LaMarcus Aldridge left the only franchise he ever knew and spurned bigger markets to join the Spurs because he wanted the challenge to excel on a great team. Imagine how disheartening was for him to fail in the biggest game of his first season in San Antonio, a blowout loss against the Warriors in which he was a ghost. He deleted his social media accounts that night and made a commitment to "lock in" for the season. He was hurt.
That was January and this is March, however. In the second meeting with the Warriors, Aldridge had 26 points and 13 rebounds on the Spurs' 87-79 win, looking every bit the cornerstone of one of the best teams in the league.
Gregg Popovich decided to match the Warriors' small lineup, so he sat Tim Duncan and started Aldridge at center, a position he traditionally hasn't liked to play. It didn't show on Saturday, as he handled the rebounding and defensive responsibilities well and mixed it up inside on offense, with 11 of his game-high 25 shots coming within five feet of the bucket and eight going in.
It isn't the prettiest of shot charts but then again, Saturday's was far from the prettiest of games. The Spurs had to fight tooth and nail for the win and it almost wasn't enough. The Warriors kept it close enough that Aldridge had to put them away for good with a jumper, one of the few that went in, with 1:46 to go in the fourth quarter. San Antonio got up five and never looked back.
Aldridge has largely left his struggles in the past, putting up much better numbers with the passing of games, as his comfort level with the new Spurs' system grows. In January, when he first faced the Warriors, he averaged 17 points on 53 percent shooting. In nine game so far in March, he's averaging 24 on 56 percent from the field. Those paying attention have noticed that Aldridge is peaking at the right time.
Yet he still needed a performance like this one against an elite rival to prove to himself and to others that he made the right choice in the offseason. He wanted the challenge of being the anchor of a great team and on Saturday, he was just that.
3 other things we learned
The Grizzlies never give up
The Grizzlies were without Marc Gasol, Mike Conley, Matt Barnes, Chris Andersen, Brandan Wright and P.J. Hairston -- all rotation players -- on Saturday and were facing the fourth-best team in the league in the Clippers. They were on a four-game losing streak that suggested they were too hurt to fight. Yet they still found a way to win, beating Los Angeles 113-102 at home.
Zach Randolph returned and was huge for Memphis, finishing with a triple-double. The Grizzlies needed every single one of his 28 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists. Now they are 40-30 for the season and have a four-game cushion over the Trail Blazers for fifth place in the West. There's no team as resilient as the Grizzlies.
The Cavaliers are looking shaky
On a night in which the Spurs proved they can beat the Warriors, the Cavaliers continued to show that they are a step below both Western powers at the moment. The Heat blew them out, scoring 65 first-half points and leading by as many as 33 points. Miami has talent and has been clicking since going small, but a contender should not get annihilated by them with such ease.
LeBron James scored 26 points but his three-point shot was once again off. Kyrie Irving had 14 points in eight shots but had four turnovers to go with his four assists. Kevin Love, now playing center, got just one rebound in 16 minutes. Something is just not working in Cleveland and it's preventing the Cavaliers from living up to their potential. There's still time to find the right combinations and get going before the playoffs. They need to figure things out because playing like this, they won't scare the rest of the elite.
Paul George vs. Kevin Durant was as good as expected
The Thunder beat the Pacers in Indiana 115-111 but more importantly, George and Durant had a fantastic duel. Durant finished the game with 33 points on 20 shots, 13 rebounds and eight assists. George, meanwhile, dropped 45 on 29 shots and got 15 trips to the line. Two of the league's most exciting small forwards went at each other and put on a show.
Just a year ago both guys were out with serious injuries for most of the season, so we should cherish the fact that we are getting to see them perform at such a high level again. Their two teams won't see each other again unless they both make the finals, so we'll have to wait another year before we see them compete again. The next duel can't come soon enough.
Play of the night
Stephen Curry has had his three-point shot blocked for the first time this season. He might be human after all.
3 fun things
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NCAA Cinderella: Northern Iowa is cruising after a remarkable turnaround
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