SAN ANTONIO — LaMarcus Aldridge saw the double-team, spun baseline and fired a jumper that found the bottom of the net, and he immediately knew:
“This is one of those nights,” he said.
Aldridge scored a career-high 56 points to help the San Antonio Spurs survive the Oklahoma City Thunder and Russell Westbrook‘s 24 points, 24 assists and 13 rebounds in a double-overtime, 154-147 win.
“Well, he’s been a beast all year long,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “He anchors us on both ends of the floor. He’s been fantastic, and obviously he had a great night.”
Aldridge wasn’t the only one who thrived. On a night when Popovich moved past Jerry Sloan to No. 3 on the NBA’s career wins list, with 1,222, the Spurs were propelled by an aspect of the game their coach has often said he dislikes. San Antonio drilled its first 14 3-point attempts Thursday, the most by any team to begin a game over the past 20 seasons, according to Elias Sports Bureau research.
The Spurs hit all 10 of their 3s in the first half and finished 16-for-19 from deep. San Antonio’s sizzling 3-point shooting percentage (84.2) was the best by any team with a minimum of 15 attempts in a game, eclipsing the record set in 2005 by the Chicago Bulls (82.4 percent).
During one stretch in the first quarter, Marco Belinelli knocked down three 3-pointers in a span of less than a minute. Belinelli and Davis Bertans combined to go 9-for-9 from 3-point range to lead a Spurs team that came into the contest averaging the fewest attempts per game from range, while connecting on the highest percentage.
“That was fun to be a part of,” said guard Patty Mills, who finished 3-of-4 from 3-point range. “I didn’t realize we had been making as many as we made until after the game.”
But even with all that, this was still the Aldridge show.
Aldridge inflicted his damage on the Thunder without ever shooting a 3-pointer. In fact, Aldridge became the first player to pour in at least 56 points without shooting a 3 since Shaquille O’Neal accomplished the feat in 2000, when he scored 61 points on the LA Clippers.
“In the fourth quarter, we went to him for just about every possession,” said Derrick White, a second-year veteran who finished with a career-high 23 points to go with his eight assists. “He was scoring. One time, he said, ‘Just keep giving me the ball.’ So I said, ‘Yeah, each time down the floor we are coming to you, big fella.’ It was a special day, and I am happy for him.”
Such a brilliant night for Aldridge seemed almost inconceivable in November, when the veteran suffered through a shooting slump that saw him score six points on 3-of-12 shooting against the Phoenix Suns and 10 points on 3-of-15 shooting in 38 minutes against the Clippers on back-to-back nights.
“For him to just be a real professional and find ways, that’s what he’s been doing since then, just finding other ways,” Mills said of Aldridge. “One of the easiest ways is just to sit at the front of the rim and ask for the ball. As simple as it is, it’s a grind on the body. But he goes and bangs. When he gets in that mindset of give me the … I wish I could swear. But that’s the mindset of what gets him in that groove.”
Aldridge certainly found it early in this game. Aldridge shot 5-of-9 for 10 points in the first quarter but finished the opening half with just 14 points. Aldridge scored 42 points in the second half and both overtimes.
“Sometimes when it gets to clicking, you just see a different side of a player,” guard DeMar DeRozan said. “We saw that in L.A. tonight. You could tell when he got it going — the shots he made, contested, uncontested — he was just dominant.”
Aldridge wanted the ball both during the game and after.
When the final seconds ticked off the clock after Aldridge connected on two free throws to finish 16-of-16 from the line, he walked over to a referee and grabbed the ball before leaving the floor celebrating with teammates, new keepsake in hand.
Interestingly, Aldridge had just recently expressed slight frustration about having never scored 50 in a game during his career.
“I was just complaining about two weeks ago that I feel that it should have happened in my career,” Aldridge said. “My teammates were very unselfish tonight. They were looking for me. I’ll put [the ball] in my little trophy case at the house. First 50-point game for me. I definitely want to have that ball to add to the collection.”