ATLANTA — With five games left in the regular season, it appears Spurs coach Gregg Popovich might be re-evaluating his big-man rotation.
In Sunday’s 114-97 win over Phoenix, rookie Tiago Splitter — not DeJuan Blair — earned the call when Tim Duncan was due for his first rest with 3:45 left in the first quarter.
Aside from the five games he started in place of Duncan in late March, Splitter hadn’t seen much action at all, much less in the first quarter.
“You have to be ready and be aware when they call,” Splitter said. “I didn’t expect it, of course, but I was ready.”
Splitter logged nearly 10 minutes in the first half, while Blair did not get off the bench. With the score out of hand in the second half, Blair played 16 minutes, 35 seconds, and appeared to be pressing at times. He finished with two points on 1-of-6 shooting and eight rebounds and also committed two offensive fouls.
Popovich would not say whether the rotation tweak would be permanent or if it would carry over to tonight’s game against Atlanta. Pairing the 6-foot-11 Splitter with Matt Bonner, however, would give the Spurs the size they’ve been lacking off the bench since Antonio McDyess’ elevation to the starting lineup 14 games ago.
Before Sunday’s game, Popovich said he had been satisfied with the Blair-Bonner combination. Afterward, he praised Splitter’s handling of the early call.
“He did a good job in battling,” Popovich said of Splitter.
“He’s a tough customer, and he does a good job with that.”
3-POINT REVIVAL: Popovich blames the Spurs’ 3-point shooting drought, which began in late March and bled into the first game of April, on the absence of a player who has attempted just four long balls all season.
With Duncan out for four games, Popovich said, open looks were harder to come by for the Spurs’ cadre of shooters, putting to the test the team-wide philosophy of passing up good shots for great ones.
“Without Timmy there for those games, I think those 3-point shots ended up being contested,” Popovich said. “That (good-to-great) principle became even more important, but we didn’t follow it very well.”
The Spurs made 15 of 29 3-pointers against Phoenix.
In the previous three games, two of them with Duncan on the floor, the Spurs hit just 20 of 73.
Overall, the Spurs have made 650 3-pointers this season, snapping the franchise record of 625 set in 2008-09. They have connected on a league-leading 39.8 percent, just off the club mark of 40.7 set in 2000-01.
POP’S MILESTONE: With one more victory, Popovich would match Boston legend Red Auerbach for second on the NBA’s all-time win chart with one team.
Sunday’s win over Phoenix was Popovich’s 794th, one shy of the mark Auerbach attained in 16 seasons with the Celtics.
Including postseason, Popovich has amassed 900 wins with the Spurs, but the NBA does not combine playoff and regular-season victories in its annals.