The only All-Star left standing was the difference in Monday night’s low-cal rematch of the 2017 Western Conference Finals.
For the KD-less, Steph-less, Klay-less, and (after taking what appeared to be a shot below the waist midway through the second) Draymond-less Warriors, it was understandable. Steve Kerr’s decimated squad was once again forced to give heavy minutes to an undrafted two-way guard (Quinn Cook, who led his team with a spirited 20-5-5 performance) and quick-trigger mercenary best known as Swaggy P and was, unsurprisingly, held to below 80 points for the first time this season.
For San Antonio, it was less excusable. Yes, Kawhi Leonard was once again MIA, but this was, in theory, the same squad that had recently disposed of the Pelicans and Timberwolves in back-to-back games, suddenly reverting to its old habits of squandering double-digit leads and failing to generate any traction in the half court.
The team’s bench trio of future Hall of Famers didn’t help. Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and Pau Gasol combined for a 1-of-15 shooting night, struggling to leverage their wits against their inexperienced but sprier counterparts. To make matters worse, Spurs fans were treated to the all-too-familiar sight of a lone LaMarcus Aldridge getting mobbed by gold jerseys every time he caught the ball on the block.
Credit the disciplined Warriors for knowing how and when to send double and triple teams Aldridge’s way, as well as looking to deny — or heavily discourage — entry passes into the post. The additional pressure forced a skittish Spurs offense to explore second and third options that haven’t been there for most of this season. (On Monday it was no different, as the second Spur to reach double figures did so only at the six-minute mark of the fourth quarter.)
An anemic offense that could only muster 12 points in the third quarter carried over into the fourth, as the MASH unit Warriors chipped away at, and eventually wrested, the lead from San Antonio, 65-61.
Then something happened. Or rather, Aldridge happened. You can speak of star players that way — as an unstoppable occurrence or an inevitability. And the rejuvenated Aldridge has embodied those qualities this season, whether by using his size in the paint or releasing high-arcing jumpers over a defenders outstretched hands.
It began with him catching the ball, noting the mismatch of a smaller defender and making an aggressive move towards the rim that resulted in a three-point play. He followed that up with a step-back 18-footer to put San Antonio back up ahead. Then, a fast-break layup, followed by a patient post-up in which he split the double team to finish around the basket. Putting the team on his back, Aldridge scored 11 straight points in total, part of a 19-point fourth quarter that propelled his team to a fourth-straight win.
The Spurs will look to build on the positives of Monday’s win and avoid stretches like that third quarter as they look forward to another tough challenge on Wednesday. Green, looking to think big-picture, wasn’t ready to chalk up their struggles to not being able to get Aldridge the ball.
“Regardless of who’s on the floor or not, we gotta play like ourselves for four quarters — 48 minutes.”
Green is right, but if the Spurs resembled themselves in that final decisive quarter, it’s mostly because they looked precisely like what they are now: LaMarcus Aldridge’s team. The Spurs have been a net-64 points better with him on the floor over this season-preserving four-game winning streak, in which he’s averaged 30.3 points on 55.7% shooting and nine rebounds.
“Without him,” said Green. “It could be very ugly.”
The singular dependence on Aldridge has proven — and will almost certainly prove again — to be an Achilles heel for the Spurs. Elite defenses will clamp down on him, which could, to borrow Green’s wording, get ugly fast. And even if he continues his herculean efforts, elite offenses will require greater production from San Antonio’s supporting cast.
But fixating on that right now would be missing the point.
After not being selected to the All-Star Game a year ago, Aldridge is in position to be receiving strong All-NBA consideration. Game by game, he continues to shift his San Antonio narrative from 2017 scapegoat to potential 2018 savior. And in doing so, he’s made the 2017-18 Spurs his team.
A few more notes on…
The Warriors’ reserves relishing their moment
We may have been surprising seeing guys like Kevon Looney and Quinn Cook shine, but coach Steve Kerr wasn’t. Here’s him speaking about how his team has responded to the challenges of playing short-handed down the home stretch of the season:
“Because we have the injuries that we do, our guys are motivated. Guys are playing that otherwise wouldn’t be playing. They’re fired up. Then I think it’s also a real challenge and something that some of our other guys are embracing — Draymond, Andre — taking on a different leadership, sometimes even positional in Draymond’s case. So the strange dynamics that we have with our injuries are almost working in our favor in terms of getting guys hyped and excited.”
San Antonio’s public enemy number one was booed throughout the game, broken up only by the cheers he received when fell to the ground, was whistled for an early foul, or argued with refs over calls. Pachulia had six points in the loss, and was a -12 while on the floor.
Shoutout to PtR’s Marilyn Dubinski for pointing this out.
Put on an elbow pad, Draymond Green. pic.twitter.com/2bhKfxTsFh
— Marilyn Dubinski (@alamoaggie08) March 20, 2018
This is apparently something Green has been playing with (or through) for months. I’ve seen people on message boards describe it as an inflamed bursa sac, although that sounds more like the type of injury he sustained in the second quarter on Monday, after a collision with Danny Green. (For the record, that injury was labeled a “pelvic contusion.”)
Kerr on the crafty qualities of his former teammate
Before the game, Steve Kerr offered this funny anecdote on the Argentinean, whom the Warriors coach and former Spur played with in 2002-03.
“He’s still coming downhill at you, full bore, with that left hand dominant drive and, even though you know he’s gonna go back to his left, you know he’s coming, he still manages to get there. I still remember his rookie year — Sean Elliott had the best line about Manu when he drives in the lane. He said he looks like a squirrel running through traffic trying to dodge cars. He’s going like this, and you can’t stay in front of him, and then he explodes to the hoop. He’s still doing it at 40, amazing.”
Where the Spurs currently stand
Latest standings and Spurs-specific tie-breakers after tonight. Spurs temporarily jump to 5th, but that’ll likely change after tomorrow. pic.twitter.com/9FTzCaXBM9
— Bruno Passos (@bouncepassos) March 20, 2018
Source: Pounding The Rock