SAN ANTONIO – Before Game 2 of the Spurs-Grizzlies series, a reporter asked San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich if rookie Tiago Splitter could get some playing time.
“Yeah,” cracked Popovich. “You could get some playing time, too.”
Maybe the members of the media should arrive for Game 5 on Wednesday with their ankles taped and their high-tops laced up.
With Antonio McDyess saddled with three personal fouls, Popovich went with Splitter at center to start the third quarter of Game 4 and he produced one of the few bright spots of the second half for the Spurs, getting 10 points and nine rebounds.
“I thought he was wonderful,” Popovich said. “I thought he did some good things out there.
“Antonio had three fouls and you need him at the end of the game to guard Zach (Randolph). We didn’t want to start Antonio for that reason.”
The 26-year-old Brazilian had seen mostly spot duty in 60 games during the regular season after he missed almost all of training camp and the preseason with a strained right plantaris muscle and never seemed to find his rhythm or a place in the rotation. But he’s excelled in the Euroleague and played in major international competitions with the Brazilian national team.
San Antonio fans had been clamoring for Splitter to get onto the floor ever since the Grizzlies’ big-man combination of Randolph and Marc Gasol had pushed the Spurs around in the series opener.
“As the series goes on, teams start making adjustments,” said Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins. “And sure enough, he comes out and is playing. I talked about him before what his game was and he played pretty decent for them. They decided to go with him and go bigger than (DeJuan) Blair.”
Trailing 3-1 in the series, the Spurs are desperate and Popovich is likely to try anything. So since Splitter wasn’t afraid to mix it up inside with the Grizzlies, maybe he’s a lifeline on the road back.
At this point, what could it hurt?