PORTLAND, Ore. -- LaMarcus Aldridge leaned back in a folding metal chair, letting relief finally take hold after anxiety -- and a mix of raucous boos and cheers -- eventually gave way on Wednesday night to the power forward dropping a game-high 23 points on his former team to lead a 113-101 San Antonio Spurs victory.
Aldridge downplayed his return to Portland during the team’s morning shootaround, despite having played all nine of his NBA seasons for the Trail Blazers prior to joining the Spurs in free agency.
But once the PA announcer called Aldridge’s name during the pregame introduction, the more than 19,000 fans on hand in the Moda Center erupted in a combination of boos and cheers.
“I definitely heard the cheers of the fans that showed me love and still supported me, and I heard the fans that were mad, and rightfully so,” Aldridge said. “It might have been like 70-30, cheers to boos.”
Those boos subsequently grew louder after tipoff on the occasions that Aldridge received the ball down low or shot free throws.
“He handled it well,” said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. “He’s a class act. They don’t listen to that stuff. Every gym you go to is hostile. That’s the way it’s supposed to be. So it’s no different than anywhere else, really.”
Even though some fans inside the Moda Center booed Aldridge, the majority seemed to support Portland’s franchise leader in rebounds (5,434) and double-doubles (234).
Aldridge joined San Antonio in July, coming off a season in Portland during which he averaged a career-high 23.4 points to go with 10.2 rebounds and 1.7 assists, and he expected a harsh reaction from the Blazers' faithful upon returning to Portland.
Many of the team’s fans were unhappy with Aldridge’s decision to leave the Trail Blazers to join the Spurs, because he had expressed commitment to the organization in July 2014, telling The Oregonian he wanted “to be the best Blazer ever,” adding “I have so much history [in Portland], it just makes sense to stay.”
In more than 34 minutes of action, Aldridge connected on 9 of 18 from the field and 5 of 6 from the line while pulling down six rebounds, dishing two assists and blocking one shot. Portland kicked off the second half with a 20-8 run to tie the game 66-66 on a Damian Lillard free throw, but the third quarter is where Aldridge did most of his damage.
Aldridge poured in eight points in the third, then added five more on 2-of-3 shooting to close out the game.
“I didn’t think it was bad tonight,” point guard Tony Parker said. “I didn’t think it was that hard for L.A. He did a great job here in Portland, gave nine years to that city, played unbelievable basketball.”
Spurs veteran Manu Ginobili said a booing crowd oftentimes can backfire on the home arena.
“He had a great game. He really helped us to win, made some big buckets,” Ginobili said. “And I guess it was important for him to do good here, to have a good game. Nine years playing for this team, playing in those colors, and playing for those fans. He has a lot of respect for them. And I think most of the arena supported him too. Of course, there were some boos, but I think the boos and the applause went together.
"You do [hear the boos] sometimes, but it doesn’t really affect you. Actually, it enhances your game, because you are a little more upset and determination arises. So it doesn’t really affect your game -- at least when it used to happen to me.”
Aldridge admitted his return to Portland was emotional. But he wasn’t bothered by the crowd’s boos, he said, “Because the other half of the arena showed me love. I saw signs that said, ‘Thank you for your nine years’ and just being committed to the team, and that made up for it.”
“I have nothing but love for this city," he added. "I have so many memories in this arena: first MVP chants, first double-doubles. I remember that first game against Dallas playing as a rookie, standing in my first game out there. I just have so many memories in this arena and this city. It was hard for me.”