Three hundred sixty-five days ago, San Antonio Spurs forward LaMarcus Aldridge had 41 points on 15-of-21 shooting, eight rebounds and played 43 minutes in a Game 2 Western Conference semifinals loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
On Monday night, Aldridge had four points and six rebounds in 25 minutes of the Spurs' 126-99 Game 1 loss to the Houston Rockets. He made just two of his seven shot attempts, had two turnovers, shot no free throws and was a minus-36.
What a difference a year makes.
The five-time All-Star, who joined San Antonio two summers ago after spending his first nine seasons with the Portland Trail Blazers, is supposed to utilize his scoring prowess — particularly from mid-range — to be the No. 2 option behind MVP candidate Kawhi Leonard. Instead, he was essentially nonexistent on both ends of the floor against Houston's frontline of Nene (seven points, five rebounds; ejected in third quarter), Clint Capela (20 points, 13 rebounds) and Ryan Anderson (14 points, six rebounds).
When Aldridge was switched onto Houston's guards on offense, he lacked aggressiveness and failed take take advantage of the mismatch. On defensive switches, he was blown by on multiple occasions.
On TNT's postgame broadcast, Shaquille O'Neal — he of the 15 All-Star appearances and four NBA championships — called out Aldridge for his performance.
"The guy that should step up, he's played in 51 playoff games, is LaMarcus Aldridge," O'Neal said. "Four points, six rebounds, he has to step up for Kawhi. Especially now, with Kawhi coming off the pick and roll and the double team, you're going to get a lot of wide open shots. You've just got to be aggressive and take those shots."
Put simply: He needs to be better — a lot better — for the Spurs to overcome this early series deficit.
To his credit, Aldridge — who is one of 20 players (with at least 50 playoff games played) in NBA history to average at least 20 points and eight rebounds in the postseason — took responsibility for his poor performance after the game, telling reporters that he's going to be better in Game 2 on Wednesday night.
"I was trying to rush," Aldridge said. "Normally, I take my time and take advantage of (mismatches), but tonight I was in a rush. Next game, I'll definitely go slower."
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