Without Kawhi, Aldridge takes over as Spurs dominate, eliminate Rockets

Spurs vs. Houston Rockets
Western Conference semifinals
(Spurs win series 4-2)

Game 1: Rockets 126, Spurs 99, May 1, AT&T Center
Game 2: Spurs 121, Rockets 96, May 3, AT&T Center
Game 3: Spurs 103, Rockets 92, May 5, Houston
Game 4: Rockets 125, Spurs 104, May 7, Houston
Game 5: Spurs 110, Rockets 107, OT, Tuesday, AT&T Center
Game 6: Spurs 114, Rockets 75, Thursday, Houston

For one magical night, at least, Spurs forward LaMarcus Aldridge silenced his detractors.

With Kawhi Leonard out with an ankle injury, Aldridge put the Spurs on his back and carried them to a 114-75 series-clinching road win over the Houston Rockets on Thursday night in Game 6 of the Western Conference Semifinals.

Considering the Silver and Black were already without veteran point guard Tony Parker and Leonard was a late scratch, the lopsided victory – on the road, to boot – has to rank as one of the greatest in the franchise’s storied playoff history.

The Spurs, who took the series 4-2, earned a berth in the West finals for the 10th time since Gregg Popovich became their coach 18 games into the 1996-97 season. The series victory was the first for San Antonio in four postseason meetings with Houston, which eliminated the Silver and Black in 1980, 1981 and 1995.

The Spurs play Golden State in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals at 2:30 p.m. Sunday in Golden State.

"We're certainly thrilled with being able to win the series," Popovich said. "I just want to congratulate the Rockets on a really great season. Tonight was one of those nights where we're not as good as we look and they're not the team that people are used to seeing here in Houston. It happens now and then. It's a hell of a team. I feel very fortunate we were able to get it done."

Aldridge, who’s been a lightning rod for Spurs fans when he’s looked passive too many times in big games, was dominant against the Rockets at the Toyota Center, finishing with 34 points on 16-26 shooting and 12 rebounds in 35 minutes.

“We just made plays and we just attacked,” Aldridge said. “I was going to get the ball a little bit more, so I was trying to be more demanding down there, trying to make things happen. I think guys just played confident and made plays. Patty [Mills] doing what he always does, Jonathon [Simmons] was great, Kyle Anderson came in and made some threes. I thought guys played ready.”

Aldridge had plenty of help – all five of San Antonio’s starters scored in double figures – but he was the linchpin in the dismantling of a team that finished with the third-best record (55-57) in the regular season and won the series opener by 27 points.

“He’s been like that through these first two rounds,” Popovich said of Aldridge. “He’s really turned it on and demanded the ball, gotten in good position using his body, not always settling for a jumper, getting to the rim. He did a really good job.”

Aldridge, who played nine seasons with Portland before signing with the Spurs in July 2015, never had advanced past the second round of the NBA playoffs in his career. San Antonio lost in the West semifinals last season. 

Jonathon Simmons, who started for Leonard, had a stellar game at both ends of the court, finishing with 18 points on 8-12 shooting and four assists in 31 minutes.

Simmons also took the lead role in guarding Rockets point guard James Harden, whose outstanding season ended with a thud. With Simmons in his face for most of the night, Harden went just 2-11 from the field and finished with just 10 points. He added three rebounds and seven assists, but he also had six turnovers.

“We never got in rhythm offensively at the beginning of the game,” said Harden, one of the league’s MVP candidates this season. “I felt like I was making some passes and we just didn’t knock down shots, or whatever the case may be. As a team, as a unit, we really didn’t have a rhythm, and they capitalized on that.”

The Spurs trailed only once (5-4) and set the tempo early with crisp offensive execution and relentless defense. They led 31-24 after one quarter and took control of the game with a 13-0 run at the start of the second period that put them up 44-26 with almost nine minutes left in the half. Patty Mills had two 3-pointers in the run and Kyle Anderson had one.

It only got worse for the Rockets. The Silver and Black were up 61-42 at the half and 87-64 heading into the fourth quarter. The lead ballooned to 40 points in the final minutes.

Mills, starting his second game in the series at point guard, finished with 14 points and nailed two 3-pointers. Rookie point guard Dejounte Murray was also outstanding, scoring 11 points on 5-of-10 shooting and finishing with 10 rebounds, five assists, two steals and one block in 23 minutes.

Danny Green (10) and Pau Gasol (10) rounded out San Antonio’s double-figure scoring. Gasol also pulled down 11 rebounds and had five assists and three blocks.

“Pau’s length was great tonight,” Popovich said. “He was wonderful on the boards and, of course, he passes it really, really well and gets the ball moving for us.”

The Spurs shot 53.1 percent (51/96) overall and 22.7 percent (5/22) from beyond the arc.

“Everybody picked it up,” Popovich said. “Four, five, six guys all had good games. You look at D.J. (Dejounte Murray) and he came in, he assisted, he played D, he scored. The big guys were great.

“Patty controlled everything really well. The perimeter guys all contributed. It was a real team effort. They played well at the offensive end with a lot of sense, and on the defensive end it was one of our best nights as far as scrambling around trying to keep up with these guys.”

The 39-point loss was the worst in an elimination game for Houston coach Mike D’Antoni, who completed his first season with the Rockets. D'Antoni fell to 0-5 against Popovich and the Spurs in playoff series. 

 “I just told the guys they had an unbelievable year,” D’Antoni said. “We were above all expectations. They battled like crazy and, for whatever season, this game we didn’t have the juice and the stuff. It was across the board.”

Trevor Ariza (20) and Clint Capela (15) were the only Rockets to score in double figures. Houston had a miserable shooting night, hitting only 28.6 percent (22/77) of their attempts. They finished with only nine two-point baskets and were 32.5 percent (13/40) from the 3-point line.

Harden didn't take a shot until he nailed a 3-pointer with 6:19 left in the second quarter. The Spurs were up 50-32 by then. 

“It’s frustrating. It’s frustrating, definitely, especially the way we were resilient all year long,” Harden said. “We’ve been fighting through adversity. We’ve been really good at bouncing back. It hurts. It stings. Credit to the Spurs. They’re a really good team, extremely well coached and they were the better team this series.”

The Rockets appeared poised to take control of the series with a Game 5 win in San Antonio after Leonard went out with an ankle injury in the fourth quarter. Undaunted, the Spurs dug deep and pulled out a 110-107 victory in overtime.

© 2017 KENS-TV


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