The San Antonio Spurs are your 2014 NBA Champions. The fact they manhandled the two-time defending champions 4-1 is incredibly impressive. But their reign of dominance over the last fifteen years in the NBA is even more awe inspiring. Sure, Jordan with his Bulls and Kobe/Shaq with the Lakers were dominant, but in shorter periods of time. San Antonio during the Popovich/Duncan era has been a perennial contender almost every year. Each year people count them out and say this will be the year the drastic decline takes place (myself included). Yet the Spurs keep coming at the rest of the league each year and make many a fan and pundit eat their words.
Now it’s time to to take a look back at the Spurs’ titles won from 1999 to 2014 and figure out where they rank from 5 to 1.
The Spurs 5 NBA Championships
5. 1999: Spurs (37-13) defeat Knicks (27-23), 4-1
NBA Finals MVP: Tim Duncan
Points scored per game: 84.8
Points allowed per game: 79.8
Point differential in wins: 8.3
Page-jumping statistic: No other player outside of Duncan or David Robinson averaged more than 4 rebounds per game.
This series has a giant asterisk placed next to it due to the lockout-shortened season where each team played only 50 games. It was a weird year that saw the eighth-seeded Knicks make the Finals after beating the top two teams (Pacers and Heat) along with the 4th-seeded Hawks. There is no way to know how good each team was, but the Knicks rode that wave and shocked pretty much everyone.
The Spurs were just beginning a new era while ending the old with The Admiral, David Robinson. Duncan was in his third season yet was completely dominant with 27 points and 14 rebounds a game. Robinson played well with 16 points and 12 boards a game for his last hurrah. The third leading rebounder for the Spurs? Mario Elie (4 rpg), a shooting guard. The Spurs won with ball movement (20.2 apg), yet failed to take care of the ball (15.4 turnovers per game).
The shortened season mixed with the underwhelming numbers against an eight seed is why this is the least impressive title during the Popovich/Duncan Era.
4. 2003: Spurs (60-22) defeat Nets (49-33) , 4-2
NBA Finals MVP: Tim Duncan
Points per game scored: 87.8
Points per game allowed: 82.0
Point differential in wins: 9.5
Page-jumping statistic: 9.8 blocks per game
One would think the 2007 title over the inferior Cavaliers would go here, but the Spurs’ 2003 championship against the Nets takes the cake. The stats are similar for the most part in regards to points scored and allowed. Field goal percentage was at a meek 43% for San Antonio, while the Nets shot a horrific 37%. They were practically begging the Spurs to take the Larry O’Brien trophy. Yet somehow the Nets won two games by the skin of their teeth (3 points combined).
Duncan was an absolute monster with 24 points and 17 boards a game. Hell, he even led the team in assists that series with 5.3 per game. Manu Ginobli and Tony Parker still had a ways to go until they along with Duncan could be known as a “big three”. The almost 16 turnovers per game is a rather startling number as well. Poppovich teams are known for their ball control.
The biggest reason San Antonio beat the Nets was their stingy defense. The 9.8 blocks per game was astounding, led by Duncan’s 5.3 a game. Even with that level of defense and an MVP-caliber Duncan, they gave up two very winnable games to a weak opponent.
3. 2007: Spurs (58-24) defeat Cavaliers (52-30), 4-0.
NBA Finals MVP: Tony Parker
Points per game scored: 86.5
Points per game allowed: 80.5
Point differential of wins: 6
Page-jumping statistic: 66% free throw shooting
Yes, this was one of the least-watched Finals of all-time. The Cavs had no business going up against the Spurs, so it’s amazing to look back on this series and realize how unimpressive the Spurs were in it. Everyone can remember the sweep and a prime Duncan and Parker beating a fresh-faced LeBron James (22 at the time). The Cavaliers had certainly overachieved and were in over their heads after defeating the Detroit Pistons. They had no gas left after the hard fought Eastern Conference Finals- but it did produce LeBron’s classic 29 straight point performance. James’ inexperience outweighed his talent, as he only averaged 22 points in the 2007 Finals.
Maybe it was because the Spurs felt they didn’t need their A-game to beat the Cavs. Whatever it was, the fact that they didn’t even crack 90 points per game was surprising. They weren’t dominant in any stat category outside of being five percent better in field goal percentage. But that’s not very hard to do when your opponent shoots 39%. The 2007 Spurs even trailed in the free throw game with an appalling 66%.
While it was still Duncan’s team, Parker carried the scoring load with 24.5 points a game, but only averaged 3.3 assists. With the underachieving against an obviously inferior opponent, this NBA Finals win ranks as middle of the pack.
2. 2005: Spurs (59-23) defeat Pistons (54-28), 4-3
NBA Finals MVP: Tim Duncan
Points scored per game: 85
Points allowed per game: 86.7
Point differential in wins: 11
Page-jumping statistic: First 4 games won by average of 21 points. The last 3 won by an average of 5.6.
The level of competition the Spurs faced in their first three titles was drastically different than the most recent two. The last statistic shows what an up-and-down series this truly was.
This series was anticipated to be incredibly boring- and the ratings proved it. Yet the roller-coaster nature of the scoring made it a memorable seven game series. It was a battle of 2 seeds, with defense non-existent in the first four games. Then the bolts tightened and it turned into a gritty best of three. The Spurs had a commanding 2-0 lead before the Pistons tied it up.
This marked the talk of a Spurs dynasty despite how “boring” people perceived the franchise. There was no LeBron or T-Mac like superstar. There was nothing electric about them. They simply showed up, did their job and won. Duncan was his usual self (20 ppg/14 rpg). Only Duncan and Wallace (10 rpg) averaged double digit boards. If there was one major advantage San Antonio had, it was beyond the arc (39% to 24%). The ironic thing is that the Spurs had a lower field goal percentage AND averaged less points per game.
Despite these shortcomings, beating the Pistons was still a step up compared to their previous three championships.
1. 2014: Spurs (62-20) defeat Heat (54-28), 4-1
NBA Finals MVP: Kawhi Leonard
Points per game scored: 105.6
Points per game allowed: 91.6
Point differential in wins: 18
Page-jumping statistic: Points scored AND point differential
Seriously- who replaced the 2014 Spurs title team with the OKC Thunder? In all of the other four appearances against lesser competition, the Spurs averaged a combined 86 points per game. Heading into this year’s Finals, it was thought of to be the absolute best match-up between the league’s top two contenders. The Pacers flamed out after starting hot. The Thunder once again hit their ceiling. But the Heat and Spurs seemed destined to duke it out for another seven games and somehow top last year’s classic series.
Boy, were we wrong.
The Spurs set the tone with a commanding 15 point Game 1 win. Once the Heat got the momentum back heading home, all was thought to be right in Miami. Yet the Spurs put their foot down and won both road games by a combined 40 points. This was due to their balance: five players averaged double digit scoring in the series. Boris Diaw woke up from a season long nap and ended up being a major factor in the series. The Spurs were simply lights out from three at 46 percent. Pattie Mills (13), Kawhi Leonard (11) and Manu Ginobli (10) overwhelmed Miami’s defense with a barrage of three’s. LeBron -while with more talent than 2007- was once again by himself (28 ppg/7.8 rpg/4 apg). Bosh was determined to be a three point shooter and rarely attacked inside or on the post. Wade’s decline was apparent. The team that won back to back titles was gone, and a one that mentally gave up replaced it. No coaching from Spoelstra could help the Heat.
The biggest change I noticed was not only how the Spurs played as a whole, but that Kawhi Leonard was the first player outside of Duncan or Parker to be the team’s Finals MVP. The talk of the Spurs’ run ending will come sooner than later, and I believe Poppovich is looking at his next generation star.
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