Wednesday began with bad news for the Spurs on many fronts. Players who had arrived at their San Antonio homes around 5 a.m. on Tuesday after the team’s worst loss in nearly four years awoke to find they still felt, in the words of one 30-something veteran, like zombies.
At their morning shootaround they learned that 39-year-old team captain Tim Duncan had undergone an MRI exam to make sure he has no structural damage in the right knee that has been bothering him this season.
LaMarcus Aldridge, who had played his worst game of the season in the 120-90 loss to the Warriors, got so fed up with the negativity heaped on him on his Twitter page that he deleted it altogether.
Even some supposed good news was a bummer. Gregg Popovich learned he will have to coach the Western Conference All-Stars on Valentine’s Day in Toronto in spite of his best efforts to convince league officials that Golden State’s Luke Walton deserved the opportunity.
By the time they showed up at AT&T Center for their game against the streaking Houston Rockets, winners of three straight and nine of their previous 12, they needed something – anything – to escape the lingering funk that seemed to follow them home from California.
Hammering the Rockets, 130-99, was just the tonic they needed, especially Aldridge. It wasn’t just that he scored a season-low five points against the Warriors that had Twitter trolls haranguing him. The four-year, $84 million contract he signed with the Spurs in July made him a convenient target for fans who take the team’s losses personally.
Nobody took his poor game against the Warriors more personally than Aldridge.
“I take every game personally,” Aldridge said. “I feel like that wasn’t us. It’s behind us now. I live and learn.”
Aldridge explained the thinking behind deleting his Twitter account.
“I just wanted to lock in,” he said. “It’s not anything about the game. It’s a new adventure for me. I’ve never been in this system, with this team. I’ve never been on a top two team in the West. I just wanted to lock in. It had nothing to do with that (Warriors) game.”
Against the Rockets and their seven-foot center, Dwight Howard, Aldridge played with the sort of aggression and determination that had been so lacking 48 hours earlier. He scored a game-high 25 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in just 29 minutes and 40 seconds of court time. By the time the fourth quarter arrived the Spurs led by 29 points. Aldridge’s presence on the court no longer was required.
Aldridge was one of five Spurs who scored in double figures in the team’s highest-scoring game of the season. Both Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green scored 18 points, Green getting all of his from 3-pointers. The franchise record holder for 3-pointers in one season, Green went 6-for-8 from beyond the arc.
“I think It’s pure luck, to be honest,” Green said of his uncanny long-distance success against the Rockets. “It goes game by game. I think we just did a good job of moving the ball, working inside-out and getting some uncontested looks from behind the arc.”
The bounce-back from a humiliation in Oakland that Popovich had decried as being “men vs. boys” began with a long film session at Wednesday morning’s shootaround session at the team’s practice complex. Popovich made the players watch the mistakes that led to the debacle against the Warriors.
“It was very positive and upbeat but we learned a lot,” Green said. “I always say the best way to learn is after you get beat up pretty good. You learn a lot from those mistakes and they beat us up pretty good.
“It wasn’t easy (to watch). Obviously, guys want to go out there and try to do it on their own. There were moments where we weren’t moving the ball like we normally do. We weren’t attacking or playing Spurs basketball. As they would make more baskets and we were getting into more of a hole each guy would take it upon himself instead of just getting back to it.
“Watching the film session we had to trust in each other and I think we did that tonight, moving the ball and finding the great shots instead of the good ones.”
Point guard Tony Parker, who had 15 points and seven assists in just 23 minutes, has been around long enough to expect a big bounceback from bad losses.
“We were still a little mad about what happened (in Oakland),” Parker said. “You have to forget it as fast as you can and learn from it. I think tonight it was a great reaction from everybody. It was a great win against a team that was playing well.”
For one night, the bad news had turned for the Spurs and if Duncan is cleared for the game in Cleveland a week that began so badly will have to be judged a net positive.
*Top Image: The San Antonio Spurs 2015-2016 Roster and Coaching Staff. Photo by Scott Ball.