If you’ve been waiting for LaMarcus Aldridge, the Spurs’ $84 million summer acquisition game, to dominate a game and lead the team to victory, mark down Monday’s 107-92 win over the Orlando Magic as the game the former Portland Trail Blazer met your expectations.
Never mind that his season-high 28-point game and season-high five blocked shots came against a team that is now 21-26 and has lost 13 of its last 15 games. Every trend has to start somewhere and against someone. Perhaps Monday’s game will begin a stretch of dominant games for Aldridge. Maybe he will even have one the next time the Spurs play the Golden State Warriors and he matches up against Draymond Green.
For now, the Spurs aren’t being picky. They were grateful for everything Aldridge did at both ends of the court against a Magic team that refused to fold, even after the Spurs jumped on them early, leading by 16 in a first quarter in which Aldridge made 5-of-6 shots and scored 14 points.
Aldridge had help Monday, especially from Patty Mills and Kyle Anderson, but his two-way performance showed the way to the win.
“He was amazing,” veteran guard Manu Ginobili said. “Twenty-eight points, a lot of rebounds and good defense, too. When you look at the stats you see the 28 and that’s what draws attention. But defensively he was really good. He got a lot of blocks and modified other ones. He was outstanding, along with Patty and Kyle (Anderson), one of the players who changed the game.”
With team captain and defensive anchor Tim Duncan sitting out his fourth straight game with a sore right knee the interior defensive onus falls squarely on Aldridge’s shoulders, and he did his best impression of Duncan yet against Magic center Nikola Vucevic, one of the better offensive big men in the Eastern Conference. Vucevic scored 20 points but needed 20 shots to get them and Aldridge blocked three of his shots.
“Kyle and Patty were great off the bench,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “They gave us a lot of energy and player very well along with LaMarcus, who was great at both ends all night long.
“They got us through.”
Despite Aldridge’s early domination, the Magic made a run back at the Spurs in the third quarter and, with four minutes left in the period, took a 66-64 lead.
After playing all but six seconds of the third, Aldridge opened the fourth quarter on the bench as Popovich went with a lineup he hadn’t used once this season: Mills and Ray McCallum at the guard spots; David West at center; Danny Green at small forward and Anderson at power forward.
The odd lineup produced the desired results. The Spurs outscored the Magic 18-8 in the first five minutes of the period, Mills and Anderson combining for 15 of them.
“Coach Popovich appeared to be a little bit, you know, dissatisfied with the starting group,” Magic coach Scott Skiles said. “He brought in four bench guys and they kind of ran away from us.”
Spurs players are never surprised by anything Popovich does, so the unusual combination was met with a collective shrug.
“Yeah, Pop was trying to find a squad that would provide the energy he wanted from the team and I guess he found it with that lineup,” Ginobili said. “Patty was outstanding in that stretch and made some big plays. That four-point play was key. And Kyle gave us some very good buckets when we needed to score.
“It’s great to see guys contributing like that.”
Mills finished with 22 points, matching his season high.
Aldridge, who had Mills as a teammate in Portland for two seasons, said it reminded him of a game in 2014 when the Spurs, nearing the conclusion of their rodeo road trip scored a win in a game for which neither Duncan nor Tony Parker suited up. Mills had 29 points in that game.
“I saw it when I was in Portland and the Spurs came to Portland,” Aldridge said. “He took over the game when TP and TD sat and he won the game by himself. I’ve seen him do it on the other end for sure.”
That 2014 Spurs victory was their 40th of that championship season but came in the 55th game of the season.
Monday’s win also was the 40th win of the season, this time in 48 games.
*Top image: The San Antonio Spurs 2015-2016 Roster and Coaching Staff. Photo by Scott Ball.