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There was a Christmas miracle at the AT&T Center late Sunday afternoon, but most of the national audience for ABC-TV’s telecast of the Spurs 119-100 win over the Chicago Bulls likely missed it.
San Antonians who know the Spurs love guard Danny Green for his stalwart defensive work and his uncanny 3-point shooting.
His ball handling skills? Not so much.
So, when Green extricated himself from a double-team in the right corner midway through the fourth quarter with a crossover dribble that allowed him to dribble between Bulls defenders Nikola Mirotic and Doug McDermott, then managed a slick pass to LaMarcus Aldridge for an uncontested dunk, it seemed there were otherworldly forces at work.
“It’s Christmas,” said Aldridge, who pushed his point total to a season high 33 points with his easiest basket of the game. “So, God blessed him with that crossover that we’ve never seen before. I actually benefitted from it, so I thank God even more for that. Danny doesn’t dribble more than one time. For him to go off the dribble and to do that, that was awesome.”
The very fact of a Christmas Day victory qualified as a mini-miracle for the Spurs. They entered the game 4-6 in prior games on Christmas and hadn’t won one since a buzzer beating 3-pointer by Roger Mason Jr. beat the Phoenix Suns on Dec. 25, 2008.
Aldridge’s most productive game of the season included a 20-point first quarter in which he made all nine of his shots, seven of them from at least 18 feet out. He carried that streak into the second quarter, and ran his streak of made field goals to 11 straight before finally missing.
That is difficult for even the best shooters to do in practice, but for Aldridge it was hardly a miracle. In fact, his 20-point first period wasn’t the highest scoring single quarter of his career, or even the highest scoring first quarter he’s ever had against the Bulls. On Dec. 12, 2014, during his final season with the Portland Trail Blazers, Aldridge poured in 21 points in the first quarter of a game against the Bulls at United Center in Chicago.
He was reminded of that game by Mirotic on Sunday, perhaps because the Bulls had survived his big game and scored a 115-106 win.
“Mirotic told me, ‘Yeah, you’ve done this before versus us,’” Aldridge said. “He was kind of mad about it, so I didn’t laugh.”
Aldridge turned in the second-highest point total by a Spur this season. Kawhi Leonard, who has eight games of 30 or more points this season, scored 35 in the Spurs’ season-opening drubbing of the Golden State Warriors on Oct. 25.
“He’s aggressive every night,” Leonard said. “He’s doing the job. They’re double teaming him and he’s kicking out. Tonight, he just got in a groove early and made every shot.”
Aldridge was shocked to have his shooting rhythm so early in Sunday’s game. The Spurs had arrived back in San Antonio around 4:30 a.m. Saturday after a red-eye charter flight that followed their win over Portland at Moda Center on Friday night. He sleepwalked through the day, then rose early on Christmas morning. He has young children, and there were gifts to be opened.
“I didn’t see this coming,” he said of his red-hot shooting. “It was just one of those nights once I got in the game. But some days you wake up with that extra energy, that extra juice. That wasn’t today … We got home at 4:30, 5 o’clock, and I was up (Sunday) at 9 a.m. doing Christmas with the family.
“I was scared I wouldn’t have juice today. So, I was happy that it went the opposite way.”
It didn’t take his teammates long to realize Aldridge was in a shooting groove. Tony Parker, in particular, recognized the wisdom of feeding a shooter gaining confidence with each make. The veteran point guard assisted on five of Aldridge’s first six makes.
Aldridge was appropriately appreciative.
“It was just one of those nights,” he said. “My teammates were great, trying to find me, and they were passing up open looks to find me. So, that was awesome.”
Aldridge’s amazing first quarter fueled what had to be one of the earliest 20-point leads in club history, a 28-8 advantage after just seven-and-a-half minutes.
But, there would be no easy blowout. The Bulls have struggled as of late, but they remain one of the Eastern conference’s most competitive teams and they still have All-Stars Dwayne Wade and Jimmy Butler. They fought back into the game, and when Butler nailed a 3-pointer with 4:56 remaining in the third quarter, they had a 70-67 lead.
The Spurs answered with a 20-6 run that restored a double-digit lead, backup center DeWayne Dedmon scoring 8 of his 10 points in the run.
“He always (gives us energy),” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said of Dedmon, who was signed as a free agent in July. “He’s been good for us all year long.”