While watching Memphis Grizzlies’ Marc Gasol in game two catch lob passes in the paint like he was Godzilla I realized that Spurs coach Gregg Popovich will probably be put in a position at some point this series where he would have to play Tiago Splitter more.
This series is a physical one. Two tough defensive minded teams going hard on every possession. Because of this, there will probably be a game where multiple bigs get into foul trouble whether it be early or late. These games will all most likely be close hard fought contests. The margin of error is very small.
If Matt Bonner isn’t hitting shots does Popovich keep him in there to get swallowed up in the post and offensive glass by Gasol or Zach Randolph or will he step out of his comfort zone and make the obvious move of putting Splitter in there to negate that length? This is really the X-factor of the series and the series could swing on this move.
A situation like this has already transpired. In game one, the Spurs found themselves with two big men with five fouls a piece ( DeJuan Blair, Antonio McDyess) in the middle of the 4th quarter. Popovich decides to go with Duncan and Matt Bonner as his bigs. Bonner, up to that point only had a couple of clean looks at the basket and missed both of his 3 point attempts. The defense was playing him really tight and he isn’t athletic enough to create his own shot.
Defensively during this 4th quarter stretch, Bonner was out there while Marc Gasol got two key offensive rebounds (two of the three he had that day) one was a clutch put back right over the top of Bonner which helped the Grizzlies build up to a seven-point lead. He ultimately redeemed himself with two huge 3 pointers late to help push the Spurs to a two point lead.
You can’t count on that happening again. Popovich gambled and pulled even on that decision. The better move is to put Splitter in the game to take away higher percentage shots, try to force them to shoot jump shots and for him to bang the glass. You don’t want to be getting bullied around in the paint late in a close playoff game. You will almost always lose those games and the Spurs did.
Bonner is essentially useless when he’s not making shots. He is a massive liability on defense and in the playoffs where most teams have good bigs, playing him instead of a good defensive big man could be the difference between winning and losing. Can Popovich afford to make another decision like he did late in game one where he went with Bonner, whom he’s comfortable with, over the player who the matchup is calling for with Splitter and be on the bad end of a huge mismatch? I don’t think so.
I don’t think you can make two decisions like that in a series and expect to win it. This potential situation is quietly looming over this series and how Popovich handles it, will likely determine the outcome. Win or lose.