It’s quite possible that the Spurs don’t come out of the Golden 1 Center victorious without a certain dead-eyed Latvian sharp-shooting his team to victory. On the fifth game of FIGASENI (Five Game in Seven Nights) and still shorthanded, the exhausted Spurs looked like they wouldn’t be unable to muster up enough energy to beat the Sacramento Kings for most of the night.
The Spurs started 1-9 from the field without LaMarcus Aldridge getting any touches on offense, and it was midway through the first quarter before anyone discovered that Aldridge had the hot hand. This had the Spurs playing behind, and it didn’t help that the worst scoring team in the league was uncharacteristically hot for much of the night.
Aldridge did his part with 10 points in the first half, but it was 12 points off the bench from Davis Bertans that kept the Spurs within ten at the half despite Willie Cauley-Stein torching the Spurs for 14 points and Serbian rookie Bogdan Bogdanovic getting 12 of his own. It seemed like another road loss might be in order for the Spurs, but it turned out that was only the beginning of what Aldridge and Bertans would bring to table.
Aldridge came out hard in third quarter, running the floor for two tip-ins off missed lay-ups to keep the Spurs within striking distance. In fact, he was so gassed after four minutes of sprinting the court Pop called timeout to give him a breather. He continued to torch Zach Randolph and the Kings down low on the way to 31 points and 12 rebounds as the Spurs found their second wind on the way to a 107-100 victory, but the story of the night was the Ginger Fireball.
Called to action with the Spurs particularly shorthanded on the wing with Kawhi Leonard (shoulder), Danny Green (groin), Rudy Gay (heel) and Manu Ginobili (rest) out, Bertans was ready to help lead his team to victory via a career-high scoring night of 28 points on 6-9 shooting from three and 11-15 overall. However, this wasn’t just a hot-shooting night; Bertans showed true growth in this game.
He defended well (we’ll ignore the lack of rebounding for one night), dished out three assists, and identified his opportunities. As he said afterwards, he knew the Kings were playing two centers most of the night with some combination of Cauley-Stein, Z-Bo and Kosta Koufos; therefore he knew the best thing he could do was stretch the floor and create his own mismatches.
Bertans has waited a long time for this moment. With Leonard out it seemed like he would get more minutes right when the season started, but the court-awareness, defense, and positional versatility of Gay and Kyle Anderson left him on the outside of the rotation. But he knew his time would come eventually and he has done whatever he can to remain ready:
I try to get in the gym as much as I can and get some shots up. That’s pretty much all I can do. And stay mentally ready. Stay in the game, follow what everybody is doing on the court, be active on the bench, support that way.
For a second-year player on a loaded roster still trying to find his way in the NBA, that’s all he can do: stay ready, and when the opportunity comes, seize it. Tonight he did just that, and it allowed his team to start the second half of the season off with a victory. His patience and willingness to keep working has paid off, and even as the Spurs gradually return to health, he just might be working out a larger role for himself.
Now, even though the schedule remains grueling, the Spurs finally can get a breather with two nights off before Thursday’s nationally televised “showdown” with the struggling Los Angeles Lakers. They need every bit of rest they can get, because even though the three FIGASENI’s in four weeks are over, this is only the second set in a grueling stretch in the schedule consisting of three three-game road trips with only one home game sandwiched in between (a 3-1-3-1-3, if you will). The good guys deserve to rest.
Man of the Match
Davis Bertans - 28 points, 6-9 from three, 2 blocks
Aldridge was Aldridge, and Patty Mills (14) and Bryn Forbes (12) played a role in this victory as well, but this was Davis’ time to shine. He willed his team to victory, answering everything the Kings had for the Spurs and then some.
What I liked
Since I felt compelled to give the previous slot to Bertans, we’ll put Aldridge here. Besides his second consecutive 30+ point game and never-ending hustle tonight, what more do you need to know about the season he’s having than this?
LaMarcus Aldridge has scored double figures 40 times this season, most in the Spurs first 42 games since Tim Duncan’s 41 in 2008-09.— Jordan Howenstine (@AirlessJordan) January 9, 2018
What I didn’t like
Last time the Spurs and Kings faced off, we saw Manu Ginobili but not Vince Carter. Tonight Carter played but Manu rested, so we’re still waiting for some 40-on-40 action between the two oldest players in the league.
- Hey look: a starting line-up the Spurs have used before! That means they get to keep it at “only” 15 for one more night:
Here's starting lineup combos per @ESPNStatsInfo— Michael C. Wright (@mikecwright) January 9, 2018
MOST STARTING LINEUP COMBINATIONS
L.A. Clippers 18
San Antonio 15
L.A. Lakers 14
- I was going to use this space to speculate whether Tony Parker still needs to be on “injury management,” and then he left the game with a twisted ankle because this has become The Year of the Injuries. Regardless, the point still stands that he has looked fine ever since he returned and is in much better shape than Kawhi Leonard. I don’t doubt PATFO’s decision making, but does he really need to only play every other game even when there’s a day or two off between games?
- Whelp, Alabama won the college football championship. Does that mean we should just hand the Larry O’Brien Trophy to whatever team LeBron James plays for nowadays and be done with it? (For the unaware, all of LBJ’s NBA titles were preceded by a Crimson Tide championship.)
- The best non-basketball moment of the night was when Fox Sports studio host Ric Renner asked Sean Elliott what he would say to LaVar Ball if he ran into him at the Staples Center on Thursday (disregarding the fact that he’s currently in Lithuania with LiAngelo and LaMelo), and his answer was priceless: he remembers owning LaVar when they were at Arizona and Washington State, so don’t go around spouting that nonsense that you’re better than MJ.
For the Kings fans’ perspective, visit Sactown Royalty.
The Spurs improve to 28-14, 10-12 on the road.
The Spurs take on the Lakers in LA on Thursday. The game will be nationally televised on TNT, tip-off will be at 9:30 PM CT.