There’s a long and storied history of San Antonio Spurs cornerstone LaMarcus Aldridge facing the Thunder, but none like what happened last January.
It’s not often that one player can singlehandedly dominate a basketball game, and yet San Antonio Spurs big man LaMarcus Aldridge tends to do it decently often when given the chance. When the star player is on a hot streak, teams know to feed him the ball and get out of the way to let him operate. This was the case on January 11, 2019, when San Antonio played host to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Let’s back up and first recall LaMarcus’ incredible series against OKC in 2016. This was the last time that we’d see the greatest Spur of all-time, Tim Duncan in action, but it was also the first time we’d catch a glimpse of what Aldridge could be for this team moving forward. He scored 38 points in the first game of the series and doubled down with 41 in the next.
So going into this fateful game against the Russell Westbrook-led Thunder, Spurs fans knew to expect a chip on LaMarcus’ shoulder. Even though OKC’s starting center Steven Adams is a formidable defensive player, for whatever reason he tends to fall short against Aldridge.
Coming out of the gates, Aldridge scored 10 of the Spurs’ first 16 points including layups, dunks and one of his patented turnaround jumpers from the post. Even so, he was quiet in the second quarter and finished with just 14 in the half. That didn’t last long, however, as he exploded in the second half and continued the trend through two overtimes.
OKC tried to throw anyone they could at Aldridge in the third quarter. The big man posted up on the likes of Adams, Patrick Patterson, Nerlens Noel and even Paul George, but no one could stop him and his onslaught of mid-range jumpers.
Despite Oklahoma City’s fourth-quarter rally, Aldridge held it down for his team by dominating everything inside the three-point line for San Antonio. The veteran big singlehandedly scored 12 consecutive points for the Spurs to push OKC to its limits before moving on and pummeling them in overtime.
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During one sequence in 2OT, Grant tried to sneak a hook shot over the top of Aldridge in the paint. The former Texas Longhorn didn’t take kindly to that, swatting the shot with ferocity before running the fastbreak in harmony with his teammates. A cutting Aldridge caught a pass in the paint from guard Bryn Forbes before pivoting, pump faking Grant into oblivion and going up for the layup.
Aldridge finished with 56 points, nine boards, four blocks and four assists in 49 minutes between two overtimes. He made 20-of-33 shots and an astounding 16-of-16 free throws. His efficiency was impeccable and his effort never dwindled, carrying a gigantic load on his back on both sides of the floor.
For as much as Aldridge will be remembered for his performance, this was an awe-inspiring team game as well. San Antonio poured on 16 triples on 19 attempts including a 100 percent three-point mark on their first 14 shots from deep. This was spurred by the dominant performance of Aldridge in the paint, who drew in defenders and attention all night.
Though Aldridge’s 2019-20 season has not been quite as exciting as his previous two, he’s the same old player we’ve come to know and love. He’s not quite as explosive as he once was, but he doesn’t need to be.
Aldridge has an old-school playstyle and a team-first mentality, which makes him the perfect player to lead San Antonio through these strange times in their franchise’s progression.