The NBA has no shortage of stories, narratives that wax and wane and help define the identities of players, teams and eras alike — look no further than the now-defunct Grit and Grind Grizzlies.
A quarter through the 2017-18 season, LaMarcus Aldridge is rewriting his own.
The pivot, which began with a preseason sit-down with Gregg Popovich and put the allegedly discontented forward at ease heading into year three, continued on Monday night as Aldridge scored a season-high 41 points, carrying his team to a 104-95 win over Memphis. It tied the most he’s scored during the regular season as a Spur and was the fourth time he’s put up more than 30 in 2017-18 (after doing so just once last season). Put-backs, turn-arounds, pick-and-roll finishes — the whole bag of tricks was on display. And to top it off, he did it while shooting 17-of-24 from the field, the type of offensive efficiency we haven’t seen in nearly a decade:
LaMarcus Aldridge is the first Spur with 40+ points on less than 25 shots since Manu Ginobili had 44 on 13-18 shooting in 2008.— Jordan Howenstine (@AirlessJordan) November 30, 2017
“It feels good,” he said after the game. “[I’m just] taking my time, trying to take my shots, trying to make guys better out there. I ended up having a good night.”
Aldridge made all three of his three-point attempts in the first quarter, knocking down two from the right corner before hitting another from the top of the arc, somewhat off balance, as the shot clock wound down. He himself admitted that third one was “a little fluke shot” but, after seeing it go down, knew it would be “one of those nights.”
San Antonio needed all 41 in order to fight off a frisky Grizzlies team that never went away, despite missing five rotation players and playing with a new coach. The visitors didn’t get much from franchise center Marc Gasol (10 points, seven assists, six rebounds), but behind Tyreke Evans’ 22 and five, some hot outside shooting and consistent battling on the offensive glass, they showed there’s still some resilience post-Grit and Grind.
The Spurs didn’t do themselves many favors, though, often missing rotations and giving up far too many open looks to Grizzlies shooters. They also allowed a smaller Memphis team to pull down 11 offensive rebounds and keep possessions alive.
Versus some squads, that effort may have resulted in a loss, but the Grizzlies are desperately trying to curb a freefall, having now lost nine in a row (and Mike Conley in the process). Playing without a number of key pieces, a close game against the third-best team in the West has to be seen as a baby step in the right direction.
But despite some miscues, the Spurs are also trending the right way. They’ve now won three straight, have their starting point guard back, and have a rejuvenated five-time All-Star looking the best he has since arriving in 2015.
“He’s comfortable,” said Patty Mills. “He’s allowed to be himself, and it’s crazy the type of things that can happen when you feel like that.”
Aldridge hasn’t always been able to control his narrative — especially amid a score of criticism through the last two years — but one thing he is nonetheless known for is how handles his meetings with the media, typically punctuating them by saying “cool” before briskly shuffling away.
After Monday night’s win, he was in slightly higher spirits than usual, perhaps even a bit more vocal. And yet, he still managed to stumble upon his code word during the back-and-forth. After dismissing any early notions of whether he should make this season’s All-Star Game (“I’m not even going there; if it happens, it happens”), Aldridge was informed that Pop himself had considered the forward to be playing at that elite level. His giddy response:
Was it intentional or a chance fluke, like that off-balance jumper he hit in the first quarter? It didn’t matter. Aldridge was gone, a deserved wrap for a player who is, in more ways than one, doing things on his own terms.
The Tony Parker effect
After playing 14 minutes against Dallas, Parker played 18 on Monday. He had another good night, putting up 10 points and five assists, three of which were to Aldridge.
Tony Parker had 10 points and five assists in 18 minutes. Three of those assists were to LA, who should only benefit with Parker back in the mix. pic.twitter.com/GRCbu68ll8— Bruno Passos (@bouncepassos) November 30, 2017
With Parker back, the offensive execution should improve, and Aldridge should be one of the main beneficiaries of his return.
Another sign of the times
The teams’ two designated free-throw shooters were big men Aldridge and Marc Gasol, which still takes some getting used to.
Slow Mo’s impact on defense
With four more steals tonight, Anderson now has 11 total over the last three games. Before the game, Pop likened the forward to “a utility infielder in baseball. He does a little bit of everything.” That includes bolstering one of the league’s best defenses, not only with his rebounding but his ability to get in passing lanes and create turnovers.
Kyle Anderson had another 4 steals tonight, has now logged 11 over the last three games. His length means he can get them without ever gambling on defense. pic.twitter.com/hFpL69PfAK— Bruno Passos (@bouncepassos) November 30, 2017
Pop with more on the firing of David Fizdale
“We as coaches always cringe when a colleague gets axed. Every situation is different — you don’t know what’s going on in another organization — but you know the people. I know Fiz and... he should have no trouble whatsoever being hired elsewhere at some point — sooner rather than later. He knows his stuff, he cares about the community as much as he cares about stuff on the court... It’s unfortunate it happened, but it doesn’t do any good to blame that it’s because of that or because of that. Everyone will just move on, and hope the team does well and that Fiz does well somewhere else.”
Mills and Manu
Typically the match and gasoline that, when put together, have helped spark countless San Antonio runs, Manu Ginobili and Patty Mills have not been quite as stellar together to start this season. Here are the net ratings of these two when they’ve been on the floor at the same time over the years and this season, heading into Monday’s game:
2017-18: -9.2 (worst among all two-man lineups with 200+ minutes)
Now, there’s plenty of noise with on-off numbers, and the Spurs’ rotations have been out of whack with Parker and Leonard out, but it’s at least something to keep an eye on as Pop continues to figure out what works and what doesn’t with this team.