LaMarcus Aldridge, Spurs Stun Kevin Durant, Warriors Despite Stephen Curry's 25

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistMarch 19, 2019

SAN ANTONIO, TX - MARCH 18: Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors shoots the ball during the game against the San Antonio Spurs on March 18, 2019 at the AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photos by Mark Sobhani/NBAE via Getty Images)
Mark Sobhani/Getty Images

The San Antonio Spurs continued their ascent up the Western Conference standings with a 111-105 victory over the Golden State Warriors in a potential playoff preview Monday at AT&T Center.

San Antonio has won nine in a row and entered play just three games behind the third-seeded Houston Rockets. It also snapped the defending champions' two-game winning streak.

The duo of LaMarcus Aldridge (23 points and 13 rebounds) and DeMar DeRozan (26 points, nine rebounds and eight assists) led the way for the Spurs, while Rudy Gay added 17 points, six boards and three dimes off the bench.

Stephen Curry challenged for a triple-double with 25 points, eight assists and seven rebounds, while Kevin Durant finished with 24 points for the Warriors. However, the former was just 6-of-18 from deep, and the latter dealt with foul trouble for much of the second half. Klay Thompson (14 points) also struggled from the field at 5-of-18. 

Golden State is now tied with the Denver Nuggets in the race for the Western Conference's No. 1 seed after the loss.

           

Despite Uninspiring Roster, Spurs Remain Threat to Win Playoff Series

The first thing that comes to mind for many NBA fans when thinking about the Western Conference is likely the star power on the Warriors, the upstart Nuggets, Russell Westbrook and Paul George on the Oklahoma City Thunder, or guards such as Damian Lillard and Donovan Mitchell on other contenders.

Yet the Spurs are right in the thick of the race and hitting their stride with the postseason approaching.

San Antonio isn't flashy. After all, Aldridge is best known for his work on the post, high-elbow and mid-range and is a steady source of production without threes and dunks. DeRozan can throw down rim-rattling jams but isn't going to light opponents up from deep and can't match resumes with former Spurs star Kawhi Leonard.

That didn't stop the duo from effectively working pick-and-rolls and pick-and-pops with each other in the fourth quarter against one of the greatest dynasties the league has ever seen. DeRozan mixed in a fadeaway inside the lane and a smooth finish at the rim to help put Golden State away in crunch time.

Aldridge isn't going to grace top-10 highlight packages but finished with more than 20 points for the sixth time in eight March games and his fourth double-double in that span.

Having steady but unflashy stars is one thing, but the Spurs have dealt with adversity on the roster as well. Dejounte Murray—the assumed point guard heir to Tony Parker—suffered a torn ACL in October and was lost for the season, while rookie Lonnie Walker IV has dealt with injuries and appeared in just eight games.

San Antonio is relying on veterans such as Patty Mills, Marco Belinelli and Gay—who is the team's third-leading scorer as another mid-range and spot-up shooter—as a result.

Still, it is impossible to ignore the infrastructure in place for a franchise that will make its 22nd consecutive appearance in the NBA playoffs. All-time great coach Gregg Popovich is the steady constant through the entire run, linking the teams of Tim Duncan and David Robinson to the one battling for positioning this year.

San Antonio is also ramping up for the playoffs on the defensive side and is fifth in the league in defensive rating in the last 10 games, per NBA.com.

The Spurs can slow the game down with that defense in the postseason and then go to the steady DeRozan and Aldridge in crunch time to either scare or defeat one of the Western Conference's top seeds.

It was a formula for success against the best team in the league Monday and can be again in the playoffs.

              

Bogut Turning into Perfect Addition to Help Warriors 3-Peat

Golden State turned to someone who hasn't played an NBA game since the 2017-18 campaign as its starting center DeMarcus Cousins is sidelined by an ankle injury.

It wasn't just anyone, though, as Andrew Bogut has an extensive history with the Warriors. He played for the team from 2012 through 2016, helping it win the 2015 NBA Finals and a record 73 games during the 2015-16 regular season.

While he rarely dominated offensively with so many other weapons on the roster, he was a solid role player who averaged 6.3 points, 8.3 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game while shooting 58.1 percent from the field in a Golden State uniform.

He struggled to replicate that type of impact after the Warriors traded him to the Dallas Mavericks. He played a mere 26 games for Dallas before he was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers and then waived. He then broke his tibia in his first game with the Cleveland Cavaliers and appeared in just 23 games for the 2017-18 Los Angeles Lakers before he was waived.

Perhaps it was that lack of success elsewhere that helped him realize what an ideal opportunity it is to rejoin the defending champs:

Bogut has been away from the NBA but won't be particularly rusty heading into the playoffs since he won the 2018-19 NBL MVP and defender of the year while playing in his home country of Australia.

He looked right at home on the receiving end of a lob pass from Curry for one of three first-half dunks that came from Splash Brothers assists. Opposing defenses have to devote so much attention to the shooting and playmaking of Curry and Thompson that Bogut didn't even have to set the screen on a pick-and-roll before he flashed to the lane for a dunk.

It is more than just Bogut's ability to finish and play off the primary playmakers that makes him an ideal late-season addition for the Warriors.

He is familiar with the roster and head coach Steve Kerr's approach and is not someone who is going to demand the ball and throw off the on-court chemistry down the stretch. The veteran understands his role and is willing to battle on the boards and do the dirty work while the All-Star-caliber talent throughout the roster does the majority of the scoring.

Bogut finished with seven points and seven rebounds, and it is his work on the boards in particular that stands out because it allows the other Warriors to break out into transition quicker and unleash their dangerous tempo.

The big man also won't be intimidated by the championship stage to come with 58 playoff games on his resume and will provide a physical presence off the bench to take some of the defensive responsibility off Cousins' shoulders in the latter's first postseason appearance.

Golden State will likely have to battle with some combination of Nikola Jokic, Clint Capela, Jusuf Nurkic, Steven Adams, Aldridge and Rudy Gobert in the post in the playoffs, which could sap some of Cousins' effectiveness on the offensive end.

Bogut is the perfect candidate to spell the four-time All-Star in the playoffs to preserve his durability all while doing the small things that help teams win in May and June.

            

What's Next?

The Warriors are at the Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday, while the Spurs host the Miami Heat on Wednesday.

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