Oh, THAT LaMarcus Aldridge. I remember him.
We've seen Aldridge experience quite a few highs and lows in his brief time for the Spurs. We've seen him have great nights and some games where he's looked very ordinary. While we've yet to see him have a great game against a great team just yet, Wednesday against the NOOCH was certainly a giant leap in the right direction in that he had a huge night against a superstar opponent, scoring 36 points on 12-of-20 shooting --and a perfect 12-of-12 from the line-- in leading the Spurs to their 27th consecutive home win without a loss this season and 36th in a row dating back to last year.
It was the most points by any Spur in over two years.
Think back to the free agency period last summer. Aldridge was obviously the pick of litter. But even if we had the ability to select whomever we wanted to join the Spurs, any one guy in the league, how many could we have come up with ahead of him? Ten guys? Fifteen? It wouldn't have been a very long list to be sure but Anthony Davis, only 22 years old and already thought of as the premiere power-forward in the league, would've certainly been on it.
And Aldridge outplayed him tonight head-to-head, with no defensive help from Tim Duncan, who missed his fifth straight game with a wonky right knee. Aldridge went at Davis repeatedly all game and had enough success that the Pelicans doubled at times, while on the other end he defended "The Brow" straight up, with acceptable results.
"I thought he was magnificent at both ends," said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich afterward. "Anthony [Davis] got three points in the fourth quarter, and LaMarcus did a great job on him. So I thought he was special."
What was particularly impressive about Aldridge's scoring was the versatility and variety of ways he got it done. It wasn't simply a matter of one pick-and-pop jumper after another. There were a few of those, certainly, but he scored on up-and-unders
and spin moves in the post. He scored after getting Davis off-balance on pump fakes.
He scored on rolls to the basket.
He scored off offensive rebounds, on alley-oops
and from getting hacked time and again. And he was consistent, with at least six points in each quarter.
There were a few forced shots mixed in where perhaps a pass would've been the better percentage play, but at this point I think the Spurs will take that, preferring Aldridge to err on the side of aggressiveness rather than tentativeness. If anything, being heavily involved in the flow of the offense seems to ramp up his competitiveness on the other end as well. Or maybe it's the just the extended playing time he's gotten in small-ball lineups the past couple of games, who knows?
Kawhi Leonard was able to score more from a variety of ways than we've seen from him of late as well --it was the first time that both he and Aldridge finished with over 20 in the same game since November--
and we're seeing some encouraging signs that the starting lineup is figuring out how to play with one another, with everyone getting the ball in their preferred spots, Danny Green getting enough looks from outside, David West scoring some
and being able to set people up the way Duncan was
and Tony Parker choreographing it all. On one hand it was very weird to see Parker get just two shots up in 29:48 (following a game two nights earlier where he attempted just four shots in 25 minutes against Orlando), but on the other hand you hardly noticed or cared because he was setting other people up and the Spurs weren't lacking for scoring.
Oddly enough the last time two Spurs teammates scored 26 or more in the same game, Aldridge was also involved... just on the other side. It was a triple-overtime loss against Portland on Dec. 19, 2014 with Duncan and Green doing the honors, with 32 and 27 respectively. Aldridge had 32 himself that night, while Damian Lillard led everyone with 43, going supernova in the extra periods to hang another brutal "L" on the Spurs, their second consecutive defeat in triple-OT.
(The last time two Spurs scored at least 26 in regulation was Apr. 6, 2014 when both Leonard and Ginobili got that number on the nose in a win over... naturally the Memphis Grizzlies who just so happened to be the first team they'd lose to in three overtimes the next season. See these things are always connected.)
And speaking of Ginobili, who was positively awful aforementioned in that loss to the Blazers, his memories of tonight's game are sure to be even more painful. Not because of his play, mind you, he was okay offensively and wreaked plenty of havoc defensively, but he took a knee to the twins (and I don't mean Nicola and Dante) late in the game from Ryan Anderson and looked to be in severe pain well after, to the point where he couldn't even make it to the locker room without doubling over in agony.
A couple of teammates laughed it off and suggested he'll be fine, but a pair of others seemed more concerned and expressed doubt of his availability in the near future. Popovich didn't know if it was an unfortunate blow in a delicate spot or something more serious, like an actual groin injury.
Hopefully everything is okay with their sixth-man, but while the Spurs await to find out the status of a pair of stars, at least they can be comforted by the sight of Aldridge playing like the guy who's tormented them for years.
Your Three Stars:
1. LaMarcus Aldridge
2. Kawhi Leonard
3. David West
Up Next: At Dallas Mavericks (28-24)
A gimpy and sore Spurs squad will hop on a puddle jumper to Dallas for the first leg of a back-to-back that will have them back home in their beds by early Saturday morning in advance of Kobe Bryant's farewell game at the AT&T Center. The Mavs have lost two in a row, including at home Wednesday against Miami with Raymond Felton missed a potential game-tying three at the buzzer. They've already played (and obviously lost) their two visits to San Antonio on the season, one close, on Nov. 25, with Leonard scoring 26 including the game-icing three, and one not so close, on Jan. 17, with Aldridge leading the way with 23. Will the Spurs hold Dallas to 83 for the third consecutive game? Probably not! Just coming away with a win will be a tall order since they'll likely be without both Duncan and Ginobili, but let's watch just in case to see what happens.