The San Antonio Spurs have struggled to get games started throughout the season, so it’s rather surprising that they couldn’t miss out of the gate on Christmas Day. LaMarcus Aldridge went full human torch mode and hit his first 11 shot attempts, and he and Kawhi Leonard combined for 31 points in the historically hot shooting opening period.
Spurs shot 82.4% (14-17) in the first quarter, their best shooting first quarter since 1997.
SA shot 82.6% vs. Dallas on 11/25/97.
— Jordan Howenstine (@AirlessJordan) December 25, 2016
Aldridge started the game on his own personal 8-0 run, and he finished with a 20-point first quarter. He was the beneficiary of assists on each of his buckets, and he used a total of just two dribbles to set up his nine made baskets. In addition to the dimes being dropped, Chicago somehow didn’t get the memo that leaving Aldridge wide open from mid-range is a poor decision, especially after four consecutive makes.
The gifts of superior ball movement and lax defense delivered a Christmas miracle for Aldridge; an uncontested catch and shoot drill in an NBA game. That mid-range jumper is his bread and butter, and it was soaking wet as he drained open shot after open shot.
On the first four makes, Aldridge didn’t venture past the free throw line. He was being “guarded” by Robin Lopez, but Lopez is a traditional center who looks to provide help defense in the paint. On the first three sets, LMA trailed the play or simply stood in an open spot, and nobody picked him up defensively.
On the fourth, he set a screen and popped to the top of the key. It didn’t even look like a pick and roll, because Lopez was a good 15 feet away guarding nobody. Parker drove around the screen, picked up his dribble surrounded by 3 defenders, and passed to LMA when he realized that somehow, he had been left wide open yet again.
Fred Hoidberg called a timeout after his Bulls fell behind 8-0 to LMA, and he probably said something to the effect of, “Hey someone should probably guard that Aldridge dude a little further from the basket.” Unfortunately for him, the Spurs also have a guy named Kawhi Leonard, who scored three points on each of the next three possessions.
After his scoring spurt, Santa Klaws pushed the ball up and threw a cross-court pass to Aldridge on the left wing. When the pass is thrown, Lopez is just outside the restricted area and LaMarcus is just inside the 3 point line. Again, he hit the open shot as RoLo’s defensive effort was too little, too late.
For the next score, Aldridge closed out, forcing a miss and ran the floor in transition. Parker threw an outlet pass to a streaking Danny Green, and he lobbed it up for Aldridge who slammed it home. It was his first journey into the paint all game, so of course Lopez was at the free throw line.
— Tom Petrini (@RealTomPetrini) December 27, 2016
Aldridge then got going in the pick and pop game. He set the screen for Parker, who drew both defenders on the drive, even getting Lopez to help from the weak side. The hook pass came out to Aldridge at the top of the key, and he re-gifted the wide open shot to Pau Gasol in the corner for three.
When LMA passed this it was like WHAT ARE YOU DOING and then its like oh thats what you're doingpic.twitter.com/3QF3Bc8c2X
— Project Spurs (@projectspurs) December 25, 2016
It is richly ironic that even on a play where Lopez was guarding someone else, Aldridge found a way to exploit his poor perimeter defense.
The pick and pop attack continued, as Patty Mills and Green each set Aldridge up with bounce passes into open jumpers from virtually the same spot. On both plays, Lopez sank to the paint to defend against the drive, and nobody rotated over to defend the red hot LMA.
Lopez is a pretty good rim protector, so Aldridge avoided the paint and kept drilling that mid-range shot that he was continually given. You might think he was sad to see RoLo head to the bench given the ease with which he scored against him, but he simply changed his attacking style to achieve the same result.
When Nikola Mirotić tried his hand at guarding Aldridge, he immediately attacked the smaller, less athletic defender on the low block with his strong post game. For the first time all game, he put the ball on the floor to set up a made basket, bullying his way through Mirotić right to the rim.
On the final San Antonio possession of the first quarter, LMA and Mills attacked Mirotić in the pick and roll. Mills passed to David Lee on the low block while Aldridge cut to the rim, and Lee hit him right in stride resulting in two made free throws.
His first quarter was a clinic on taking what the defense gives you, and LaMarcus was feeling jolly for the rest of the game. His teammates continued to feed him, and even though the Bulls played better defense, it didn’t seem to matter much.
The former Longhorn hit a few more catch and shoot looks, finished a nice drive out of a pick and roll, and received multiple passes under the basket that he converted for layups. He finished the night shooting 15/20 from the field, and the only unassisted basket came after he secured an offensive rebound.
Aldridge is one of the best scoring big men in the league, and he showed that on Christmas Day. He has a versatile scoring skill set, and that allowed him to attack the defense in the most appropriate way almost every time he looked to score the ball.
His 33 point performance spread Christmas cheer for the Spurs and their fans, but he didn’t do it alone. His stocking was stuffed with dimes from teammates and defensive lapses from his opponents.