HOUSTON -- LaMarcus Aldridge poked his head out from Training Room 00.32.10 of the visitors locker room at the Toyota Center minutes before the Game 3 tipoff on Friday and raised one arm high up on the doorframe to lean forward hard.
With a black band wrapped around the front of one foot in the other hand, Aldridge pulled the tension taut to loosen up a stiff knee.
Aldridge then helped San Antonio tighten its grip on this Western Conference semifinals matchup by producing his most significant performance of the series against the Houston Rockets in the Spurs' 103-92 victory, sans future Hall of Fame point guard Tony Parker.
“This was his best game, obviously,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said after his team went up 2-1 in the series. “He felt good tonight. He was loose as far as his physical nature, his legs and everything. He wasn’t too stiff. It showed. He moved up and down the court well. He was able to push off on the block, and he felt good shooting the ball, in addition to busting his butt on D and trying to get the boards for us. He was a big help tonight.”
Aldridge tied Kawhi Leonard with a team-high 26 points on 12 of 20 shooting, in addition to contributing seven rebounds, two assists and four blocked shots.
“I just felt good tonight. I was into it,” Aldridge said. “I thought we did things to take advantage of the mismatches a little better tonight.”
The performance came at an optimal time for San Antonio, considering it lost Parker for the remainder of the season in Game 2 of the series on Wednesday, when the point guard ruptured his left quadriceps tendon. San Antonio entered this series thinking it could exploit a size advantage over the Rockets by playing through Aldridge and Pau Gasol.
The problem in Game 1 was Houston jumping out 25-13. And like a football team abandoning the rushing attack, San Antonio gave up on the bigs, which led to Aldridge struggling to find a rhythm and pundits questioning whether the Spurs were receiving proper return on an $84 million investment.
In the first two games of this series, Aldridge averaged 9.5 points, 7.0 rebounds and a block, while shooting 38.1 percent.
But Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said he knew that “Aldridge sooner or later was gonna go off.”
That’s precisely what transpired.
Aldridge obliterated his marks from Games 1 and 2 with a blistering 60 percent shooting performance on Friday, and he said the ebbs and flow of the first two games of the series did nothing to weaken his resolve, particularly with Parker out of the lineup.
“I’ve just stayed with it. I just try to do what the team needs from me,” Aldridge said. “Last game, I got more shots in. I saw that I was needed to do more. Tonight, I tried to do that. I tried to be more aggressive and make things happen. I know without T.P. [Parker], I was needed even more. So, I was just trying to make things happen tonight. You can’t replace Tony Parker; he’s a Hall of Famer one day. But I think guys came with that sense of urgency and played hard.”
The 26 points for Aldridge ranks as his third most in a playoff outing with the Spurs and as his 2017 postseason high.
“I think he was aggressive and made shots early,” Leonard said. “We were looking for him tonight.”
Aldridge also pulled a 180 on the defensive end on Friday night at the Toyota Center.
The Rockets knocked down 50 percent of their shots (13-of-26) over the first two games of the series when Aldridge served as the primary defender, according to research from ESPN Stats & Information. In Game 3, Aldridge limited the Rockets to 3 of 14 shooting (21.4 percent) as the primary defender.
After a game like that, frontcourt mate David Lee -- who pregame on Friday, for the first time all season, stretched his knee with a black band, just as Aldridge does -- joked he might need to keep up the routine to make his jumper fall as consistently as his teammate’s did.
“I do what the team needs. Even if [the shots] didn’t fall, I just stayed with it,” Aldridge said. “My rhythm felt good. I was into it. So we tried to ride that a little bit more.”