It’s not a coincidence that the Spurs looked like a different team with LaMarcus Aldridge back in the lineup in their 119-109 victory over the Mavericks on Tuesday night. As it turns out, having an actual NBA caliber center on the floor most of the game is still a good thing. That was never more clear than in the closing minutes of the contest when LaMarcus scored or assisted on 11 straight points as the Spurs stretched their lead out to 12 with just 1:27 to go.
He started it off by dropping two straight buckets on Kristaps Porzingis, the first on an easy layup off a nice high-low pass from Trey Lyles out of a horns setup and the second on a difficult pullup jumper. LaMarcus’ 3rd bucket, though, was a bit different.
The Mavericks choose not to run much of a play on this baseline out of bounds, relying instead on Porzingis’ ability to make the catch up top. Luka Doncic throws the ball a little too far, though, and Porzingis reacts more like a typical 7 footer than his usual unicorn self.
He struggles to corral the ball without crossing over the halfcourt line and decides to try to throw the ball off Trey for some reason. The ball ricochets into the backcourt with Trey in hot pursuit. Porzingis doesn’t put in nearly the same amount of effort, though, and Trey is able to recover the loose ball with ease before flipping it to DeMar DeRozan. At this point, with 2 defenders in good position against DeMar and Trey, it looks like the Spurs will need to reset and run the offense.
But it should come as no surprise that Patty Mills is racing down the sideline looking for an open three. That draws Maxi Kleber’s attention, causing him to divert from his path to the rim to shade towards Patty on the right sideline, which leaves plenty of room for a big ole hustlin’ Texan to head straight for the promised land.
The Mavericks responded with a timeout and the two teams traded buckets when play resumed. After Porzingis took a foul on Derrick White to prevent getting exposed on the perimeter, the Spurs put the game away with a simple but perfectly run sideline out of bounds action.
DeMar is inbounding the ball with Trey Lyles on the right wing while the other Spurs set up a scrum in the paint. LaMarcus and Patty are setting screens and Derrick White is running along the baseline to the left corner.
LaMarcus then pops to the top of the key to receive the inbounds pass while Patty clears out to the right corner. When DeMar takes the hand off like a running back at full speed, there’s nobody in good position to defend the drive. Dorian Finney-Smith clearly didn’t expect that burst of speed from DeMar, who usually eases into screening actions, and is well behind the play. Porzingis is flat-footed and still moving out towards LaMarcus and Tim Hardaway Jr. has his back to the play as he follows Patty.
Porzingis manages to retreat far enough to cut off DeMar’s path to the rim, but in doing so he leaves LaMarcus all alone on the left wing. DeMar elevates, turns in the air, and fires the ball back out to the wing, leading LaMarcus away from Doncic. LaMarcus briefly looks off the Slovenian superstar before drilling a wide open three to make it a 12 point game and slam the door on any chance of a Mavericks’ comeback.
It was quite a run, especially in his first game back after a 6-game absence, but he obviously didn’t do it all by himself. All but one of those buckets came as the result of team play. But that’s one of LaMarcus’ defining traits. He can still take over games, but more often than not, his value comes in making the most of all the little things the other players on the floor do right. Trey and Patty out-hustle their defenders and LaMarcus makes it a dunk. DeMar collapses the defense and LaMarcus makes it a three. He’s consistent and reliable on both ends of the floor, traits the Spurs desperately missed over the last 2 weeks.
With two more days off before their next game, it’s reasonable to expect LaMarcus will stay in the lineup, which ought to lead to more solid performances like this. The whole team played with a level of visible confidence and determination that has been missing in their recent slide. Watching LaMarcus dominate down the stretch, it was easy to see why.