When you like being in the background. Photo by Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
There was a truly beautiful being lighting up the sky in Texas Monday night. The Houston Rockets, reborn from the wreckage of last year's pissboy squad, lined up behind their captain, James Harden, and absolutely dismantled the dreaded San Antonio Spurs in an orgy of fast breaks, flying limbs, dunks, and other delights. I mean, look at this shot chart.The Rockets went into this game with a crystal clarity of purpose. They sought only to run, to spot up somewhere behind the three-point line, to drive, to kick, to score. Mike D'Antoni's method, operating now in an era where its true limits can be tested, a heroic quest for the breaking point of threes and rim offense, set his players into giant triangle after giant triangle. With one point at the rim, one in the corner, one above the break, D'Antoni sent those triangles flying across the court, one after the other, drilling shot after shot after shot, making dunk after dunk after dunk, stopping only for the precious few seconds when Lou Williams could manage to get off a long two, just for the fuck of it.
On the other end of the court, and at the other end of the search for personal and tactical meaning, stood the Spurs' LaMarcus Aldridge. Portland's former 22-and-8 man, once able to hide his propensity for inefficient heaving and his lackadaisical spiritual purpose behind Mount Hood, where no one watched or cared about his middling performances, was now thrust into the spotlight, a central figure in what was supposed to be one of the most anticipated series of the NBA playoffs.Aldridge was terrible in a way that, truly, only he could be. He was way too slow and ineffectual on defense, whether he was not really protecting the rim (read: trying not to get dunked on) or switched out on the perimeter, where he floated around on skates made of farts. But it wasn't just his defense that was totally, completely, stupendously awful. His was a balanced shitshow.Playing against a team that forces, like, 120 possessions a game and whose starting power forward is, literally, Ryan Anderson, Aldridge managed to put up a meager four (I I I I) points, six rebounds, one assist to two turnovers, and a whopping z-e-r-o blocks. Aldridge didn't take a single three-pointer, he heaved up a whole series of terrible-ass baseline turnarounds to get himself going, and made all four of his points on garbage tip-ins he managed to get somewhere in the madness of Clint Capela's ten-defensive-rebound night.The Spurs were 36 points worse with Aldridge on the court, the worst plus/minus in the game by a whopping 14 points. Because of Aldridge's piss-poor play, San Antonio was thoroughly better off going small and trying to keep pace, but if we're all being adults here, that's probably not going to work, either. The Rockets live and breathe and succeed in handmade chaos, and the Spurs, for the first time since D'Antoni started squaring off with them regularly in the playoffs, just don't have the personnel to match. Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, the dudes who used to do the trick in these speed-offs, are old and busted. Patty Mills is honorable but fundamentally limited. Kawhi Leonard is too even-tempered to get in a fight with a tornado, not to mention that he can't hunt Harden around screens and run the offense without dying on the court. The fact of the matter is, the Spurs have crash-landed in the middle of a disease-ridden jungle, and their only hope of fashioning a banana-leaf canoe out of there is to slow the game down. And if they're going to do that, they need Aldridge to perform somewhere north of "fucking horrible" and score some more points.You have to imagine that, when Aldridge left the humble wilds of Portland—where he had been hidden from the scarring eyes of a judgmental world, cared and nurtured by the gentle eyes of the naive Blazer fan base, seeking a life of title-contending adventure and national stardom, wired into a winning culture and all that shit—he wasn't exactly predicting that he would get a national TV swirly from a sparkly-eyed elven man. He was supposed to be able to lean on his teammates and coaches, take his doctor-prescribed 15 midrange shots a game in peace while still getting to consistently compete for titles, and not get benched for Jonathon Simmons.Let the struggles of LaMarcus be a lesson for us all: Never leave Portland, live in the margins of your tiny ambitions, and realize that what you are given in this life is, truly, what you deserve. Feeding the craving for more will only lead to suffering.