Happy New Year, Pounders!
When I introduce friends to PtR, they often ask what the name means and I enjoy providing the occasional reminder of what the stonecutter’s credo is about:
“When nothing seems to help, I go and look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not that blow that did it, but all that had gone before.”
Here’s a look at the two Spurs that helped turn things around on Monday night against the Celtics. What we will find is a consistent pounding of the rock into eventual submission via their respective methods: LaMarcus Aldridge (32 points, 9 rebounds, +15) pounding away at Boston’s cadre of bigs (Horford, Theis, and Yabusele) helpless to stop him, and Derrick White (22 points on 8-9 shooting) hammering persistently past the Celtics’ perimeter defenders into the paint for layups while pestering them at the other end.
When the Celtics’ Daniel Theis attempted to guard LMA on the post, Aldridge inevitably backed him down for lay-ups and some three-point plays right at the rim. When LMA converted a lay-up with the Spurs down 22-33, Theis is hunched over clutching his chest while letting another teammate throw the ball in. Later in the game, when LMA converted a three point play to put the Spurs up 12, Theis responded by looking (in vain) at the referee. In one last conversion to get the Spurs to 99-88, Aldridge’s three-point play resulted in Theis throwing up his hands in exasperation.
It’s worth noticing that when the shorter Guerschon Yabusele or smaller Horford had their shot at defending him, LMA went several times over his right shoulder to the turnaround jumper successfully on the left block or drove into the middle for conversions — a shot that simply wouldn’t fall for him earlier in the year.
It’s important to note that (per Eric Salinas) in the last 10 games, the team is scoring 117 points per 100 possessions with a 22.7 net rating when White plays. There could be a few positive trends that result from White’s recent uptick in contributions: more involvement in the offense for LMA via White’s penetration and passing, a necessary respite of the scoring burden for DeMar DeRozan and Rudy Gay, and returning Patty Mills to the bench to play with Marco Belinelli.
Reminding me of a taller Kevin Johnson (a point guard of Phoenix Suns’ lore), White’s perpetual forays into the lane kept the Spurs within striking distance in the first half. White’s mini 5-0 run in the 2nd quarter (from a layup and three pointer from the left wing) shaved the Celtics lead from 12 to 7. In the second half, White’s up and under in the lane brought the Spurs to within 48-54 and a later fake DHO to Davis Bertans up the right side resulted in a nifty left-handed layup to tie the game at 65.
With the Celtics defense finally keying on his drives, White delivered the ball on a high PnR beautifully into LMA’s hands for a lay-in to tie the game again at 67. Later, White drove into the lane on multiple Celtics defenders and kicked it out to LMA for a jumpshot to put the Spurs 11 ahead of the Celtics late in the 3rd.
LMA on Derrick White: “He’s been great. He is important. He is getting more confident every game. He is showing why he is here. He is showing why we believe in him. I am in his ear every game, telling him to take advantage of every opportunity because I have believed in him since day 1.”
I wanted to place an emphasis on the word ‘believe’ because there appears to be SOME evidence now - heading into the new year - for us to believe that the Spurs are finally turning a corner towards legitimate playoff contention.