Aldridge leads undefeated Spurs past Heat
MIAMI — Forget the past two years.
Certainly, LaMarcus Aldridge would like to erase his numbers from the past two seasons as he adjusted from life with the Portland Trail Blazers to the San Antonio Spurs. He averaged 23.3 points and 10.7 rebounds in his last two years with Portland but only 17.6 points and 7.9 rebounds in his first two with the Spurs.
On Wednesday night, Aldridge scored 31 points, grabbed seven rebounds and blocked one shot to lead the unbeaten Spurs past the Miami Heat 117-100 at AmericanAirlines Arena.
“LaMarcus was tough to handle,” said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who rarely overflows with praise.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra was much more verbose when asked about Aldridge, who made 12 of 18 shots, including his only 3-point try, and went 6 of 7 on free throws.
“You can never underestimate when players change teams — there’s an adjustment period,” Spoelstra said. “But this (performance) was the guy we saw in Portland. He’s a matchup problem.
“In today’s NBA, you don’t have that many back-to-the-basket players who do it against different coverages and shoot the ball to keep you honest. And he’s savvy with his shot fakes.”
Aside from Aldridge, the Spurs (4-0) also received strong bench play from Rudy Gay (season-high 22 points) and Manu Ginobili (14 points).
“It’s a great plus to have a player like him,” Ginobili said of Gay, 31, who is in his 12th year in the NBA, re-signing with San Antonio as a free agent in July. “Rudy has been a (great) scorer in this league. We know for sure that he has it.”
Spurs rookie guard Brandon Paul, who went undrafted in 2013, was an interesting side story on Wednesday, scoring the first points of his NBA career. After playing pro ball the past four years primarily in Russia, Turkey and Spain, Paul made the Spurs out of training camp. He finished with seven points on Wednesday.
Miami’s Tyler Johnson scored a team-high 23 points off the bench, but the Heat (2-2) had their two-game win streak snapped. James Johnson added 21 points.
The Heat’s starting backcourt — Goran Dragic and Dion Waiters — played despite injuries. Dragic (bruised thigh) scored 20 points. Waiters (sore left ankle) had 17 points. Dragic went 5 of 5 with 10 points in the first quarter but couldn’t maintain that pace.
Rookie center Bam Adebayo, Miami’s 2017 first-round pick, made his first NBA start and finished with four points, eight rebounds and one block in 20 minutes.
“I thought it was a big ask on our part to throw him in (against Aldridge), but his minutes were solid,” Spoelstra said. “He gave us athleticism.”
Adebayo, though, wasn’t pleased with his effort, especially because he guarded Aldridge for most of his court time.
“I take it personally,” Adebayo said of Aldridge’s big-time performance. “I always challenge myself, and I came up short tonight.”
Aldridge was dominant from the start, scoring 13 points in a first quarter that ended up tied 30-30 after Miami closed with a 13-4 run. Both teams shot well, with San Antonio (59.1 percent) earning an 18-8 edge in paint points. Miami shot 57.1 percent and had two more 3-pointers than the Spurs.
The Heat, though cooled off in the second quarter, and the Spurs took a 56-51 lead into halftime. Aldridge had 19 points at the break.
San Antonio used a 13-2 run to take an 88-73 lead after three quarters. Ginobili was one of the big keys in that third quarter, scoring eight points.
For the game, San Antonio shot 55.3 percent, and Miami shot 46.3 percent. Mostly, though, the game was won inside, where Aldridge reigned supreme.
“They set the tempo in the paint,” Spoelstra said of the Spurs. “They were getting paint catches on pick-and-rolls. We gave up a ton of easy ones, and now you have to overreact.”
NOTES: The Spurs were without SF Kawhi Leonard (quadriceps), PG Tony Parker (quadriceps) and PF Joffrey Lauvergne (right ankle). Leonard has finished in the top three in MVP voting the past two years, and Parker is a six-time All-Star. ... Heat C Hassan Whiteside (left knee bruise) missed his third straight game. ... The Spurs and Heat have history together, splitting NBA titles in two classic Finals matchups. Miami beat San Antonio in seven games in 2013, and San Antonio defeated Miami in five games in 2014. ... The Spurs visit the Orlando Magic on Friday. ... The Heat host the Boston Celtics on Saturday.