There’s something to be said for familiarity. A not insignificant part of holiday sentiment revolves around some combination of the nostalgic and the customary. Every year we look forward to the bright lights and the Christmas greenery; to the time off and the warmth of hearth and home.
Even the predictable arrival of that one mildly irritating and moderately intoxicated family member offers a certain familiarity that can be oddly comforting. Year in and year out we can depend on these consistencies even amidst the tumult of our own lives, and for an extended period of time, the San Antonio Spurs represented a not dissimilar degree of warm and fuzzy reliability.
I think it’s safe to say that that has not been the case since a wildly pontificating uncle and his talented, yet quad-impaired nephew made their explosive exit. But for the length of the opening quarter in Memphis, the San Antonio Spurs flashed dynastic for Auld Lang Syne, and the game took on the air of Christmas contests past. By the end of the first frame the Spurs had scored forty-six points on 81% shooting, and LaMarcus Aldridge was sitting pretty with twenty-two points of his own as his team held a fifteen-point lead going into the second.
That lead in particular is important to note, as it was perhaps the most tell-tale sign of the illusory nature of this seemingly retro performance. The San Antonio offense hummed with a beautiful-game era air of lethality, but this defense was a far cry at best.
That a forty-six point quarter hadn’t resulted in a 20+ point lead hinted at the cracks beneath the facade, and sure enough, as the hot shooting waned, a resurgent Memphis team (riding a wave of made threes) began to pull themselves back into the game, getting within six points by the middle of the third, as the game started to feel more like a Dan Fogelberg song than a new year’s rallying cry.
Fortunately, San Antonio’s hot shooting ways made another extended return and the Memphis Grizzlies just couldn’t keep up, though it would be hard for any team to keep pace with a team shooting 67.4% from the floor and 61% from three. Apart from a relatively anemic second frame, the Spurs scored thirty-six or more per quarter and left the court with a rare thirty-point win.
Certainly there’s something to be said about needing a unilaterally incredible degree of scoring to beat an adolescent Memphis squad, but whether it was a difference of youth, or motivation, or simply luck, it was a welcome respite from the wilderness of the early season woes and the shellacking of the last game, and sometimes that’s enough.
For now, it’s time to simply revel in at least one more holiday stretch that reminds of those in the past, cloak ourselves in the memories of cozy Christmases past, and enjoy the presence of our loved ones. Tomorrow can wait for the moment with its accompanying concerns and wariness. All is calm, all is bright. A Christmas win for Spurs tonight.
- For what felt like the first time this year, it was the starters who led the way rather than San Antonio's bench, and the opening five went a combined 44-59 on the night, with Trey Lyles, Aldridge and Bryn Forbes combining for nine of the Spurs fifteen made threes. Defensive issues notwithstanding, it was remarkable performance from a unit that has never looked cohesive or even comfortable throughout the season. Although it would be completely unreasonable to expect this kind of performance from them on a nightly basis, even a facsimile of it would be acceptable considering their well-document series of struggles, particularly in the first quarter of most of the previous contests.
- Credit where credit is due: Admittedly, I’ve been pretty hard on DeMar DeRozan this season (especially on the defensive end) but this was an outstanding game on his part. In addition to playing passable defense, he came up just one shot shy of perfection on the offensive end, as he tallied what was perhaps the most efficient 26 point, 10 assist performance of any San Antonio guard’s career. It wasn’t particularly dazzling or flashy, but it was as sensible a shooting display as I’ve witnessed in some time, and I honestly can’t say enough good things about it.
DeMar DeRozan posts the 15th game in NBA history with 25+ points and 10+ assists on over 90% shooting.— Jordan Howenstine (@AirlessJordan) December 24, 2019
- Equally overshadowed by Aldridge’s gloriously monstrous display in the post, was the play of Lyles. If you’d have told me that San Antonio would win by thirty in a game in which Lyles started against that front-court and Jakob Poeltl only played thirteen minutes, I’d have had you committed. But as was the case against Houston last week, Lyles’ speed and ability to stretch the court with the long-ball came up in spades, and gave Aldridge almost more space in the post than he knew what to do with it. Lyles was 17/8/4/1 in only twenty-five minutes of play, and was one of the most quietly affecting factors of the entire game.
- Just as important was the ideal version of Forbes that showed up in Memphis. He racked up four assists with sharp passing, knocked down a couple of important threes, grabbed an ricochet or two off of the glass, and generally stayed out of the way while avoiding being targeted to the same degree as Marco Belinelli (who, in all fairness, had a pretty good night by Marco standards). If Forbes can give San Antonio these kinds of performances more consistently, he will at the very least not encumber the starting unit and continue to legitimize his usage in the starting lineup. And unless Pop decides to unleash Lonnie Walker IV after the New Year, that’s probably the best we can hope for for now.
- I’m never sure how to comment on a night like this for Aldridge. He was a towering inferno of mid-range and post-up excellence, and he even threw in a number of successful heat checks for good measure. This is the ideal style of play for him, and further proof that not only is he not washed up yet, but that he can in fact be utilized effectively within the confines of a high flying offense. It’s no coincidence that the Spurs are often the best versions of themselves when he’s on his game. Let’s just hope that this is a sign of more to come, especially when taking into account the brutality of January’s schedule.
LaMarcus Aldridge has a new season high with 40 points tonight.— Jordan Howenstine (@AirlessJordan) December 24, 2019
Eighth 40+ point game of Aldridge’s 977-game career.