Duncan earns night on bench

By Mike Monroe

After starting the first 53 games of the season with the same starting five, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich over the last 16 games has replaced each of those five for at least one game, each for different reasons.

Spurs captain Tim Duncan was the last to watch the tipoff from the sidelines, in his case in league-mandated sport coat and collared shirt while sitting behind the bench to view the team’s 109-98 victory over the Charlotte Bobcats on Saturday at the ATT Center.

The official notification that Duncan would be inactive came with a tongue-in-cheek explanation that required translation by Parisian-grown point guard Tony Parker.

Trop vieux read the one-page notification from the media relations staff — French for “too old.”

In truth, the 35-year-old 12-time All-Star earned his night off with a 31-minute, 52-second performance on Friday in Dallas that produced 22 points, eight rebounds and three blocks.

“It’s late in the year, and back-to-backs are probably not the best idea for some of our players at this point,” Popovich said. “So in an effort to regenerate some energy and stay from situations that might be more conducive to energy, playing fatigued, we’re going to try to do what we can to limit those situations, and this is a good example.”

Rookie Tiago Splitter got the start in Duncan’s spot and produced eight points, six rebounds and a block. He was effective working pick-and-roll plays with Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, a factor in the Spurs’ ability to spread the floor for 3-point shooters who tied a club record by making 17 shots from beyond the 3-point line.

“It’s hard to play when you don’t have continuity,” Ginobili said of his Brazilian-born teammate. “You feel a lot of pressure, and you want to do good and show everybody that you can play. Considering that, he did very well, but it’s not easy to start as he did in that situation, because he hasn’t played for about five games.

“He did great. He finished at the rim. I completely trust him. He just needed to be out there to feel good about himself.”

Splitter, joked Parker, was an improvement over Duncan in rolling to the rim.

“He’s definitely better than Timmy,” Parker said. “Timmy is so slow.”

BLAIR INJURED: Second-year center DeJuan Blair couldn’t decide what hurt most after Saturday’s game: His sprained left wrist or the news that his No. 1 seed Pittsburgh Panthers had suffered a crushing defeat in the NCAA tournament, falling to Butler on a controversial foul call in the final seconds.

“Don’t tell me,” Blair said of Pittsburgh’s loss in the college tournament. “I don’t even want to know how it happened.”

Blair was equally confused about how he had injured his left wrist. He thought the injury may have happened on an emphatic dunk in the first period but wasn’t sure.

He is to have the wrist examined today, a day off for the Spurs before they play the Golden State Warriors on Monday at the ATT Center, their third game in four nights.

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