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Golden: Is Aldridge more second fiddle or top banana for San Antonio?


Kawhi Leonard’s ankle injury means the Spurs need more from the former Longhorn.

As the series shifts to the Alamo City, San Antonio is down 2-0 and in a must-win situation.

Tim Duncan isn’t walking through that door to save the San Antonio Spurs.

Actually, Duncan did walk through the door of the team’s practice facility Thursday and was spotted shooting around with LaMarcus Aldridge, who has come under scrutiny for, well, not being Tim Duncan.

News flash: Aldridge was never going to be Timmy. The Texas ex is just a solid pro who was much more comfortable sharing Batman duties with Damian Lillard in Portland than he is being a team’s top option. With the Spurs down 0-2 to Golden State and Kawhi Leonard questionable for Saturday’s Game 3 with that ankle injury, Aldridge will have to find some magic in his utility belt, or this season will be ending very soon.

“LaMarcus has got to score for us,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said after Game 2. “He can’t be timid. I think he’s got a major responsibility in Game 3 to come out and get something done, whether it’s for himself or his teammates.”

Translation? Aldridge can’t put up a measly 11 shots or score eight points, as he did in the 36-point loss.

“I’m going to be myself, and I’m going to take shots,” Aldridge told reporters. “I’m always better when I take shots early, even when they’re tough shots.”

The sight of Duncan at the shootaround was a welcome one for Aldridge, who thinks the future Hall of Famer will one day become a head coach. The mentorship from his childhood idol — Aldridge was spotted lofting shots over Duncan’s outstretched hand — are positive reminders that the organization needs him and inside mate Pau Gasol to show up in force Saturday.

The vital statistics point to Golden State outscoring San Antonio 194-133 since Leonard left in Game 1. If ever the Spurs needed to dominate post play, it’s now. Duncan doesn’t have a flux capacitor, so the future is right now. The Spurs need their current power forward to give the surging Warriors something to worry about as the series switches to the Alamo City.

Call this what it is, an elimination game of sorts. Even if Leonard is back and playing well, Aldridge can’t go out in meek fashion as Houston’s James Harden did against the Spurs in Game 6 of the conference semifinals. It’s time to empty the holster and shoot 25 to 30 times if that’s what it takes to get his team back in this series. Give me John Starks going out with a screaming 2-for-18 game over Harden’s disinterested 2-for-11 performance.

Aldridge has to erase the word “defer” from his basketball mentality. That was partly to blame for the Spurs not giving Golden State much of a fight last game. He watched the Game 1 film in which the Dubs smartly threw double teams at him from different angles and decided to make the smart play and pass to the open teammate in Game 2.

He fell prey to being too unselfish when his team needed him to take it to the rack against the likes of Javale McGee and Zaza Pachulia. He finished with three turnovers and has nine through the first two games.

The only real notice Aldridge got from Game 2 was when he appeared to take an extra step closing out on Kevin Durant’s second-quarter 3-pointer. Replays appeared to show him stepping under Durant’s foot, which led some to believe it was retaliation for Pachulia’s sideline closeout on Leonard in Game 1. Durant didn’t think the play was intentional.

Aldridge isn’t a dirty player, but Pop could use “some nasty” from him Saturday. It’s part of his progression as the franchise’s new interior option. Aldridge understood the unenviable task of following a legend when he signed last season.

Duncan is the greatest player in franchise history, but he couldn’t last forever. While he remains loyal to the franchise that allowed him to do his thing in low-key fashion in a smaller NBA market, the Spurs thought Aldridge, who had put up all-star numbers in a similar-size market, would continue to dominate with the move back to his home state.

Aldridge hasn’t been the overwhelming success the Spurs hoped he’d be, but his numbers have been solid. That said, there’s nothing wrong with averaging 17.6 points and 7.9 rebounds as second banana to Leonard, and if you check out his last six playoff games before Game 2, Aldridge averaged 22.8 points and 8.8 rebounds, which are great numbers for a second option in this league.

The Spurs need some first-option numbers in Game 3.

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