By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com
VIDEO: Tiago Splitter talks after the Spurs’ practice on Monday
SAN ANTONIO — A lot of players have had tough defensive match ups in the playoffs.
You could put Tiago Splitter’s duties at the upper end of the scale. In the first round, his hands were full of Dirk Nowitzki of the Mavs and in the second round he was the first man up on the Blazers’ LaMarcus Aldridge.
Now with Serge Ibaka sidelined by a calf injury for the Thunder, Splitter isn’t sure what to expect.
“We gotta see who’s going to take that spot,” Splitter said after Monday’s shootaround ahead of Game 1. “For sure the focus is a little bit different. We know that (Russell) Westbrook and (Kevin) Durant are the two key players and that’s a little bit out of my range. I’m going to try to help the team the same way, try to guard. Of course, you’re gonna help a lot.”
Primarily, it’s all about rim protection for Splitter.
“Definitely,” he said. “Not just me, but everybody. They like to drive. They like to run the fast break we got to be there.”
Splitter was in his second NBA season when the Spurs and Thunder last met in the 2012 playoffs and he became a focus of Game 2 when OKC coach Scott Brooks chose to foul him intentionally to send him to the line.
Splitter made 6 of 12 shots in the that game and Spurs won, but it was a strategy that disrupted the flow of the San Antonio offense and might have been the first step toward the dramatic reversal in the series. Splitter’s minutes steadily decreased until he played just 39 seconds when the Thunder clinched in Game 6.
Splitter’s free throw percentage has actually declined from 61.8 two years ago to 52.3 this season. He’s currently shooting 58.8 in the playoffs.
“I’m not anxious,” Splitter said. “It’s a different situation. It caused me to work more. Definitely. I knew I wasn’t and I’m still not the best shooter. But it makes you work. Makes you feel like you got to work more.”