By John Schuhmann, NBA.com
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 …
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).