SAN ANTONIO — As LaMarcus Aldridge slipped away into a back area in the San Antonio Spurs’ postgame locker room to start a treatment session, remnants signifying a hard-fought night remained on the floor in front of his stall.

An elastic bandage, three bags of ice and a bottle of the Spurs’ secret postgame juice sat in a pile next to another bottle of Muscle Milk.

“Everybody asked me before the game, like eight people: ‘How do you stop LaMarcus Aldridge?’ ” Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder said.

The Jazz never found a suitable answer.

Aldridge scored a career-high 45 points Friday night to push the Spurs past Utah 124-120 in an overtime barn burner at the AT&T Center.

Aldridge hits clutch jumpersLaMarcus Aldridge stays hot by draining back-to-back clutch jumper for the Spurs.
“It’s just one game,” Aldridge said. “I could have had 50 if I didn’t miss easy shots. It was a good night, but it’s just one game for me. I’ve been dialed in all week. I knew that this six-game homestand was going to be important. So I wanted to make sure I did everything I could [for us] to win the games. I’m back to being myself, and that’s it.”

Donovan Mitchell came close to spoiling Aldridge’s vintage night by producing a heroic fourth quarter in which he scored 14 points over the last six minutes of regulation to send the game to overtime on a 26-foot, 3-pointer with 3.6 seconds left.

Over the first three quarters, Mitchell connected on only 8 of 22 field goals for 19 points, before pouring it on in the fourth quarter, hitting 5 of 8 for 14 points, including 3 of 4 from deep. Mitchell was just 1 of 5 in overtime.

“Even if I’m not making shots in the game or warm-ups, I’m just going to continue to shoot it,” Mitchell said. “It didn’t really feel right pretty much the whole game. That was one of the things getting in my head. I wasn’t really thinking positively, and that doesn’t happen often. But just continue to shoot. There were times that I looked down and I’ve got Joe [Ingles], Ricky [Rubio], even coach saying, ‘Shoot the ball.’ Times where I was hesitant, they were like, ‘No, shoot it.’ With support from your teammates and the coaches, it’s easy to keep going.”

Mitchell 3 sends game into OTDonovan Mitchell drains a quick 3-pointer to send the Jazz and Spurs into overtime.
Aldridge’s bucket in traffic with 34.7 seconds left capped the finest scoring night of his career.

Mitchell would finish the night with 35 points, and Derrick Favors and Ricky Rubio contributed 22 and 20, respectively.

Aldridge, meanwhile, inflicted his scoring damage on 19-of-28 shooting with 9 rebounds and 3 blocks. Patty Mills finished with 25 points, and Manu Ginobili had 18.

Aldridge entered the game Friday on the best five-game scoring streak of his three-year tenure in San Antonio. He had scored 148 points during the Spurs’ five-game winning streak coming into the contest, which is the more than in any five-game stretch of his tenure with the team.

Aldridge entered the night averaging 22.7 points, the third-highest scoring average of his 10-year career.

“He’s been a horse all year long,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “He was awarded that All-Star position, which he deserves, and he’s basically carried us; him with his talent, and everybody else with their heart. The game goes along and goes along, and then you realize his heart is as big or bigger than anybody’s. He’s on the board getting rebounds, putting the stuff back, blocking shots, doing a little bit of everything that we have to do to win games.”

When Aldridge left the game with San Antonio leading by five points at the 3:33 mark of the third quarter, it appeared the Spurs’ chances of winning might walk away with him.

Understandably exhausted, Aldridge had already ripped the Jazz for 34 points to that point, including 28 in an opening half in which the Spurs scored a total of 56.

Aldridge comprised pretty much all of San Antonio’s offense. Yet when he subbed out to rest, the Spurs still found a way found a way to keep up the production.

LaMarcus Aldridge carried the Spurs with a career-high 45 points (on 19-of-28 shooting) and nine rebounds in 41 minutes.

With Aldridge on the bench resting in the third quarter, the Spurs ran their offense through Rudy Gay — a player known for getting buckets — which in turn allowed Aldridge an extended period of rest to ultimately close out the Jazz, who had won 12 straight road games heading into Friday’s matchup.

Aldridge didn’t even re-enter the game until 7:58 remained in the game. By then, the Spurs had extended the lead to seven, with Gay providing a highlight dunk after blowing past Rudy Gobert with 8:15 left, as Aldridge stood at the scorer’s table waiting to check back into the game.

The Spurs talked plenty throughout the week about conducting business as if star forward Kawhi Leonard wasn’t returning this season. They then put those words into action, with Aldridge leading the team in scoring for the 51st time this season, joining Leonard, Tim Duncan, David Robinson and George Gervin as the fifth Spur to lead the team in scoring over 50 times in a single season.

“I know he’s worked hard to get back. It’s been frustrating,” Popovich said of Leonard. “You don’t think he wants to come back? You don’t think we want him back? But the fact that he’s not back, it frustrates everybody for all the obvious reasons. But there’s no blame to be placed, on him or anybody else. It’s just an unfortunate situation.

“So what we do, what we think about, we’re going to do what we’ve been doing. The guys that are playing, that’s who the team is. And if he got added to the team, well, that’s great. But you have to act like it’s not going to happen because you have to be who you are. And he’s not with us right now. So this team has to have its own identity. That seems pretty logical. That’s the only way to look at this.”

Meanwhile, the victory pushed San Antonio to its longest winning streak (six games) of the season, and marks the first time the club has won that many in a row since it went on a nine-game run last season from Feb. 13 to March 8.

Matched against Gobert, arguably the NBA Defensive Player of the Year of the year front-runner, Aldridge asserted himself with a blistering first half, dropping 28 points on 12-of-16 shooting, in addition to logging five rebounds.

“Just tried to make him hit tough shots, like he did all night,” Gobert said. “I mean, turnarounds, fadeaways. Most of the time he was ending up on the floor because we contested all of them. Just an unbelievable performance tonight. We made him work, and he made the shots.”

Aldridge’s 28 points in the first half tied Ginobili for the second most in a half by a Spur over the past 20 seasons, with only Duncan topping it with 31 points in December 2001 against the Dallas Mavericks. The sizzling, 28-point first-half performance for Aldridge also registered as the most he has ever scored in a half as a Spur.

Aldridge dominates first halfLaMarcus Aldriges continues his dominance with a strong first half, scoring 28 points.
“You have to make him try to hit tough shots,” Snyder said. “I thought he got some open shots early, but by and large in the second half, I thought we made it harder on him as the game went on. He’s capable of doing that. He’s 7 feet tall and his release point is like where the jerseys are hanging up there [in the rafters].”

Aldridge started out missing the mark on a 15-foot turnaround fadeaway in the first 41 seconds of the contest, before nailing each of his next seven attempts to score 17 points on 7 of 8 from the field. The 17 points tied for the most Aldridge has scored in the first quarter all season, and he contributed a pair of blocks as the Spurs finished the opening quarter leading 29-21.

Coming off a road trip in which it lost three in a row to Golden State, Oklahoma City, and Houston, San Antonio was understandably surprised to come back home and win six straight.

The Spurs hit the road Saturday for a Sunday matchup at Milwaukee, and the Jazz face Golden State on Sunday.

“Unexpected to tell you the truth,” Ginobili said of the team’s winning streak. “Not that we aren’t optimistic. But the way we were playing, we were a little demoralized, and a little down. We knew this six-game stretch was huge for us. We got to a point after the road trip in which we felt like we touched bottom, that we really had to get it together, to support each other, to fight every possession because if not we were out. We put ourselves in good position again, and now we just have to build from there.”



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