Why Spurs vs. Thunder was the best game of the NBA season
OKC and San Antonio went to double overtime in a thriller that might’ve been the best of the year. The Spurs and Thunder combined for the first 300-point game since 2006 on Thursday night. If that doesn’t spell “GAME YOU SHOULD HAVE WATCHED” in big, bold letters, not very much else will. But it’s not the ridiculous point total that should have grabbed your attention in a wild matchup between two Western Conference playoff opponents. It’s how those points were scored. Oklahoma City and San Antonio went to double overtime in their battle to the death on Thursday night. Three players set new career-highs in points. Russell Westbrook came this close to tying another record. LaMarcus Aldridge scored 56 points without attempting a three-pointer! It was a wild game — one much more exciting than the standard usually set for San Antonio basketball. In the end, the Spurs eeked away with a 154-147 double overtime win over a Thunder team some pegged as dark horses for a championship run. San Antonio did this in the second game of a back-to-back, after surviving this scary Thunder attempt to tie the game. They almost did it pic.twitter.com/fNRx04VcOs— Aaron Bruski (@aaronbruski) January 11, 2019 That the Spurs have been able to rebound from their poor start to find themselves comfortably in the West playoffs is a testament to head coach Gregg Popovich’s ability to bend his system to his players. San Antonio has won 14 of its last 18 games. They look every bit of the team that nobody wants to see in the playoffs as they’ve looked in past seasons. This was a game that came on late at night, and it’s understandable if you didn’t stay up to watch it. If you did, in fact, miss out, here’s what happened: LaMarcus Aldridge is a grown man among grown men Steven Adams is a grown man — he just might be the most grown man in the entire NBA. He’s a textbook bruiser: seven feet, 255 pounds of pure brute strength and muscle. His mission is to wear his man down until he’s got nothing left. But this grown man had no answer for LaMarcus Aldridge, who scored a career-high 56 points without attempting a three-pointer. That’s incredibly rare. LaMarcus Aldridge is the first player to score at least 50 points without attempting a three-pointer since Jermaine O’Neal ‘05. (@bball_ref)He’s the fifth player this century with such a game. Shaq ‘00, Abdur-Rahim ‘01, Duncan ‘01, alone with Jermaine and LMA.— Clevis Murray (@ClevisMurray) January 11, 2019 This was the Aldridge Spurs fans had hoped to get when the team signed him in 2015: an unstoppable inside outside scorer who doubles as a rim protector on the other side. At 33 years old, Aldridge became the ninth-oldest person in NBA history to record a 50-point game, and his mark of 56 is the second-most of any player 33 years or older, behind Kobe Bryant’s career finale 60-point game. On Inside the NBA’s postgame analysis, Hall of Fame big man Shaquille O’Neal said Aldridge “played with us,” some of the highest praise one dominant big man can give to another. He ended up being more right than he could have imagined. Aldridge’s 56 points was the most points scored by a player without attempting a three since The Big Fella himself dropped 61 against the Clippers in March of 2000. That’s some of the best company a big man can be in. Aldridge proved he can be dominant if he’s fed the ball consistently. "I was just trying to be dominant."Hear from LaMarcus Aldridge after his career night and @spurs 2OT win! : @ROSGO21 pic.twitter.com/CiZdVkvBD5— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) January 11, 2019 And to think he only had 14 points in the first half. He beat Adams with his speed off the ball: Derrick with the lob, LA with the flush!#GoSpursGo pic.twitter.com/6JfqLJe9yb— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) January 11, 2019 And set up position close to the basket by sealing Adams underneath the rim: Big man ➡️ big man dime pic.twitter.com/HloPAkq9u4— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) January 11, 2019 When Adams wasn’t on the floor, Aldridge was a man among boys. It’s not a knock on the Thunder. It’s a life fact: His size is an advantage when OKC doesn’t have its big man to challenge him. 51 PTS & counting for LaMarcus Aldridge! #GoSpursGo pic.twitter.com/FN5tjtQi7W— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) January 11, 2019 And when Adams did guard him straight up, as O’Neal would say, he was barbecue chicken in the high post. Aldridge might just be a guard trapped in a big man’s body. You can see it with the finesse he uses to create separation to get his shot off. CAREER-HIGH 56 PTS 9 REB First @spurs player with 50+PTS since Tony Parker on Nov. 5, 2008LaMarcus Aldridge's impressive performance propels the @spurs to a 154-147 DOUBLE OT victory! #GoSpursGo pic.twitter.com/KL0vH1RGBW— NBA (@NBA) January 11, 2019 This is an amazing feat for Aldridge given everything he’s been through since signing in San Antonio. The Spurs were a championship organization for years, and they added Aldridge with hopes he’d be able to fill in for Tim Duncan. Those are Hall of Fame shoes, the biggest to step into. His first two seasons in San Antonio were a wash, and trade chatter came the ensuing summer. He and Popovich had to sit down and air their grievances. Aldridge wasn’t sure he was the right fit for the Spurs. Fast forward to today, and the Spurs are a tough opponent when their All-Star has it going. San Antonio is 10-3 in games Aldridge attempts at least 17 shots. Sounds like they should feed him the ball more. But Aldridge wasn’t the only one who had it going Remember: this game went to double overtime. It’s not like Aldridge scored 56 in his sleep and put the Thunder away in the third quarter. Russell Westbrook finished with 24 points AND 24 ASSISTS. The only other players to have a 24 and 24 night are Magic Johnson, Bob Cousy, Isiah Thomas, John Stockton, and someone named Geoff Huston in 1982. Westbrook now has two 20-point, 20-assist triple doubles, which is two more than any other player in NBA history. The NBA made a highlight reel solely for his dimes. The third in the rotation is my personal favorite. 24 PTS. CAREER-HIGH 24 AST. 13 REB. the best dimes from Russ tonight! #ThunderUp pic.twitter.com/kXnFmDYYUU— NBA (@NBA) January 11, 2019 It wasn’t just Westbrook. Fourteen different players scored in double figures, including four Thunder players who scored 20 or more points, including Jerami Grant, who set a new career high with 25 points. Another player who stepped up huge was Terrance Ferguson, who hit 7-of-10 threes on the night, including seven of his first eight. Ferguson also turned the ball over on Oklahoma City’s final possession in double overtime, but one could argue he shouldn’t have been in a position to make a play in the first place, not when there are two All-Stars on his team. One more Thunder player? Of course, it’s Paul George, who put up 30 points and came away with three steals. He, Westbrook and, surprisingly, James Harden are the only players in the NBA averaging at least 20 points and two steals. George’s production on offense and defense is powering his MVP campaign and the Thunder’s championship aspirations. PG scored 30 PTS along with 8 REB for the @okcthunder! #ThunderUp pic.twitter.com/Fu5p2yXp7Z— NBA (@NBA) January 11, 2019 Still, this effort from Oklahoma City wasn’t enough. The Spurs hit their first 12 threes. They finished 16 of 19 from downtown. DeMar DeRozan had 16 points and 11 assists. Derrick White was shooting out of his mind. The Thunder and Spurs may have played the game of the year, and it’s not even the All-Star break or a game with immediate playoff implications. This is a matchup, though, we’d absolutely love to see in April or May. These are two teams nobody wants to see in a seven-game series.