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Aldridge’s Big Night Pushes Spurs Past Grizzlies

Season 51, Game 21
San Antonio 104, Memphis 95
14-7, 3rd in the West

This is the LaMarcus Aldridge that was promised.

We all had a vision of what LMA would be in a Spurs’ uniform. Perhaps our expectations were too high. Regardless, these last 2 seasons, he has not met them.

When he signed with the Spurs in the summer of 2015, the conventional wisdom was: imagine what LMA can be in the Spurs’ system? What will Pop and the coaching staff unlock in his game?

In his first season, he was good, but not great. He was still an All-Star, but his numbers weren’t necessarily what we were expecting and he didn’t seem as dominating as his days in Portland.

His second season was even more disappointing, though not as bad as we collectively remember it.

But something was happening in those two seasons: slowly, and under the radar, Pop and his staff was unlocking something in Aldridge. He was becoming a better defender, a better passer, a more aggressive offensive player, a better “big man”. All of those little things we were wanting were growing, they just hadn’t fully developed.

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Parker Returns, Spurs Win

Season 51, Game 20
San Antonio 115, Dallas 108
13-7, 3rd in the West

Monday night marked Tony Parker’s 1,144th career game in the NBA. After an injury sustained in last season’s playoff series against the Houston Rockets, many of us didn’t see him getting past 1,143.

In a game Parker later compared to his first game as a rookie, San Antonio sputtered early, but eventually settled in and claimed victory over the five-win Dallas Mavericks to improve to 14-7 on the season. Parker only played 14 minutes, but he scored six points on seven shot attempts to go along with four assists. Most importantly, he didn’t appear to re-aggravate his injured thigh which is obviously priority number one in your first game back from long-term injury.

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Spurs Recover From Slow Start To Win Big in Charlotte

Season 51, Game 19
San Antonio 106, Charlotte 86
12-7, 3rd in the West

Holding your opponent to 29 points in a half can cover up all manner of sin.

So while the Spurs only managed 14 points in the first quarter Saturday night, they were no worse for wear, as the Hornets only managed a meager 15. 12 minutes later, the Spurs were back on track (after a 26 point 2nd quarter), while the Hornets were still spinning in the mud.

That slow first quarter is easily misleading: after starting 1-for-10 from the field (10% for non-Math Majors), the Spurs finished 38-for-70 (54%) the rest of the way. Once the ill-effects of too much turkey wore off, the Spurs were blistering offensively.

We’ve spent a lot of time this season talking about LaMarcus, Kyle Anderson, and Danny Green. All had good games. LaMarcus continues to work his butt off, doing all of the dirty work that gets less notice than his scoring output. Kyle continues to be the best PG on the team. He also had 5 steals in the game, using his long arms and anticipation to make up for his lack of speed.

But one player we haven’t talked much about this season who is playing brilliantly is Pau Gasol. Most observant fans were left scratching their heads after the Spurs re-signed Pau for 3 more years in the off season. At his age and with his production last season (and how the contract left the team with little financial flexibility), that seemed like a mistake.

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Spurs Shooting Goes Ice Cold In Loss to Pelicans

Season 51, Game 18
San Antonio 90, New Orleans 107
11-7, 4th in the West

I know the record books will say otherwise, but in my recollections, the Spurs have only one exactly one game in New Orleans: Game 7 of the 2008 Western Conference Semifinals. (And this only after getting crushed in Games 1, 2, and 5.)

The most egregious of these losses was in 2015, when all the Spurs had to do was win one single game in the Big Easy to secure the 2-seed in the West and credibly defend their title. Instead they lost and the rest is history.

For whatever reason, the Spurs’ offense tends to go ice cold in New Orleans. Often, the Pelicans aren’t good enough to put the Spurs away, so the game remains tight as the Spurs find new and inventive ways to not score the ball.

Now that New Orleans have two bona fide star talents, scoring is not an issue. So when the Spurs continue to struggle on offense, the Pelicans won’t do them the courtesy of sticking back.

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Team Effort Pushes Spurs Past Hawks

Season 51, Game 17
San Antonio 96, Atlanta 85
11-6, 3rd in the West

The Spurs win against the Hawks was a microcosm for the whole season, a glimpse into how this team continues to win without its best player.

There was nothing remarkable about the win, and it wasn’t the most impressive of wins. The team wasn’t altogether sharp, and they allowed a lesser team to hang around longer than they probably should have.

But there are also no visible weaknesses. To a man, every active player on the roster is having an above average (to their own standards) season. So while there is no superstar propelling them to victories, there is also nothing dragging them down.

LaMarcus obviously stands out the most, having easily his best season as a Spur and playing at an All-Star level in the absence of Leonard. He has been the bedrock of the team, establishing the offense from his spot on the block. But he’s also been more engaged all around, and continues to play strong defense and make hustle plays.

Anderson and Green come next for me, both having “break out” seasons. Anderson has a wonderful all-around floor game, and in his fourth season, has finally found his confidence in the NBA, using his intelligence and unique game to his strength. Monday’s performance is the best of him: he can score, rebound, and run the offense. Pop puts the ball in his hands to initiate the offense in key moments,  and that speaks volumes.

Green’s career year is a bit more unexpected, at his age. You don’t expect him to regress, but you’d imagine he’d already peaked. Instead, he continues to add to his offensive game while never losing sight of his defensive game.

After a slow start, Patty has gotten back into his groove, and even proved he can be a starting PG.

Manu continues to defy his age, having many more “good Manu” moments than “bad Manu” moments.

Gasol has been rock solid, and leads the team in assists and blocks.

Gay has been a revelation off the bench (though he had a pedestrian game tonight), second in the team in scoring and giving the second unit a much-needed scoring oomph.

Brandon Paul and Bryn Forbes are legitimate NBA players who can shoot the ball and play dogged defense.

Murray is still learning on the job, but he gives great effort and energy every night.

And Lauvergne and Bertans are easing into their roles at the end of the big rotation after early-season injuries. Bertans can change a game with his shooting, and Lauvergne is finding his niche in the Oberto/Splitter/Lee mold.

Nothing spectacular, yet nothing damaging. Just rock solid up and down the roster.

Which is why, 1/5th of the way through the season, the Spurs find themselves 3rd in the West and more than holding the fort…with plenty of room for improvement.

The Spurs travel to New Orleans to face the Pelicans Wednesday night. The Spurs recent history in New Orleans is…not great. This will be a great test for this squad.

Go Spurs Go.

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