Spurs Defense and LaMarcus Aldridge Beginning To Surge

Jan 24, 2017; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; San Antonio Spurs forward LaMarcus Aldridge (12) is helped up by teammates guard Danny Green (14) and guard Patty Mills (8) in the second half against the Toronto Raptors at Air Canada Centre. Spurs defeat the Raptors 108-106. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 24, 2017; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; San Antonio Spurs forward LaMarcus Aldridge (12) is helped up by teammates guard Danny Green (14) and guard Patty Mills (8) in the second half against the Toronto Raptors at Air Canada Centre. Spurs defeat the Raptors 108-106. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports /

Despite scoring just 17 points in the second quarter, the San Antonio Spurs had a huge second half that led to a comeback win against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

The Spurs have been consistently getting out to slow starts in recent games.

Last night, that slow start came in the second quarter. The Spurs shot 4-of-10 from the field and 3-of-7 from beyond the arc, totaling just 17 points for the quarter.

The Spurs didn’t reach the free throw line the entire first half, resulting in a halftime deficit.

With the Spurs, it’s always a “tale of two halves.”

The Spurs have outscored the Wolves 23-11 since late in the 2Q when MIN led by 12.

— Paul Garcia (@PaulGarciaNBA) March 22, 2017

In the third quarter, the Spurs scored 31 points on 8-of-12 shooting, and went to the free-throw line 16 times, making 12 of them. On the other hand, they held the Timberwolves to just 16 points on 4-of-13 shooting. At the end of three quarters, the Spurs led 73-67.

The fourth quarter came down to execution, an area the Spurs usually have an advantage.

They shot 9-of-15, including 6-of-6 from the free throw line, totaling 27 points.

Down one, the Spurs get Kawhi with Wiggins on him in the left area. Kawhi squares up Wiggins, then drills the mid-range jumper. 20 pts KL

— Paul Garcia (@PaulGarciaNBA) March 22, 2017

Kawhi Leonard scored 20 of his 22 points in the second-half, helping the Spurs secure their 54th victory of the season, 2.5 games behind the Golden State Warriors for first place in the West.

The Spurs improve to 54-16 and 28-9 on the road.

SA stays on pace for 63 WINS.

— Paul Garcia (@PaulGarciaNBA) March 22, 2017

However, these past few games have been less about potential MVP candidate Leonard, and more about LaMarcus Aldridge’s aggressiveness since returning from his heart injury.

In 38 minutes (highest total on the Spurs), Aldridge poured in 26 points on 50% shooting, including five rebounds, three assists, two blocks and two steals.

Since his return, Aldridge has scoring totals of 19, 21, 18, and 26 last night. For those who were skeptical about Aldridge’s scoring ability, this production should ease your skepticism.

Man, LaMarcus Aldridge has been playing great since coming back from that heart issue. It's like the break reset him or something.

— Jeff McDonald (@JMcDonald_SAEN) March 22, 2017

Not too long ago, the Spurs were rolling. They were winners of nine straight games from February 13th to March 9th, cutting the Warriors deficit to 0.5 games in the West.

Then, in Oklahoma City, the Spurs snapped their nine game winning streak and lost Leonard to a concussion related injury. The following day, the Spurs announced that Aldridge had minor heart arrhythmia, and would be out indefinitely.

Since then, the Spurs have gone 4-2, including a win over the Warriors without their starters, and another win at home against the Sacramento Kings. Their inconsistent play has led to fans pointing fingers, some of which were pointed in the direction of Aldridge.

To wit: Aldridge shooting 56.2 percent in his past three games, including 10 of 17 tonight.

— Jeff McDonald (@JMcDonald_SAEN) March 22, 2017

Apparently, Aldridge heard the negative commentary, and is finally playing with something to prove. As much as some fans don’t want to admit it, the Spurs cannot win a championship without an aggressive Aldridge playing alongside Leonard.

Leonard is a phenomenal player, but he cannot win alone.

However, Leonard and Aldridge playing both at a high-level is cause for concern – for the opponent. Not only does the opposing team have to worry about covering two perennial scorers, their offense has to figure out a way to score against the number one ranked defense in the NBA.

Spurs Defense

I believe the saying goes, “Defense wins championships.”

In terms of defensive efficiency, the Spurs are first in the NBA with a numerical score of 1.004. In terms of opponents points per game, the Spurs are allowing 98.6 points per game, second in the NBA behind the Utah Jazz. In terms of opponents field goal percentage, the Spurs allow their opponents to shoot just 47.5%, third in the NBA behind the Warriors and Jazz.

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When it matters most, the Spurs defense is at its best. The Spurs are allowing 24.1 points per game in the fourth quarter, third in the NBA.

This last stat is telling, and incredibly important to understand in this day and age. The Spurs allow their opponents to score just 24.5 points a game from beyond the arc, second fewest in the NBA behind the Miami Heat.

The teams that score the most points from three point range? The Houston Rockets are first, and the Warriors are fourth.

Those two teams also happen to be the Spurs biggest competition in the Western Conference.

However, it’s not like the Spurs don’t shoot threes, either. In the modern-NBA, you have to defend the three, as well as shoot the three. The Spurs shoot 39.4% from beyond the arc, the highest percentage in the NBA.

Individually, the accolades speak for themselves.

The Spurs currently have four players ranked in the top-20 in defensive rating. Leonard is eighth, Pau Gasol is ninth, Danny Green is 11th, and Aldridge is 19th. The next closest team is the Atlanta Hawks with three players ranked in the top-20.

As far as defensive win shares, the Spurs have two players ranked in the top-20. Leonard is sixth, and Aldridge is 19th. The only team with more is the Warriors with three players.

Looking Ahead

There are just 12 games left in the 2016-2017 NBA Season.

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  • The Spurs are 2.5 games back of the Warriors, who they play one more time in San Antonio a week from today. If things remain the same, they can cut the deficit to 1.5 games.

    Unfortunately, it seems the Warriors have found their shooting touch again, as they have won five games in a row since their “catastrophic” three game losing streak. At this point, all signs point to the Warriors holding on to the first seed in the Western Conference.

    However, the next few games will confirm that assumption, one way or another.

    The Spurs next five games to end the month of March:

    Home games against the Memphis Grizzlies, New York Knicks, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Golden State Warriors before heading on the road to play the Thunder.

    The Warriors next five games to end the month of March:

    Home games against the Kings and the Grizzlies, followed by road games against the Rockets and Spurs on back-to-back nights, before finally returning to Oracle Arena to face the Rockets again.

    Both teams have a very challenging schedule, the only difference is the Spurs get to play the large majority of those games at the AT&T Center (four out of five games). By the end of March, we’ll have a much better indication of the Spurs chances at capturing the number one seed.

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    Whether they do or they don’t, the dominance of their team defense, in conjunction with the recent emergence of an aggressive Aldridge should excite all Spurs’ fans.

    The Spurs are built for the playoffs.