OAKLAND - The Warriors held a shootaround in downtown Oakland on Monday morning, working up a light sweat before answering the bell for Game 2 of their first-round playoff series against the San Antonio Spurs.
After that mini-practice, I asked Draymond Green about guarding San Antonio’s LaMarcus Aldridge. The second prong of the question was admittedly blunt. I asked Green whether the Spurs had enough offensive firepower to challenge the Warriors if Aldridge were held in check.
Here’s what Green had to say on the matter: “Obviously with Kawhi (Leonard) out, he’s their No. 1 option. You can take someone’s No. 1 out — or not even necessarily take him out, but just make things tough on him — and it makes things tough on everyone else. That’s with any team. … We’ve just gotta continue to play aggressive, be aggressive with him, mix up our coverages, just try to make him take tough shots.”
It was a good half-answer from someone who didn’t want to disrespect the Spurs’ secondary players. But about 10 hours later, we got the full reply. Because actions still speak louder than words.
We now know the non- Aldridge Spurs are incapable of carrying this best-of-seven series. Because Aldridge was sensational Monday. And in the end, it didn’t matter. His teammates didn’t do enough to fill out the borders of the picture, and the Warriors won 116-101 to go up 2-0.
First, an appreciation of Aldridge. He used to be a great young player in Portland. But he seemed lost after going to San Antonio. Last year, he stumbled around in Leonard’s shadow, looking passive and uncertain. After Leonard exited last year’s Western Conference finals with a reinjured ankle, the Spurs desperately needed Aldridge to pick up the slack. But he became the slack. He never asserted himself, and the Warriors swept the series.
Aldridge has been a new man this season, though. Before the campaign began, he requested a trade, saying he felt out of place in Gregg Popovich’s offense. He and the coach cleared the air, and Popovich, to his credit, admitted that he had been using Aldridge incorrectly, trying to move him around the court like a chess piece rather than allowing him to do what he does best — put his back to the basket and wriggle or muscle past defenders for points inside. Aldridge wound up averaging 23.1 points in the regular season.
And he battered the Warriors on Monday. Center JaVale McGee had done a number on Aldridge in Game 1. This time, Aldridge proved it was a mirage. And things didn’t go much better when Green, Kevon Looney or David West drew the defensive assignment.
Aldridge was close to unstoppable against all of them. He finished with 34 points on 11-of-21 shooting, to go along with 12 rebounds. He got most of the Golden State frontline in some degree of foul trouble, and hit all 12 of his free throws.
After the game, the crusty Popovich couldn’t hide his admiration.
“LaMarcus has been a monster all year long,” the coach said. “He’s led our team at both ends of floor. He doesn’t complain about a darn thing on the court. He plays through everything. I can’t imagine being more proud of a player, as far as playing through adversity and being there for his teammates night after night after night. He’s been fantastic.”