Film Study: Splitter D keys Spurs

By John Schuhmann,

VIDEO: Trail Blazers vs. Spurs: Game 2

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — If there was a postseason Defensive Player of the Year award, the early leader would have to be Tiago Splitter.

After seven games of keeping Dirk Nowitzki in check in the first round, Splitter has done the same to LaMarcus Aldridge in the conference semifinals, helping the San Antonio Spurs to a 2-0 series lead.

The Spurs’ offense has been ridiculously efficient, scoring almost 120 points per 100 possessions over their last five games. They basically won Thursday’s game with a stretch of 12 possessions (spanning the first and second quarters) in which they scored 29 points.

But their opponents have been two of the three worst defensive teams (among those that made the playoffs) from the regular season. And maybe more impressive is that they’ve held two top-five offensive teams under a point per possession over their last three games.

A big key to that has been Splitter’s ability to defend both Nowitzki and Aldridge one-on-one. They are the two of the most prolific mid-range shooters in the league. But if you can contest those mid-range shots, they’re better for the defense than layups or 3-pointers. And the best way to avoid the layups and 3s is by not helping the defender guarding Mr. Mid-Range.

Splitter allows the Spurs to do that. And if he can keep his man from shooting too efficiently, his team is in really good shape.

According to SportVU, Nowitzki shot 21-for-45 (47 percent) against Splitter’s defense in the first round. In the conference semis, Aldridge has shot 8-for-25 (32 percent) against Splitter, including 2-for-13 in Game 2.

Aldridge’s favorite spot on the floor is the left block. Nine of his shots in Game 2 came from that spot with Splitter defending him. He made his first one, and then missed the next eight.

Here’s a compilation of those nine shots …

VIDEO: Splitter Defends Aldridge

From the same spot, Aldridge was 2-for-3 against Boris Diaw. When he hit two straight turnaround jumpers (here and here) midway through the fourth quarter, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich immediately sent Splitter back into the game.

On another day, Aldridge would certainly have made more than one of those nine shots. But Splitter has the size and discipline to use a simple and effective method for defending him. Stay in front, stay on the ground and contest the shot.

Aldridge can get more open looks by getting away from Splitter, as he did a few times on Thursday.

Early in the first quarter, he got a wide-open elbow jumper off a pick-and-pop with Damian Lillard, with the three Spurs who weren’t defending either Lillard or Aldridge staying at home on their man …


Midway through the second quarter, Aldridge got two straight layups (one he made, one he missed) by curling off a pin-down screen from Lillard.


The Spurs cleaned up their defense on those after that, but Aldridge clearly got better looks at the basket when he caught the ball on the move. That will be something to look for in Game 3 (10:30 p.m. ET Saturday, ESPN).


  1. Cali Dave says:

    Not a Spurs or Blazers fan, watched the 9 videos of splitter defense. He played good defense, but Aldridge missed at least 5 shots he normally made. Aldridge just needs to slow down and throw the ball back out and reposition closer to the basket and occasionally take that fallaway that he usually kills. Patience is a major key to playing against a good help defense. I do however think that this series will end in either 5 or 6 games with the Spurs winning.

  2. NBA Fan says:

    What makes the Spurs so successful for so long is that their starters are reliable and every guy down to the last guy on the bench is capable of playing well. Many times I watch their games and their starters can get rest while the other team’s starters have huge minutes and are worn out by the Spurs’ fresh rotations.

  3. Wesly Cravon says:

    Don’t get me wrong, I love the spurs defense but let’s be clear here ( in my Steven A Smith voice) Tiago Splitter is a decent defender at best. It’s easy to stand out as an elite defender in a league where their are far a few big men who play with their backs to the basket. Aldridge is not a true power forward, he doesn’t play the way Barkley and Malone use to play that position, he has NO low post game and going up against the spurs you will get exposed. Could you imagine Splitter trying to check the dream or shaq, players who had a real low post game, can you say bar b que chicken LOL.

    • Chris says:

      No one in this era could guard them. Not even Noah or Hibbert.. By today’s standards, Tiago is a great defender.

  4. bibisine says:

    good gal splitter

  5. Romeo says:

    No surprise there, Splitter was the best big man defender in Europe before he came to San Antonio. We made a great pick up, all he had to do was improve his offense and he did just that, having the best PF in NBA history by his side.

  6. Mike says:

    Just another example of how smart decisions and patience are the trademarks of the Spurs draft success.

  7. Splitter for President! Oh wait…….

  8. Damarco Walls says:

    Its the physical play that’s making Aldridge miss those shots. Splitter doesn’t have to aggressively jump at the ball because he is playing him physical and staying between his man and the basket at all times, even when the shot goes up so he doesn’t have a open look. Aldridge is thinking about physically getting Splitter out of the way rather than making the shot. Good Defense by Splitter good eyes by the author.

    • SharpieOne says:

      Yeah but it’s not just about being physical. His length helps him just as much as his physical play. Aldridge has to adjust his jumper in order to get it over Splitter. He has to hold the ball a little higher than he would want to and put a little more arch on it than he normally does just to get it over him. Diaw played him really physical, it seemed like every time Diaw played him in game 1 Aldridge would either shoot over him or drive to the basket and get two free throws or and ones.

    • flash says:

      funny, i saw some footage of the game , aldridge almost not himself missing a couple of dunk and lay up… because of fatigue factor i think or a rookie in semifinal, that only my opinion, thanks

    • hallski85 says:

      It is definitely Splitter’s defense. Splitter gets discounted because people don’t know who he is but if you take a look at the stats his opp fg %, while he is defending someone, is one of the besy in the league. He plays good defense and rhat stats show it.

  9. Bu says:

    Taking nothing away from Splitter, the author over blown his impact on Aldridge and Nowitski. Aldrige was making all those shots contested in previous series with Asik and Howard on him. Those misses in the clip were point blank, and not aggressively contested shots. Splitter didn’t even jump to contest it! Aldrige, on a normal day, would have hit a few more. Portland losing is not bec of Aldridge not making a few more shots bec of Splitter’s defense. But Portland’s defense is not strong enough and offense is too reliant on individual plays rather than team plays.

    • Mike says:

      Splitter doesn’t need to jump because he’s 7 feet tall. If he jumps then Aldridge will just draw the foul. Splitter is playing good old fashioned defense by keeping his body on Aldridge at all times, staying between the opponent and the basket and using his long arms to contest the shot without leaving the ground. It’s incredible how fundamental skills can take the NBA’s best by surprise.

    • SharpieOne says:

      You’re very foolish. This Portland team reminds me a lot of a young Spurs team. They had VERY similar players and very similar playing style. This author hit the nail right on the head. Portland’s offense is deadly when Aldridge is forcing double teams, which in turn frees up the 3 point shot (Almost exactly like the 03 and 05 Spurs were with Duncan.) Splitter’s length and physical defense is enough to keep Aldridge in line, with Aldridge in line those 3 point shooters are having trouble getting free. The Spurs defense over the last 3 or so playoff games is the best I’ve seen since they were winning championships with it. Portland has good defenders. They just lack experience and trust with each other. They’re also missing an elite coach. Stotts might be that man once he gets some real experience. Their experience with each other and playoff basketball is really showing. Aldridge has never played a championship caliber defense like this. Asik, Howard and the rest of the Houston Rockets are nothing like the Spurs defenders. Howard couldn’t risk getting into foul trouble guarding Aldridge so he didn’t play over aggressively (and Asik isn’t nearly as good a defender as Splitter.) Howard had to carry that Rockets team and foul trouble means they lose the game. Splitter isn’t nearly as important to the Spurs offense as Howard was to the Rockets. I’m going to guess you’re a Portland fan who’s new to basketball, but there are a ton of different things that go into basketball. Heck I didn’t even mention the superior help defense and rotations by the Spurs compared to the Rockets.

  10. Lucas says:

    is a joy to see the Spurs when they play their best

  11. Dalton Estanislau says:

    Good Job Splitter!!!