THE San Antonio Spurs started a playoff game for the first time in 17 years without a starter named Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Kawhi Leonard. Yet they managed to advance to another Western Conference final, thanks to LaMarcus Aldridge.
Aldridge found his groove early, imposing his will in the paint and from midrange to finish with a season-high 34 points and 12 rebounds in the Spurs’ 114-75 demolition of the Houston Rockets to win their West semis series, 4-2, on Thursday (Friday, Manila time).
The 31-year-old Aldridge led the Spurs with 10 first quarter points as San Antonio crashed the glass and pounded the paint to lead by seven after one period, 31-24.
The Spurs bench then went on a 13-0 blast in the second period and extended the lead to 21 points, before James Harden scored his first field goal of the game midway through the quarter.
Jonathon Simmons also played superb in his first playoff start with the injured Kawhi Leonard a late scratch, ending up with 13 points at the break while playing solid defense to help San Antonio enter halftime with a 61-42 advantage.
Aldridge, who already surpassed his playoffs average of 15.7 points with 16 before the break, came out scorching to open the third quarter, scoring six in an 10-1 start to bring the Spurs lead up to 28. The Rockets showed signs of life, bringing down the gap to 20, but San Antonio’s bench continued its spirited play on both ends to keep Houston at bay, 87-64, entering the fourth.
San Antonio didn’t let up in the final frame, with Dejounte Murray providing the spark off the bench, as the Spurs built a 36-point lead with only 4:18 to play, prompting Houston fans inside to the Toyota Center to head out of the arena.
Harden, on the other hand, exemplified the Rockets’ struggles with five points and the same number of turnovers to go with three fouls in the first two quarters. He fouled out with over three minutes left and ended his stellar season with 10 points on 2-of-11 shooting as the Rockets high-octane offense sputtered in the worst time possible.
San Antonio had six players in double figures led by Aldridge. Simmons ended up with 18 points and Patty Mills added 14. Murray had a double-double off the bench with 11 points and 10 rebounds. Pau Gasol and Danny Green scored 10 apiece.
Trevor Ariza led Houston with 20 points, while Clint Capela added a double-double of 15 markers and 12 rebounds.
The Spurs also dominated the boards, outrebounding the Rockets, 53-31.
Game 1 of the West finals between San Antonio and Golden State is on Sunday.