What to expect from the Duncanless Spurs


Scott Sereday, as usual, has done a terrific job of accounting for the statistical issues surrounding Tim Duncan’s injury. And there is also a good bit in his post about the value of role players vs. the value of home court advantage. Do read it.

My take on Duncan’s injury, providing it doesn’t extend beyond the start of the postseason, is that it’s not such a big deal. My biggest concern is Duncan’s condition, which could diminish over the next few weeks. Couple this with the expectation of more postseason minutes for Duncan, and he may spend the first round of the playoffs getting into game shape.

Otherwise, Duncan’s numbers are, more or less, replaceable. At this point in his career, Duncan’s system-smarts and floor leadership are his greatest contributions to the Spurs’ championship hopes. But, in the short term, the Spurs can deal without these attributes.

And they will.

Scott Sereday suspects Gregg Popovich will start Tiago Splitter in place of Duncan, and I agree with him. The Spurs’ postseason rotation will feature DeJuan Blair off the bench, and there is little reason to move away from that now. Besides, Splitter could use the burn.

If you had asked me about Tiago Splitter ten days ago, I would have told you he was of almost no value to the Spurs this season. Good player, yes. But he was a good player outside the Spurs’ playoff rotation.  Now, I’m not so sure.

In the previous two games—Duncan’s “Trop Vieux” DNP-CD and injury game—Splitter has played well. His Monday night double-double came against the Warriors, which is, as you know, a kind of omnipresent qualifier, but it was still an eye-opener. He’s shown flashes, but this was the first game since his arrival in San Antonio that his game was on full display.

Stand up. Take notice. The former Spanish League MVP is on parade.

But when you watch Splitter, notice how often the Spurs’ spacing goes to seed. And notice how quickly he loses his lungs. These are both byproducts of his lack of playing time this season. His activity and IQ are undeniable. Manifest, his toughness and ability to score off the PnR. But he’s still a puzzle piece without a home within the puzzle. Will Duncan’s injury provide Gregg Popovich an opportunity to snap Splitter into place?

If Splitter performs well over the next couple weeks, the Spurs suddenly have a different frontcourt rotation, or at least the possibility of a different rotation. This is a helpful development at this stage of the season. The Spurs could use Splitter’s length and defensive capabilities against the Lakers, should they meet in the WCF.

Beyond this, I’m especially interested if Steve Novak will continue to provide the Spurs with such a vital spark off the bench. (I know, I know. File that away with the other sentences I never thought I’d write.) Novak is a defensive liability, but he provides such dead-eye shooting on offense, he fits the Spurs like a glove.

Because of Duncan’s injury, the Spurs should run more small ball than usual and push the pace like they did over the first couple months of the season. Tim Duncan is the Spurs’ least effective transitional big—DeJuan Blair is mobile, Splitter runs hard, Bonner is one of the league’s best trailing fours. Duncan’s role in the Spurs’ transition game are perfectly placed outlet passes and trailing the play to reverse the ball in the event the break opportunity goes dry.

Steve Novak suits the Spurs’ small ball and pace-pushing interests.

It’s strange. Prior to the All-Star break neither Tiago Splitter nor Steve Novak stood a strong chance to help the Spurs in the postseason. And now, suddenly, they’re both in the important piece mix. Let’s see what shakes out.

Should we then worry that about losing homecourt advantage? In a word, no. The Spurs are too far ahead the other teams for that to keep anyone up at night. In fact, I think the Spurs will play .700 basketball without Duncan and, when he returns, coast through the first two rounds without so much as a hiccup. His injury is not such a big deal.

  • hassan

    Would somebody cover Harrington at the 3 point line….

  • hassan

    wow…just wow Denver can’t miss a shot..but the spurs are getting beat on the picks so bad they can’t recover….

  • hassan

    It’s a great game though not considering the bad defense….

    ….What’s Manu doing…can’t just shoot 3’s all the time..manu you should have gone to the lane…bad shot…bad shot….

  • hassan

    Yup …we play defense like today & we will have a 5-game winning streak by end of the month….

  • hassan

    sad defense…sad…

  • igor

    Spurs lost to the Denver tonight because of Blair. The guy was absolutely pathetic, he couldn’t finish 3 times around the rim missing two dunks. That where absence of Tim is really felt – inside. If Blair finished at least two of them, SA would win. Spurs really will be hurt inside in playoffs if Tim wouldn’t be 100%.
    It is very painful loss. Blair to the dog house!

  • Titletown99030507d

    Reasons why we lost:

    1- George Karl out coached Pop (Or Pop had a brain fart and thought Tiago was at home hurt)

    2- Why the hell was Bonner/Blair combo in from midway of the third to the rest of the game? Dyess fouled out but Splitter sat for almost 2 quarters in the second half and only had 4 fouls?

    3- Blair/Bonner combo (oh I said that already)

    4- As soon as Splitter left the game the lane was a free for all for the nuggets. Splitter did a good job clogging up the lane and had to make shooters shoot over him with out clear view.

    5-Chandler and company shot over Blair with clear view.

    6- Bonner can’t make crap! He’s afraid to shoot now. So why is he on the court?

    7- Manu thinks he has to win the game by clanking 3’s.

    8- Splitter sat for no apparent reason for almost half the game. ( oh I said that already)

    9- Pop had shitty rotations for more than half the game.

    10- And finally they tried to run with a team that was hot and paid the price. They could have slowed things down if Tiago was in there. No looks for Tiago tonight from his team mates.

  • Titletown99030507d

    “Bad Pop” ! “Bad Pop” ! No desert for you now go upstairs to your room! And take Bonner and Blair with you!

  • DorieStreet

    In this order—Manu –thought he was the Argentine version of the old J.R. Smith (who was on the bench the in the fourth

    Pop–brought back Tony too late\\\\Kudos to Coach Karl—————Carolina Pride Connection bridges a generation & a half=40 years- – Felton, Lawson (IMO the best collegiate basketball program that does that)

    Coverage on Al Harrington–dude has been in the league a decade==He can only hurt you by making his shots–Spurs have seen this before/cover his butt/@$$!!!

    Wasted balling’ efforts by Neal, McDyess;
    Hill still struggling; looks as if RJ can carry the squad some if we reward him

    And I can’t believe I’m saying this–shoud have went with Tiago until he fouled out.

  • Titletown99030507d

    This was so painful to watch especially when you have a proven rebounder and defender of the rim sitting on the bench wondering “when the hell am I going back in Pop!”

    Splitter – 17:12, 7 rebounds, 4pts, +11 and made his free throws

    Blair – 25:04, 6 rebounds, 8 pts, -15 and couldn’t defend jack

    Bonner – 22:56, 3 rebounds, 7 points, -14 and couldn’t hit the side of a big ass barn and couldn’t defend either

    Titletown99030507d, the d represents defense that’s how we won those four gold trophies. Defense in the paint and defense on the perimeter. We sucked on both with the help of mindless coaching. You can not will someone to play better, they need to do it or get off the court Pop!
    And since when do you reward players with more minutes for playing bad Pop?
    I’m disgusted! GSG!

  • Nima K.

    I don’t know why we don’t pull out Bonner when we know he’s not playing. I don’t know why we keep playing Smallz when we know he’s not performing well. And why did Pop pull Splitter out? I thought he was doing well. I don’t get it.

  • Titletown99030507d

    Splitter and Novak left the arena confused.

  • Hobson13

    Random thoughts:

    Spurs lost this game because of defense. Period. If you score 112 pts on the road, you should win almost 95% of the time. Nuggets just had too many wide open shots. Even though we scored a ton of points, we didn’t execute well at the end of the game. Parker bricked a straight on 22 fter with the game tied and Manu shot a shitty step back 3 (I knew he was going for that damned shot) when we should have just tied and played for OT. Neal was unreal. RJ seemed VERY aggressive tonight. Splitter was decent on defense even though he needs to gain 20lbs of muscle. Dyess was very good. Hill must be in Pops doghouse since he only played 18min. Blair was straight up terrible. Couldn’t defend, make dunks, make easy layup putbacks, make correct passes, etc. He’s Malik Rose reincarnate. He can make an unbelievable play and then miss a damned dunk. I really hate watching players that play at that level of inconsistency. Splitter needs to be played instead of Blair even if he fouls out in the 4th.

  • Josh

    This had better have been a statement by Pop to Manu that he’s not fucking Michael Jordan and that this team still lives and dies with the 7 footer at the high post. Otherwise I’m going to be heckling the whole damned game on the first.

  • DorieStreet

    Spurs got up 7-9-11 points and just settled into the mindset of ” they can’t stop us–let’s just go into rec league mode”. Neal was best on floor IMO, then Dice; Pop stayed with Bonner even though his shooting sucked–at least he gave a game effort somewhat on D—Novak will get time @ POR/
    Manu displayed poor leadership, decision-making tonight–did not trust his teammates; jacking up shots way too early in possessions.

    It is time for the Spurs to junk that “rotation/help defense every time” method they use; did anybody see the NIT qaurterfinal game Tuesday night between Kent St. & Colorado–analyst/former coach Jimmy Dykes kept reiterating: “At some point players need to man up and guard their opponent one on one–don’t depend on someone to help you out.” This is the one thing I hate most about how San Antonio plays defense; granted–our players aren’t top shelf defense-wise–but the team is not facing Kobe/Wade/Rose, etc. every game===D UP ON YOUR OWN MAN, PLEASE!!!

  • Hobson13

    March 23rd, 2011 at 10:06 pm
    “Pop stayed with Bonner even though his shooting sucked–at least he gave a game effort somewhat on D—Novak will get time.”

    And he was mostly responsible for Harrington’s 27pts. Al is only a slightly above average offensive player, but he made Bonner look like a moron. I really can’t believe Novak didn’t play tonight. He was balling the last two games and can’t play defense any worse than ole Matty.

  • Nima K.

    Well, I hope this isn’t a sign of things to come. MEM and POR ain’t gonna be easier. Please pop, use your best faculty, and stop repeating failed decisions.

    Ah well, maybe it’s better if we become 2nd seed. Let MEM and LAL duke it out, then send OKC to their winner. We can handle Dallas and DEN better, provided Pop stops making these bad decisions with Bonner/Blair/Hill.

  • DorieStreet


    +20 Harrington is like another ex-Atlanta Hawk- – Shareef Abdur Rahim—gets numbers (career 18 pts/8 rbs career) but does not transcend team. In his case, you could let him get his but his sqaud (Vancover, Atlanta, POR, SAC)–didn’t get the win most times.
    Spurs need to splist with Blazers and beat Gizzlies–who will be without Rudy Gay the rest of the season.

    Poor game management by Pop–did not reel in Manu, brought Tony back to late.

  • Bob

    The combination of McDyess and Splitter was strong defensively. They were getting rebounds and playing good defense at the rim. The Nuggets were missing point blank layups around the rim and shots in the lane due to their defense. In fact Martin only scored once he had Blair on him. McDyess can’t do it by himself. It was a close game. If the Spurs had played more defense with Splitter/Dice combo they could have won. Playing small ball and shooting alot of 3’s has to be combined with playing good defense.

  • DorieStreet


    What??? This team needs HCA—don’t delude yourself. It doesn’t matter how 2-3-4 finishes up- the Spurs need to have 7th game at home each series—I will say it now:
    To get the 5th title, it might take a 28-game playoff run – – – – 4-3 each round.

  • Nima K.


    If we keep making dumb strategic mistakes like we did tonight, I don’t know if that HCA will help us out. Regardless of HCA, Memphis is becoming good at achieving upsets (like tonight). What good is HCA if we get eliminated by a young, highly physical team that can beat pretty much every title contender? Even if we do win a 7 series first round with HCA, it’ll leave us exhausted and possibly injured to face a revamped Thunder. The prospects don’t look good.

  • junierizzle

    I guess I’m a half full kind of guy. Despite all those mistakes they still could have won it.

    Too many missed bunny shots. And I’d have to think it was their strategy to let Harrington shoot. Even on his best day he doesn’t shoot like that.

    I guess you guys are forgetting that TD didn’t play. If he played they win easily.

  • junierizzle

    I guess I’m a half full kind of guy. Despite all those mistakes they still could have won it.

    Too many missed bunny shots. And I’d have to think it was their strategy to let Harrington shoot. Even on his best day he doesn’t shoot like that.

    I guess you guys are forgetting that TD didn’t play. If he played they win easily.

  • andy

    @Nima K.
    March 23rd, 2011 at 10:17 pm

    there are no easy outs in the west, and we need home for at least the wcf and finals. the best case, imo, is if we keep the 1 and new orleans falls to 8 (which looking at how teams are playing, could happen). that’s about as well as we match up. i agree with DorieStreet that the rest could be a long hard slog. maybe not, but all signs point to yes.

    didn’t see the game, but followed. disappointing, but according to regressing to the mean, we were due for a close loss or two.

  • andy

    @Nima K.
    March 23rd, 2011 at 10:50 pm

    sure, it wouldn’t be good for us to go to 7 in the first round, but not the end of the world. remember that if we end up with 1, we’d be facing the winner of okc/denver (which is honestly a tossup to me, the way they’re both playing). i’d rather face one of them than dallas or l.a., so no, we don’t want to slip to 2 or 3.

    is it imperative that we get hca? no, but the margin for error is razor thin and we should take everything we can get. i thought we’d get 8 or 9 wins over the homestretch with tim, and maybe 6,7 without. i haven’t changed my mind after denver.

  • DieHardSpur

    The refs were absolutely atrocious!

  • Tim in Surrey

    Jeez… Another loss, another panic party. Will everybody please relax? Losing a one-possession game on the road against a very hot Denver squad is hardly cause for concern. We’re not going to lose HCA to the Lakers or anyone else. And I wouldn’t read too much into last night’s game. It was a tale of two halves after all. We were fine in the first one and struggled in the second one. That tends to happen in Denver, especially to big men. Splitter and Blair were obviously gassed, which was to be expected in a fast-paced game.

    And hey, there’s a very good chance we’ll lose tomorrow at the Rose Garden. I still wouldn’t worry about it. As long as we keep focusing on staying healthy and executing better, we’ll be fine when the playoffs come around.

  • Mark B

    Blair missed a dunk and 2 or 3 easy layups. He needs to stop doing that.

    But several times, the Spurs collected a rebound and were heading back upcourt when the whistle finally blew the whistle for a shooting foul. Refs, if you’ve going to call a foul, don’t wait 5 seconds to blow the whistle. It kind of makes it look like a homer call designed to keep the ball in the hands of the home team.

    I don’t think it was a bad loss. Denver is a very good team, and if they shoot this hot in the playoffs, they can beat anybody. They can certainly beat a Duncanless Spurs. Especially if they get free throws when they charge, or any time a defender is in the area when they take a shot.

  • http://www.bpifanconnect.com Alix Babaie

    Tim in Surrey = the voice of reason.

  • Mike


    Yeah they were. Nothing like calling is hair close until the last 2 minutes of the game in which it turns into “no blood, no foul” and even then I think they would have willfully ignored the blood.

    @Mark B:

    Yeah Dice’s 5th foul was horse s#it.

  • http://www.bpifanconnect.com Alix Babaie

    First of all, Josh, what a moron to post what you did….I am embarassed for you. What a tool.

    My only issue, other than Novak not getting any playing time (because he could have shot better than 1-4 from 3PL) is that we did not try to feed the ball inside to Splitter and get him involved a bit more.

    He had that powerful dunk when he got fed inside to start the game and then the guards just kind of forgot about him. When they did try to feed him the ball, it was out at the top of the key instead of in low post position or in PNR situations.

    On the other hand, Tiago has really got to try to keep his fouls to a minimum, 4 fouls in not good although it could have been worse for him….he could have fouled out like Dyess did.

    The disparity in fouls shots was a disgrace and the fact is that our guys made some boneheaded mistakes down the stretch that cost us the game.

  • http://www.bpifanconnect.com Alix Babaie

    The only thing I don’t like on here is the douchebags trying to blame specific guys for this loss….that is one step above blaming the refs.

    The TEAM lost this game, according to some of the morons blaming guys, you would want to bench Manu, Blair, Bonner and Hill – be somewhat intelligent about what happened last night.

    Lack of stops by the TEAM, misses by the team and some bad decisions by the TEAM is what caused this loss.

  • Nima K.


    You’re right. MEM does seem to have an easier remaining schedule than NOL. The Hornets might end up being the 8th seed at the end.

  • Nima K.

    After all is said though, I think we’d win if we played DEN again. Last night we went into the game not knowing what exactly to expect from a Carmeloless Nuggets. They simply son by using the foul line. I don’t think it will be that easy again for them to pull that strategy off a second time.

    I’d be more concerned with the b2b on Sunday and Monday. If we win Friday’s game though, I think we’ll still be OK.

  • OMeGa

    I bet the lakers are: OMG this is our chance to get #1 and let Dallas and San Antonio kill each other in a 7 game series!!
    Come on! why are the lakers always healthy! (damn PJ and his evil team on steroids!!)

  • Nima K.

    In my last post: son –> won

    Also, it’s a shame our loss eclipsed a great performance by Neal last night. What a waste on a career high. No?

  • Titletown99030507d

    @Tim in Surrey,

    “Splitter and Blair were obviously gassed, which was to be expected in a fast-paced game.”

    Splitter sat half the game how could he be gassed? I think Blair had gas.

  • Mr. International

    I’m glad the Spurs have so few losses that folks can take time to panic about each one. Go Spurs Go!

  • Titletown99030507d

    @Alix Babaie,

    “On the other hand, Tiago has really got to try to keep his fouls to a minimum, 4 fouls in not good although it could have been worse for him….”

    Enough with the Splitter fouls. He’s not the one who fouled out and to have only 4 fouls with that horrendous officiating he did better than Dyess in that respect. Don’t bring up the the foul thing. Has he ever fouled out in a game? Plus 2 of those fouls were crap calls that would have gave him 2.
    How about when the ref was standing right in front of Splitter and Martin and Martin goes off and puts a shoulder on a blindsided Splitter and sends him to the ground and no frikin call? I about lost it.

  • DBAGuy

    Bad coaching is a cause for concern, we were in the bonus early in the 4rth quarter when we were up by 9, then we decided to go like 5 minutes without a field goals because we settled for jumpshots, why the hell didn’t Pop say attack the rim, stop with all the long 3s. This was a very winnable game but yet another game where we take a huge lead to just squander it away. Tiago played great in the first half, but Pop decided that it was enough so no Tiago in the second half. Horrible, horrible, defense to let Denver of all teams shoot wide open 3s.

  • Titletown99030507d

    @Mr. International,

    “I’m glad the Spurs have so few losses that folks can take time to panic about each one. Go Spurs Go!”

    So close to the end of the season, It’s these kind of games that you need to win in order to get your guys in playoff mode. (Winning!) It’s not the 2nd game of the season and who cares if Timmy is or ins’nt playing we all know he’s coming back. They need to prove they can control a game without him. It’s different if they flat out got spanked from the opening tip then “yeah I can’t wait till Timmy gets back”. But that’s not the case here they are very capable of taking control of a game a securing a victory. But really in the end the reason they lost this one so late in the season is bad, bad coaching. Period!

  • Titletown99030507d

    I’d rather lose by 30 points then by a few especially if you had control of most of the game then lose.
    Enough of the Bonner/Blair combo. If that’s what he’s putting on the court in the playoffs then its time to work on the yard and forget about watching this nonsense.

  • Mike


    Tiago had 4 fouls in 17 minutes, Dice had 6 in 25, neither of those numbers are good. Poor officiating or not.


    Tiago was tired. As far as attacking the rim; easier said then done against a Denver team like that.

  • Mike


    Have fun on the yard work!!

  • http://www.bpifanconnect.com Alix Babaie

    March 24th, 2011 at 6:25 am

    Enough with the Splitter fouls. He’s not the one who fouled out and to have only 4 fouls with that horrendous officiating he did better than Dyess in that respect. Don’t bring up the foul thing. Has he ever fouled out in a game?

    Dude, Dyess fouling out was the 1st time a Spur has fouled out of a game.

    If Splitter would have played 25 minutes like Dyess, it would have been a second.

    The only thing we can agree on is that Splitter should have been used more wisely. The guards not involving Tiago in the offense to take advantage of his size is a horrible miscue.

    I still have faith in Pop that he will get him going….hey, look at it this way, the dude is getting more burn now than he has all season.

  • Bill

    juner… we just lost the first one on the list.

    March 23rd, 2011 at 2:09 pm SPURS have won 7 of last 8 without DUNCAN

  • Bill

    @Junierizzle – We’ve now lost three in a row… concerned yet?

    March 23
    “SPURS have won 7 of last 8 without DUNCAN.”

    March 23
    “We have a tough few games coming… at DEN, at POR, at MEM, vs POR, v BOS in a row… with still at HOU, at ATL, at Lakers and at Suns. If either the Mavs or Lakers runs the table we could easily lose HC. This should be a very real concern.”