Spurs rookie Splitter gets down and dirty

By Mike Monroe

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is no couch potato, but he does tune in for some occasional televiewing, so he knows what rookie center Tiago Splitter means when he describes his rugged play around the basket as “doing the dirty job.”

“Like that TV show,” said Popovich, a fan of “Dirty Jobs” on The Discovery Channel.

Splitter on Saturday scored 13 points and grabbed eight rebounds in almost 19 minutes of dirty work against the Utah Jazz. Three of his five baskets came on offensive rebound putbacks as he banged bodies with Utah’s Al Jefferson, one of the league’s most physical inside players.

“Tiago just has that blue-collar steelworker sort of attitude,” Popovich said. “It’s like he’s right out of the steel mill, been working in there all his life and knows what it’s like to work. He’s unbelievable.”

Ten of Splitter’s points came in the fourth period, when he played the full 12 minutes and grabbed four offensive rebounds.

Inspiration to hit the offensive glass came from disappointment at the defensive end of the court.

“I got an opportunity to play today,” Splitter said, “and like I always do I try to go in there and defend and try hard. (Al) Jefferson was scoring every time, so I was kind of mad, but I tried to go to the other end and bang the rim and go after all the offensive rebounds and try to be smart.”

Splitter has been trying to improve his free-throw mechanics all season and took some positive feedback from making the two foul shots he attempted in the fourth.

“Last year (in the Spanish ACB League) I had strange mechanics, so we’re trying to get it better,” he said. “It’s hard to do in the middle of the season, of course, but we will have a long summer to work on that.”

Duncan milestone: When he drove past Jefferson on the left baseline and laid in a short shot with his right hand with 8:13 left in the third quarter, Spurs captain Tim Duncan passed the1,000-point mark for the 13th time in his 13 seasons.

“I never know how many points I have, but that’s great, I guess,” he said. “I probably should have done that a while ago, but it is what it is.”

Duncan has played less than any season — at 28.4 minutes per game, he is almost three minutes per game under his previous low of 31.3 set last season — and his scoring average (13.4) is the lowest of his career.

Scorching third: After shooting 82.4 percent in the third quarter of Wednesday’s victory over the Sacramento Kings, the Spurs made 12 of 15 shots, 80 percent, in Saturday’s third period.

They were on pace for their hottest quarter of the season before Utah rookie Derrick Favors blocked a Splitter shot with 48 seconds left. George Hill then missed a 3-point attempt that bounced off the rim with nine-tenths of a second left. Splitter tipped that shot in, just beating the quarter buzzer.

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