Jan 4, 2014; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs forward Tiago Splitter (22) drives to the basket under pressure from Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan (6) during the first half at AT

San Antonio Spurs Weekly: No Tiago Splitter Means Defensive Troubles Lie Ahead

An up-and-down week for the San Antonio Spurs resulted in a 2-1 record and 26-8 overall, good for second in the conference. However, the biggest takeaway from this week, and from the roster, is Tiago Splitter.

Splitter will be out three to five weeks after spraining his shoulder against the Los Angeles Clippers on Saturday afternoon. Sadly, in a week where the team got two desperately-needed double-digit victories to get them back on track for the new year, the team is left planning how to survive for the coming weeks without one of its best defenders.

Dec. 31 vs. Brooklyn Nets – Win (92-113)
The Spurs took care of business before they went off on their New Year’s celebrations, never allowing the Nets to make it close.

A 10-point lead after one quarter grew to 23 at halftime, which extended to 29 after a third quarter where the Spurs shot 15-for-18 for 39 points. The game was really no contest throughout and the team sucked a little more life out of a Brooklyn team that is already rolling over as it sits outside of the top eight in the Eastern Conference.

Six players reached double figure scoring for the Spurs, led by Tony Parker‘s 18 points. On a team like the Nets, who would’ve expected Mason Plumlee and Shaun Livingston to lead this roster in scoring (15) for a night? This game marked the first time since 1996 that Kevin Garnett was held without a field goal.

Also, the Nets seemed to be so ashamed with this loss they tried to leave before it was even over.

Jan. 2 vs. New York Knicks – Loss (105-101)
Well this was without a doubt the most embarrassing loss this season so far. The first loss against a team not in the conversation of being a contender, the Spurs were never able to contain the Knicks and it resulted in a great return for Carmelo Anthony. He posted 27 points and 12 rebounds after missing the last three games due to an ankle injury, while Iman Shumpert set a new career high with 27 points as well.

Marco Belinelli scored a new career high as well with 32 points. He made a 3-pointer with 37 seconds remaining to tie the game, but followed it with a missed 3 when the team was down two points. The only other two Spurs to get into double figure scoring were Manu Ginobili with 12 and Parker with 11 on a combined 9-for-24 shooting from the field.

This game just roars the lack of defensive intensity the Spurs have displayed the past month. The last time the Spurs held an opponent below 90 points was Dec. 14 against the Utah Jazz, which isn’t exactly the biggest accomplishment. It’s better to not judge a Spurs team in January, but based on what the team is showing us, it’s going to need quite a comeback in the second half of the season to show that the defense is still there.

Jan. 4 vs. Los Angeles Clippers – Win (92-116)
Finally, a win against a decent team where the Spurs didn’t let a big lead get cut.

At least not by that much. Chris Paul missing the game helped as well.

The team shot lights out in the first half, going into halftime with a 70-35 lead, and only allowing one rebound in the first quarter. However, Jamal Crawford would catch fire and score 20 of his 24 points in the second half and help cut the Spurs lead to 13 in the fourth quarter. That would be as close as the Clippers would get though, as the Spurs would follow up immediately with an 11-0 run that sealed the deal.

The Clippers clearly aren’t the same team without Paul, but the win is something to build on, considering 76 of the Spurs points came in the paint against Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. They simply had no answer on how to defend the paint in this game, allowing so many shots around the rim on a night when the Spurs only made four three-point shots.

Splitter led the way with 22 points before coming out with a shoulder injury to be explained next. Tim Duncan was the runner up with 19 points and pulled in 11 rebounds as well.

Tiago Splitter Out 3-5 Weeks
Clearly, this is a blow to San Antonio’s interior defense, since Splitter has been forcing opponents into a 43.3 field goal percentage at the rim. His fit on offense also allows Duncan to score from basically anywhere on the court with Splitter knowing where to go to find his own scoring opportunity, which he finds well at a 55.1 percent field goal mark so far this season.

It won’t be easy for the Spurs to defend the paint without the presence of Tiago Splitter. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports.

With Splitter out, expect Jeff Ayres to fill the open spot in the starting lineup. Though Diaw is next in line on the depth chart, he’s kept on the bench to keep the chemistry with the bench rotation. Ayres provides a good burst of energy for the team, but clearly needs more time to get situated in the Spurs system. In 12.4 minutes a game, he’s averaging 2.6 points and 3.5 rebounds with a 45.2 field goal percentage.

Another player who this injury opens an opportunity for is Aron Baynes. He too is still struggling to learn the Spurs system, though he was picked up around this time last season. Baynes tends to throw his body around and be physical, but usually ends up getting himself in foul trouble. Matt Bonner may also get extended playing time, but not by much since his skill set is least like Splitter’s.

This isn’t exactly the greatest time to lose a defensive anchor in the paint, as the Spurs will face the Portland Trail Blazers, Oklahoma City Thunder and Miami Heat in the next three weeks, and may also have to face the Houston Rockets without Splitter as well.

Looking Ahead
Jan. 7 @ Memphis Grizzlies
Winning the first two games in this matchup, the Spurs will play its final regular season game in the FedEx Forum against Memphis. Both teams will be without their starting centers, as Marc Gasol is still recovering from his medial collateral ligament (MCL) sprain he suffered back on Nov. 22. Though it won’t paint a good picture of how the Spurs interior defense will look sans Splitter since Gasol is the biggest offensive weapon on the Grizzlies, it’ll be the first chance to see how the team adjusts on offense.

Jan. 8 vs. Dallas Mavericks
It’s game two for this season series, as the Spurs hold the 1-0 advantage from the game on Dec. 26 in Dallas. The Mavs are currently coming off its own loss against the Knicks and will be facing the Spurs on the second night of a back-to-back, the first game being against the Los Angeles Lakers. With Duncan most likely doing the main duties on Dirk Nowitzki, it’ll be interesting at least to see who steps up as the other piece in the frontcourt to clean up around the rim.

Jan. 12 vs. Minnesota Timberwolves
Finally, a matchup which the Spurs will really miss Splitter. Kevin Love is clearly the player to look out for in the frontcourt, but in no way should San Antonio ignore Nikola Pekovic. He just posted 31 points and 11 rebounds against the Thunder and is averaging 18 points and 9.1 rebounds this season. If Spurs can’t find a way to hold its own against the duo, its best chance will be to stretch the floor on offense, dragging out Pekovic or Love from the paint.

Tags: San Antonio Spurs Tiago Splitter

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