LaMarcus Aldridge may be the most prominent whipping boy of the San Antonio Spurs, but he acquitted himself excellently on Thursday. As San Antonio sent the Houston Rockets into their offseason with a 114-75 Game 6 win, Aldridge led all scorers with 34 points on 16-of-26 shooting and also grabbed 12 rebounds.
Not bad for someone who was being pilloried after Game 1.
Aldridge is admittedly an inconsistent fit in the Spurs hierarchy, occasionally showing up as the player who gets lambasted on Twitter by fans who are upset and lashing out. Still, you get an equal number of games that are like this, where Aldridge is shades of the player he was in Portland, dominating for stretches and knocking down shots like everyone knows he can. It’s slightly telling that his 34 points came off those 16 made shots — only two free throws, no threes, a performance that wouldn’t have been nearly as efficient without his high-quality shot making. But he can certainly do this, too.
The Western Conference Finals start now, and this is where Aldridge will be pushed to his absolute limits. If he’s a power forward, he’ll have to run around with Draymond Green or Kevin Durant. If he shifts to center for most of the series, as he probably should, there’s still going to be a lot of responsibility for him to play the perimeter as Golden State constantly runs pick-and-rolls with his man. It’s not an ideal matchup for him, but San Antonio doesn’t have a chance without him playing ball something like he did in Game 6.
He showed he can do it against Houston. The Warriors are a totally different challenge, though.
This is what the Spurs do.
It was classic San Antonio. Missing their best player, they collectively chipped in to make up for his absence. They executed a genius game plan with precision, one that left the Rockets bumbling around the court like they had just met each other. The Rockets attempted 40 three-pointers on Thursday, and usually that quantity of shots from deep feels like an artillery barrage. In Game 6, each shot oozed desperation, like the Rockets didn’t have any choice but to jack up a bunch of threes in a mission that was always bound to fail.
The Spurs eventually laugh at everyone. Don’t feel bad. This is their shtick, their modus operandi. They beat you thoroughly, precisely, like they had the whole thing calculated before it even began. You don’t see them laughing at you — no, no, that wouldn’t be very Spurs-y.
But you know they are.
The Rockets were thrilling and quick-paced and fun. But they didn’t show any of that on Thursday.
We deserved better from the Rockets in Game 6, and they surely deserved better from themselves. Houston won 55 games this year with an MVP candidate in James Harden, giving us one of the most fun and exciting offensive teams we’ve seen in years. Then they were eliminated on Thursday night on their home floor by 39 points.
To make it worse, the Rockets lost this series even though the Spurs lost Tony Parker after Game 2, and Kawhi Leonard after Game 5. To make it even worse, the Rockets won Game 1 by the score of 126-99 in San Antonio.
For a moment in time, it seemed like the beautiful plan that the Rockets had put together all season was bypassing the Spurs right before our eyes. Sure, the Spurs are the Spurs. Gregg Popovich will always be a living basketball god. But the Rockets let everyone down.
Thursday’s best play
The Rockets needed Nene desperately in this game.