In what could be considered a candidate NBA’s game of the year, the San Antonio Spurs topped the Oklahoma City Thunder in double overtime, 154-147. Without getting too hyperbolic, LaMarcus Aldridge might have had his best game in the process.
The game featured a few eye-popping stats: Russell Westbrook registered a 20-20 triple-double (24 points, 24 assists and 13 rebounds) and the Spurs connected on 16-19 three pointers-including 14 straight to start the game, the most in the last 20 seasons. But the statline of the night goes to LaMarcus Aldridge’s 56 points with no three-point make or attempt.
For some historical context:
LaMarcus Aldridge, in his 912th regular season game, produced a career-high 56 points. LMA's 56 points are the most by any player without attempting a three-pointer since Shaq scored 61 on his 28th birthday on March 6, 2000.
— James Buckets (@_JimmyMcCormick) January 11, 2019
Entering the game, Aldridge’s career-high rested at 45 points which were achieved in March of 2018. Per ESPN, no Spurs player has scored anywhere close Aldridge’s output in over 10 years. The last player to do so was Tony Parker when he scored 55 in November 2008.
But in this day and age where the three-pointer is king, Aldridge’s performance puts the spotlight on the Spurs emphasis on playing the old-school way. The Spurs have always placed a premium on passing for the best shot and scoring from the inside-out. Playing a team with talent like the Thunder, it would be understandable if the Spurs retorted to shooting three’s to keep up with pace.
Instead, the Spurs played and executed the only way they knew how: high percentage, but efficient shots. And last night it paid off not only for Aldridge but the team as well. The team’s 84.2 percent three-point shooting is the highest in NBA history with at least 15 attempts, beating out the Chicago Bulls record which was set in 2005 (14-17.)
Here, Aldridge elaborates on the Spurs mantra of playing inside-out first and foremost.
"I was just trying to be dominant."
Hear from LaMarcus Aldridge after his career night and @spurs 2OT win!
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) January 11, 2019
To put the Spurs philosophy into context, James Harden has attempted 19 three-pointers at least three times this season. To be fair, Harden benefits from the system Houston Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni has curated. But, the Spurs and Aldridge scoring output last night reiterates that sometimes less is more. To paraphrase Colin Cowherd, sometimes the buffet can’t compare to a well-cooked meal.
But the biggest takeaway from Thursday night is that the basic elements of sports, such as discipline and playing smart, wins. The Golden State Warriors have spearheaded the three-point revolution, but they still require smart passing, motion and taking great shots.
The Spurs are considered the father to the Warriors style, as they both share similar philosophical beliefs. Except, of course, they don’t rely on three-pointers. They would rather attempt well-advised shots than winning taking ill-advised ones. Even with all of the changes, players retiring or requesting trades, they have been able to sustain and remain unphased as the league evolved around them.
This past November Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich stated publicly that he’s against the three-point revolution. With the proficiency of Aldridge and the team’s shooting, it’s difficult to imagine Pop changing his skepticism. The Spurs are able to live with night’s like last night, but not when the three-point statline reads 16-49. In the eyes of the Spurs, 30 of those shots could have been better utilized elsewhere. Elsewhere became Aldridge (he finished 20-33) and he made sure for those shots to count. In the end, it would become the difference between winning and losing.
The Spurs way of operating isn’t for everyone, and they will easily settle for above-average for the sake of the beauty of the game. In Pop’s mind, it’s either the right way or no way. It’s a guarantee Aldridge and his Spurs teammates second that.