spurs winning game 4. although its really, REALLY hard to see the spurs win any other series with this rotation. and games 4-6 are depending on bonner to really take some offensive liability. LMAO.

    sorry guys, but I’m also a cowboys fan, so i know a joke of a team when i see one…..

  • Xicano47

    A key point of your analysis is the limited data. One of the things that impressed me with Tiago was his ability to quietly adapt. I recall against L. Aldridge, who by the way torched us for a career high 40 early in the season, when Tiago first went up against him, LA abused him on 2 or 3 straight possessions. Then Tiago adjusted his defense and largely shut him down the rest of the game. Not a lot of defenders have done that to LA all season. And, no, no one expects him to be the second coming of Tim Duncan. But at this point we know that neither Bonner nor Blair can handle either of their bigs and Dyce has only limited effectiveness (God bless him). So what the hell, try the damn big Brazilian. Besides, he’s also shown a strong propensity to draw fouls and Memphis is very thin on bigs. Get either Randolph or Gasol in any kind of foul trouble and we’re off and running. I’d like to see Timmy, Tony and Manu challenge Pop to try the guy.

  • Mark B

    At this point, Tiago’s going to be rusty if he plays. I kind of hope Pop puts him, if nothing else to give McDyess a rest, but I don’t expect him to make a huge difference. If he wasn’t put in when Dice got injured, I don’t see any probability he’d get in while Dice is available to play, even it he’s limited. I’d like to be wrong here.

  • Dbaguy

    I really dint think any of players, not even the big 3 have the balls to call pop out and tell him to play Splitter. This is def pops system and they all so as the master puppeteer does. No one questions, Timmy is not a leader, I have not yet seen Him being vocal. I recall a play from the hornets when Ibaka didn’t run back and Kobe got a second chance, dimwit gave him a lot of talk, that’s right someone needs to give a crap on this team. All we hear is Tony is struggling, but he’ll be great next, BS call it like it is, he’s playing like a little girl scared of the big boys down low. Look at CP3 giving the lakers hell all by himself. There are wu too many things wring with this team right now, this season has been backwards from the rest where we started slow and for better, we started damn good, and have gone to flat out dleague. I’d spurs don’t win tonight by a decent margin, forget about it and I hope some damn journalists finally ask questions that matter, like why isn’t Splitter playing, what the heck is he drawing up offensively. EveryOne is so damn scared of this coach. It’s been a week an no one asked that question. It’s always sissy questions, how is many, does the brace bother him, what your favorite wine. Just stupid.

  • Mark B

    Having said that, I don’t share the doom and gloom that a lot of the other posters have here. I still think this is a very winnable series for the Spurs. The losses have been close. Both losses, nobody could hit a shot. If just 1 of the big 3 has a breakout game, the Spurs will win, If the Spurs just hit a decent percentage from 3, they will win. It all comes down to tonight. If the Spurs win tonight, they will eke out the series. If they lose, it’s time to get out the fishin’ hats.

  • este

    The clamoring for Splitter reminds me of the Mavs fans last year screaming for Roddy B. thinking he would be the savior against the Spurs. It’s the cry of desperate fans, don’t get me wrong I personally believe more Splitter and less Bonner and Blair would be a good thing.

    We all should know by now that what Bonner does in the regular season is fools gold. In the playoffs teams do not let you catch the ball set your feet line up your awkward looking set shot and fire. When you are a one trick pony teams will take away that one thing you do well.

    The difference in this series is one team is getting easy points in the paint and the other is having to work too hard to manufacture points. Splitter would give the Memphis bigs another big they would have contend with the around the rim and make them work just as hard as Timmy is having to work on D.

  • Mark B

    Yep, just because someone is not yelling at his teammates doesn’t mean he’s not a leader. People have different styles. Timmy mostly leads by example, but he also provides input during the game and during huddles if you watch them. He’s naturally low-key as a person, and his calm demeanor is something that helps the team keep on track. If you want a vocal Bobby Knight type, timmy is not your guy. personally, I think he’s a fine leader.

  • Junierizzle

    Like the article says TIAGO is best with Mcdeezy. If Mcdeezy is out then it will be harder for TIAGO to have an impact. The time to play TIAGO was with MCdeezy.
    So is it safe to assume that Mcdeezy isn’t playing tonight??

    If he isn’t I think that means just more Blair. I’ve wanted Splitter to play all year but it just wasn’t in the cards. You can’t really blame POP for not playing him with the season the SPURS were having. They just didn’t need him. If Demarcus Cousins was on the SPurs then he too wouldn’t have seen minutes. But on a bad team like the Kings he is a starter. Just like TIAGO would have started if he were on the Kings.

    Kenny Smith said last night that at some point you HAVE TO change the game plan. I understand why POP isn’t changing his. POP wasn’t counting on TP playing like he misses Eva Longoria.

    The article is right. The Big 3 have to play like the Big 3. It’s all up to TP. I know the SPURS go as MANU goes but TP needs to do his part too.

  • Mark B

    “So is it safe to assume that Mcdeezy isn’t playing tonight??”

    He’s going to play. From what I’ve heard, he’s not having any issues with the injury, which is surprising to me, since it looked very bad when he left the floor.

  • este

    When it comes to Parkers’ struggles you have to Give some credit to Memphis’ defense. Conley is quick enough to stay in front of Parker and when TP does beat him off the dribble he still has to contend with Randolph and Gasol in the paint. Memphis has the same luxury the Spurs use to have when Duncan and Robinson were in the paint to a lesser degree obviously. For guys playing D on the perimeter it allows them to play more aggressively knowing you have two bigs backing you up.

  • Blofeld

    Ya, you’re right, lets just keep the status quo and continue to watch Bonner get absolutely obliterated by Gasol and Randolph.

  • Len

    Don’t forget Arthur. He has Matty B’s number as well.

  • Len

    Tiago is no more offensively challenged than Blair. In fact, Tiago can dribble better and set better screens. With Bonner on the court, it’s like playing 4-5 on the defensive end. And since Matty is doing his annual chokefest, his offense isn’t much better than Tiago.

  • Len

    Timmy actually did a great job of leading the “almost” comeback in Game 3. He led a huddle in the time out and did a good job of settling everyone down after the poor start. I’ll take Timmy’s leadership on and off the court over most anybody else currently playing.

  • Len

    Tiago deserves a shot to play. The fact is that he might help the offense. He sets a better screen that anybody else on the team. He might help open up some driving and passing lanes out on the court.

    The problem is that Pop has gone out of his way to not play Splitter. This situation calls for another big, defensive player. Pop is just too proud to admit this and give it a shot. When a team isn’t playing well, the coach should go deeper on the bench and tinker with the lineup. Pop USED to do it before he became a stubborn old mule.

  • DBAGuy

    we need someone to get pissed off and be vocal, the whole leader by example is good for the classroom. We need some swagger and someone who holds the team accountable. The Spurs do not have that. Call me ignorant all you want. The boxscore shows it all in the end.

  • Mark B

    Manu is the yeller.

  • Mark B

    One more thing. I had a job once where the boss yelled at the employees. It motivated me … to find a job somewhere else. People have different leadership styles. You might not like Tim’s style, but I’m pretty sure his teammates do. Manu is more vocal, but he’s also pretty positive.

  • 48 Minutes Of Bacon

    The thing nobody seems to be mentioning is that aside from Splitter helping us control the paint even more in the series is the fact that by being good at running pick and roll with Manu, or high low with Tim, it would lead to either easy points at the hoop or trips to the line. Now we know Tiago is about as good a freethrow shooter as a blindfolded Shaq, but thats missing the point. With Gasol, and Z BO getting into foul trouble you A) Get them out of their rhythm (especially Z BO who thrives on getting a good rhythm going) and B) and perhaps most importantly you allow room for our guards to penetrate and collapse the defense which then frees up our shooters which is what we have been lacking desperately. I really think the width of Z Bo and Gasol more than the length have been the bane of our guards existence throughout this series. They do such a great job of getting bodies in passing lanes ad disrupting the flow of our offense.

    Think back, to any series we have playe din the past where weve dealt with dominant big men: Shaq, Amare, West, KG back in the day. We have done more to control those series by getting their bigs in foul trouble than by trying to stop them straight up on defense. This is why Tiago makes sense. Forget that Bonner is awful on both sides of the court and any momentum we get going immediately dies when he checks in, forget that he cant make anything in the post season, forget that he is a putrid backside defender which we have relied on heavily all these years. None of that should come as a surprise to anybody, it isn’t his fault Pop puts him in impossible situations and sets him up to fail.

  • jaydog7

    The thing you have to be concerned about is if you play Splitter, in this game 4 that’s crucial, and the worst case scenario is he’s doesn’t perform well, or he gets 2 quick fouls (on the road mine you, where a rookie gets no calls!) and has to sit-then what kind of effect does that have on the teams’ chances of success. As much as
    I disagree with Pop’s refusal give Splitter more minutes, I definitely wouldn’t want Splitter to be put in that type of situation where pressure is being put on him to make something happen no playoff experience whatsoever,
    and I know Pop wouldn’t do that. BUT going forward, you have to at some point break the young big in. He needs to get a taste of this type of play if he’s going to be a future key piece to getting another championship.

  • Bob Ewell
  • Bob Ewell
  • Bob Ewell
  • Bob Ewell

    stupid URL wont work but on stats cube Tiago Splitter vs. Memphis Grizzlies it shows that the Grizzlies offense is significantly worse with Splitter on the court.

  • Bob Ewell

    stupid URL wont work but on stats cube Tiago Splitter vs. Memphis Grizzlies it shows that the Grizzlies offense is significantly worse with Splitter on the court.

  • marrocas

    Well… good luck tonight for the Spurs. It is going to be rough and decided late in the game as usual.
    Kudos to Splitter for not complaining about an old, full of himself man who thinks he is less valuable than Bonner and who refused to play him all year long, except when Duncan went down and he needed him.
    Reporters, please ask tough questions to Popovich. Yes, he is a legendary HOF coach, but he is so obviously being a bonehead TODAY that somebody has to start making him accountable for this nonsense. Come on, do your job!
    For those “Splitter is not the answer” people. You are all correct! It was just a Virgin’s miracle that he shut down Nene and Aldridge. P&R offense would not work against super fast big man Gasol and any longtime NBA player, even Matt Bonner, would win MVP in the Spanish league any year, sure.
    Go Spurs!

  • Bob

    The non timeout call by Pop really hurts. George Hill looked at him and he didn’t react quick enough. He can’t have brain farts at key moments. If they could have got a decent shot off they might have had a chance of winning in overtime. Doc Rivers ran onto the court when the need a timeout in last year’s playoffs. Pop stood by and watched his team not get a good shot off. People keep giving him free passes. At least he didn’t throw the blame on Hill and Ginobili.

    Duncan said the Grizzlies are taking alot of things away from the Spurs. How are the Spurs countering that? If a team takes something from you it means their conceding something else to you which they don’t think will beat them. What are the Spurs taking away from the Grizzlies? You can’t just keep hoping more shots will go in if you don’t have a good strategy.

    Pop has to make a decision with Tony Parker if he’s not being effective. Conley is playing a solid floor game and Parker is struggling. Pop may have to go more with Hill’s defense at the point.

  • Junierizzle

    I don’t buy it. You saw all the times he has gotten to the cup.

  • spursfan87

    i think is now or never

  • http://www.poundingtherock.com jollyrogerwilco

    No reason to watch or follow the team at all if that’s true.

  • TD BestEVER

    TD has been great……. POP has always been the VOCAL leader of this team…..TD has always been the quiet leader and so was D Rob…Avery was the vocal leader back in the day………What we need is POP to wake up or be fired and for TP just to wake up, Splitter will only make a difference in this game if Bonner doesn’t play AT ALL……not if they are paired together…………..

  • Colin Rigney

    “Timmy is not a leader”

    Serious? I quit reading your post after that one.

  • http://spursworld.wordpress.com Robby Lim

    David, Like you I believe Splitter must play. Given the way the Grizzlies has pounded us on the inside, Pop should try to stretch that big man rotation and give Timmy some help.

  • Bruno

    Splitter is in. Apocalypse is comming.

  • http://profiles.google.com/dmenendez David Menéndez

    And scoring. So I guess I’ll just edit in a “Never mind” at the end of the post.

  • Therealkman

    Tiago finally gets to play and looks good. Why not play him with Duncan?

  • Mark B