Short-handed Spurs need Aldridge to take charge on of­fence

The Province - - SPORTS - JON KRAWCZYN­SKI

In the sum­mer of 2015, the San An­to­nio Spurs went shop­ping like they never have be­fore.

Long con­tent to spend big money on their core while us­ing free agency to sprin­kle role play­ers around them, the Spurs lav­ished a max con­tract on LaMar­cus Aldridge, a four­time all-star from Port­land who would join Kawhi Leonard as one of the fo­cal points of the fran­chise af­ter Tim Dun­can re­tired.

Now with Leonard ail­ing and San An­to­nio fac­ing mighty Golden State in the Western Con­fer­ence fi­nals, the Spurs need Aldridge to take con­trol.

“LaMar­cus has to score for us,” coach Gregg Popovich said af­ter the 136-100 wipe­out in Game 2 that put the War­riors up 2-0 in the best-of-seven se­ries. “He can’t be timid. He turned down shots in the first quar­ter. He can’t do it. You’ve got to score.”

Aldridge had just eight points on 4-for-11 shoot­ing in Game 2 as he was swarmed by a War­riors de­fence free to dou­ble- and some­times triple-team him since it didn’t have to worry about Leonard, who missed the game with an an­kle in­jury. Aldridge was 0-for-2 with two turnovers in the first quar­ter and knows he has to be more ag­gres­sive in Game 3 Satur­day in San An­to­nio.

“The ball has to move, but I have to take a shot if it’s there,” Aldridge said Thurs­day. “I was try­ing to make the ex­tra pass, but I have to score, too. If I’m open, I have to shoot.”

Aldridge was ev­ery­thing the Spurs needed in the clincher over Hous­ton in the con­fer­ence semi­fi­nals. While Leonard sat out with the an­kle in­jury, Aldridge scored 34 points and grabbed 12 re­bounds to help the Spurs to a stun­ning 39-point vic­tory.

Aldridge brought it in Game 1 against the War­riors as well, scor­ing 28 points in a two­point de­feat. Leonard went down just over half­way through that game and his sta­tus for Game 3 re­mains un­de­cided.

Golden State blitzed Aldridge from all an­gles in Game 2, how­ever, and the Spurs are scram­bling to find their iden­tity with both Leonard and Parker out with in­juries.

“They’ve been throw­ing dif­fer­ent things at us, throw­ing dif­fer­ent things at LaMar­cus,” guard Danny Green said. “Ob­vi­ously, think­ing a lit­tle bit. It’s a lot eas­ier to do that when we don’t have ev­ery­body that we need to make plays so they can trap a lit­tle more on those guys.

“But of­fen­sively, I think it’s a com­bi­na­tion of them play­ing good de­fence and also us not find­ing our chem­istry, not find­ing our rhythm, and not know­ing where to be with two of our main play­mak­ers not there.”

The key, Aldridge said, was find­ing a bal­ance be­tween be­ing as­sertive and look­ing to score while also mak­ing sure he keeps his team­mates in­volved and hits them with passes when they’re open on the perime­ter.

For San An­to­nio, there is no time to lose. Popovich made that abun­dantly clear in his pointed re­marks af­ter Game 2 when he lamented the team’s lack of in­ten­sity and be­lief.

It all starts with a team’s star play­ers, and Aldridge is the big­gest one still stand­ing for the ail­ing Spurs.

“I think he’s got a ma­jor re­spon­si­bil­ity in Game 3 to come out and get some­thing done, whether it’s for him­self or team­mates,” Popovich said. “They come af­ter him, to find some­body, turn it over, take good shots. He’s got to do it. No doubt about it.”

— GETTY IMAGES FILES

The Golden State War­riors hounded San An­to­nio’s LaMar­cus Aldridge, left, in the first two games of the NBA Western Con­fer­ence Fi­nals in Oak­land. Aldridge had just eight points in Game 2, and the Spurs lost 136-100.

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