Sunday’s win won’t, by itself, squash the narrative that the Spurs can’t win on the road, but it’s significantly better than the alternative.
The Celtics were down a few players, they were emotionally spent after blowing an 18 point lead in Charlotte the night before, and they are playing out a string of games that will have very little affect on their playoff position. The optics for the Spurs losing this game would be far worse than the credit they should get for winning it. If you are the kind of fan that is really sweating bullets about the Spurs weird home/road splits (raises hand), then nothing short of taking two off the Warriors in Oracle during the playoffs is going to quiet those fears. If you’ve somehow reached a calmer plane of enlightenment with regards to this team, fully accepting them as they are with all their flaws and imperfections, then this game was simply a wonderful opportunity to bask in the warm light of LaMarcus Aldridge’s glow.
What a game he had. Watching him calmly dismantle the Celtics almost felt like meditating. There was no furious barrage of points or even any real signature moments. He was just LaMarcus. It was, dare I say it, a quiet 48 points. He drained his shots around the mid-range, he was hyper-efficient at the basket, and he even knocked down a three near the end of the game just to show that he could. It was hypnotic. Shot after shot just raining down and there was nothing the Celtics could do to stop it. When his shot is on like this, you almost start to wonder, why couldn’t he go for 40 every time out? No one in the league really knows how to guard guys in the mid-range anymore because the Spurs are essentially the only team doing it. Their best guess is to maybe just send a double team and, even then, LaMarcus and the Spurs has proven more than capable of dissecting that particular problem with off ball movement and his great passing ability. It is obviously more complicated than all that, but my point is more that LaMarcus is often guilty of making it look so easy that you can’t help but glaze over and fantasize about our mid-range tank methodically rolling over any and all competition.
The truth is that the Spurs usually don’t need LaMarcus to go off like this. They have plenty of dudes up and down the roster who are more than capable of lighting up the score sheet. As we’ve said pretty much all season, scoring has never been this team’s problem. They fed LaMarcus here because when a guy practically has flames coming out the side of his head then you give him the ball, that’s basketball 101, but generally speaking this Spurs team is great about spreading the points around. They find the open man and they take advantage of what their opponents are willing to give them. Arguably their biggest strength is that they can be whoever they need to be on any given night. They are offensive chameleons. On Sunday night they just happened to take the form of LaMarcus Aldridge Fan Club and I think we’re all grateful that they did.
This was a not a night for wringing our hands about the various ways in which the Spurs might fall short this season. This was a night for celebrating the backbone of the team having a truly amazing night. LaMarcus does most of his work in the dark, rarely getting the shine that he deserves as one of the great talents and leaders in the NBA. Sometimes, the only way for anyone outside the 210 area code to sit up and take notice is for him to go out and drop an eye-popping number of points.
- I can’t believe Popovich took LaMarcus out at the 1:35 mark of the 4th quarter when he was sitting on 48 points. I mean, I can, because of course he did. But, Pop, come on. All the people in the streets were clamoring for more Aldridge and you cruelly ripped him away from us. Do you think he knows some weird, mystical secret about the karmic repercussions of letting a guy go gunning for a clean 50 past the point when he should still be in the game. Does he have some sort of voice in his head that’s able to predict things like, “If you let LaMarcus stay out there for a second longer you can kiss his relative ankle health goodbye.” I have to think so. It’s the only thing that makes sense.
- I’ve tried to think about how to dissect the Spurs defensive effort in this game and, honestly, I’ve completely come up short. Holding anyone to 92 points in this league is pretty solid work by any standard, but it’s hard not to feel like the luster of that accomplishment is sort of lost due to the Celtics missing Al Horford, Jayson Tatum, and Kyrie Irving on Sunday. What’s that? Kyrie was out there? You don’t say. I have to admit that Kyrie is sort of one of my NBA guilty pleasures. I find his game to be extremely aesthetically pleasing and I just really love watching him do what he does out there. That being said, it’s bizarre to watch him check in and out of games like this. One moment he looks like the most dangerous guy on the court and the next he’s just listlessly drifting around not really doing anything. I think if I were a Celtics fan right now I would pretty much be all the way at the end of my rope.
- In addition to his otherworldly scoring night, LaMarcus also found time to rack up an extremely impressive 6 assists. He’s not lauded too much for his passing ability, but an underrated aspect of his game has always been being able to find his teammates out of various doubles that opponents toss his way. I think it has a lot to do with how calm he is by nature. He’s confident in his abilities and he never panics when he sees some big body lumbering over to him or a quick guard trying to sneak past him on the weak side. He just gets tall, scans the court, and get’s rid of it. Usually in one fell swoop.
- Lost in all the LaMarcus noise, DeMar DeRozan quietly had a pretty great night himself. He didn’t have to do too much and his numbers aren’t particularly eye-popping, but he made the most of his opportunities and had a wonderful stretch in the 3rd quarter that really helped stymie a little run of momentum that Boston was attempting to build. He also dished out 11 assists and only turned the ball over once.
- The Spurs ball movement, in general, was extremely on point in this game. Most of the time it was pretty much all in service of getting the ball to wherever LaMarcus was so he could continue waging his efficiency war on the hoop, but it was still impressive nonetheless. Look at all the movement on this play. Rudy Gay drives through the lane and then back out to the corner. Marco sets a nice off ball screen for Davis, who then flashes into the lane. The pass Rudy whips in there between three defenders is so difficult and it’s still just right there on a dime. Then, without missing a beat, Davis drops it off to LaMarcus who is waiting to slam it home. Scoring 48 points is super hard to do no matter what, but it’s way easier when a decent amount of your shots look like this.
- MARCO WATCH: Like the rest of us, Marco spent most of this game letting LaMarcus simply go to work. Knowing when not to shoot is, frankly, not exactly something that Marco is known for so I suppose we could just chalk this one up to growth and go on about our business. OR. We could discuss that play in the 2nd quarter where Marco tossed a weird leaner up over a ghost. Oh, you don’t remember the ghost shot? Here, look. After a fairly chaotic possession, Marco finally receives the ball at the top of the key. Terry Rozier flies past and Marco is already headed to the basket. Patty Mills is running the baseline and dragging his man along with him. Semi Ojeleye stays at home on Rudy and Gordon Hayward is stuck on Jakob Poeltl. I can’t stress enough how wide open the path is right to the rim. This is an easy, stress free layup for 99 out of 100 guys in the league. Marco, instead, pulls up ABRUPTLY. He doesn’t rise up to hit the jumper and he doesn’t attempt one of his patented off-foot, scoop layups. No, he contorts his body around and past some unseen defender impeding his way. To the naked eye, sure, this maybe just looks like normal (for Marco) off-balance shot but, for those of us in the know, it’s obvious that there’s something blocking the way that only Marco can see because, otherwise, it would be completely and utterly insane to take this particular shot. There’s a reason he can’t take it to the rack on this play and I think we can all agree that the reason is ghosts. Case closed.