There’s always been a bit of kitsch attached to the Spurs brand, a kind of wholesome, self-effacing dad-ness that fits right in with the sun-washed, pre-Internet Era suburbs of the H.E.B. Cinematic Universe. So when Thursday’s Throwback Night eschewed the possibility of vintage jerseys or an Alamodome-era court design that might hearken the halcyon days of Will Perdue and Chuck Person, instead doubling down on the musical stylings of Kenny Loggins and Naked Eyes and a few jazzy numbers during timeouts, it was a little hard to tell the difference from business as usual in the AT&T Center.
After all, every night feels like Throwback Night when watching the 2018-19 Spurs. That continued in their 125-87 thumping of the LA Clippers, as the league’s walking, talking time capsules kept their three-pointers low (at their league average of 22 attempts per game) and looked to grind their opponent’s defense down through taxing, side-to-side ball movement and the bruising play of LaMarcus Aldridge (27 points, 4 rebounds, 2 steals) down low.
Aldridge’s production came courtesy of a bit of everything going right: a hot hand, sound entry passes from his teammates, some amenable switches, and the Clips’ decision to not double all translated to a 12-of-14 night from the field, a welcome sight in San Antonio after his cold start shooting the ball. Going back to the Spurs’ win over the Pacers on November 23rd, Aldridge has made 57.6% of his shots, which is more reminiscent of the All-NBA-level player we saw last season.
There were other ways in which the Spurs threw it back on Thursday: DeMar DeRozan (14 points, 7 assists) made multiple bank shots off the right block before following in the rich tradition of Spurs number-10s haranguing officials and getting T’ed up, irked by a series of no-calls on the offensive end; in classic bench fashion, the reserves built on the starters’ first-quarter salvo to extend a lead the team would never again surrender; and Rudy Gay (21 points on 8-of-10 shooting, 6 rebounds) continued to turn back the clock by making plays on both sides of the floor. Most importantly, they made sure to partake in something nearly everyone did between the 80s, 90s, and aughts: scrub the floor with the Clippers.
In fairness to the visitors, who dropped to a still-impressive 17-11 on the season, they were both short-handed (Lou Williams and Luc Mbah Moute were both out) and have faced a tough slate over this past month. The last time they played more than one game in the same city was November 15th, the night they just so happened to beat these Spurs, 116-111.
“I think the schedule got to them a little bit,” noted Gregg Popovich afterwards. “This is their third game in four nights, so their energy level wasn’t as good as it usually is, and we’ve been in the same situation. So, we had an advantage tonight and it worked out.”
But it falls on good teams, as well as teams aspiring to be good, to take care of business on advantageous nights like this — and that’s precisely what the Spurs did, putting the clamps down through a second half in which they allowed just 30 points.
If they’re not yet a good team, the Spurs are at least building the habits of one, between finding more balance on offense and beginning to establish consistency with a defense that’s benefiting from tweaks on the tactical side and improved familiarity with the personnel. That’s far more than could’ve been said a few weeks ago when many of us were harboring serious doubts about this roster’s ability to compete. In the spirit of Throwback Night, it’s only fitting to eat some crow and utter another adage commonly associated with the Spurs over the last decade or so: rumors of their demise appear to have been at least somewhat exaggerated.
LMA hit his first three-pointer of the season—
—just don’t expect the flood gates to open: “My value is inside. If I’m out there, I’ll take it, but we have so many guys who take threes.”
The bucket was Aldridge’s first made three on 10 tries this season, with his three-point rate the lowest it’s been since year one in San Antonio. He added:
“That was my first one that I felt great, too. Patty took my guy with him and I was wide open.”
The Spurs’ much-improved play in December
Maybe it’s the new calendar month, or the fact that perhaps the worst (certainly the most grueling, travel-wise) stretch of the schedule is behind them — either way, the Spurs have looked much better in December. They’re 5-2 on the month, sporting the league’s 2nd best offensive rating over that stretch, along with a better-than-it-was 18th defensive rating.
Popovich, counting his blessings
In the spirit of Throwback Night, Pop was asked to reflect on his time in San Antonio, and he obliged:
“Those of us that have been here this long are blessed and very grateful that we’ve had that opportunity. Ownership has been wonderful and really gets it, and that’s something that’s pretty important in any franchise like this, whether it’s baseball, basketball, hockey, football — it doesn’t matter. We’ve been blessed that way for a long time, so it feels wonderful.
LaMarcus on the high degree of difficulty on Marco’s shots
A bit more off-balance wizardry on Thursday prompted a reporter to ask Aldridge about his teammates’ aptitude for taking (and occasionally making) difficult shots.
“Yeah, he makes some tough ones, some look he shouldn’t have shot it.” the Spurs big said through a sigh. “He’s just Marco . . . you’re gonna get some that look great and you’re gonna get some that look like ‘Oh Lord.’”