The San Antonio Spurs Biggest Mistake in the Past Ten Years

Mistakes happen. We sleep in a little too late or we forget to do a project. But for us, mistakes are simply, just that – mistakes. For the thirty NBA teams, mistakes cost them, potentially, tens of millions of dollars, a playoff appearance, or even a championship. They have been riddled throughout history. It can be draft picks (Blazers fans know what this is like), it can be free agency (can I get an amen from Knicks fans?), or it can be virtually anything else (in the case of the Kings, EVERYTHING ELSE). Thus, we present the worst mistakes from each NBA team over the past ten years.

The San Antonio Spurs Biggest Mistake in the Past Ten Years

The San Antonio Spurs have arguably been the most successful franchise across all sports for the past two decades. The Spurs have won 50 games in 17 consecutive seasons. The only reason that it hasn’t been 19 straight seasons is because of the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season. They still went 37-13 in that 50 game campaign. Clearly, the Spurs haven’t made too many mistakes. With a dominant core, superior management, and one of the best coaches in the history of the game, the small market San Antonio Spurs have thrived in a league that is so often dominated by big market teams.

The 2013 NBA Finals

In the past ten years alone, San Antonio has won two titles, which is an incredible feat; however, that number could have easily been three if it weren’t for a rare coaching mistake made by Gregg Popovich three summers ago. The 2013 Spurs were just seconds away from adding another banner to the rafters at AT&T Center. Literally, just seconds away. We all know what happened in Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals, when Ray Allen‘s historic three pointer sent the game to overtime. His iconic stroke of beauty from the corner is undoubtedly one of the most memorable shots in NBA history. For Spurs fans, Allen’s shot and Mike Breen‘s exhilarating “BANG!” represent the agony of defeat.

It’s tough to blame anyone on the court for giving up that game-tying three pointer. Chris Bosh grabbed a tough rebound in traffic, and then one of the greatest shooters in the history of the NBA nailed an incredibly difficult shot – a shot that was well contested by Tony Parker. Parker quickly ran to the corner to defend Allen and did the best he could without fouling. So if it wasn’t anyone’s fault on the court, then who could have prevented that shot, and ultimately prevented a Miami Heat championship? The answer comes from the sidelines, where Gregg Popovich made one of the most regretful coaching decisions of his Hall of Fame career.

The Decision

With 28.2 seconds left and a five point lead over the Heat, Popovich took out his best player – Tim Duncan – in order to have five perimeter players on the floor. It was obvious the Heat were going to chuck up three pointers in order to get themselves back into the game, so having the 7’0” Duncan chase around three point shooters – especially with Chris Bosh on the bench – wouldn’t have been ideal, which is understandable. The downside to removing Duncan from the game? NO REBOUNDER! After LeBron James bricked an initial three, Mike Miller grabbed the loose rebound and kicked it back out to James, who nailed a straight away triple to make it a two point game. With Duncan in the game, Miller probably doesn’t grab that rebound.

With 20.1 seconds left, the Spurs called their final timeout and substituted Duncan back into the game. Kawhi Leonard was immediately fouled, putting him at the line. After missing the first free throw, Popovich proceeded to make the biggest mistake of his coaching career. He removed Duncan from the game in favor of Boris Diaw, with the same mindset as before.

The Other Option

Looking back on the final play, it wasn’t necessary at all to take Duncan out. Unlike the previous possession, Chris Bosh was in the game. Why not just stick him on Chris Bosh and trust your franchise player – who is one of the best defensive players to ever play in the NBA – to not let Bosh get off a clean look? With players like LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Ray Allen on the floor, what were the odds that Bosh would be given the ball anyways? And even if Bosh was given the ball, is Tim Duncan really that incapable of preventing Bosh from getting off a clean look from beyond the arc?

The Result

Ultimately, James missed yet another three, which enabled Bosh to grab an extremely tough rebound in traffic. After that, well, you know what happens. Bosh kicked it out to Ray Allen. He hit the dagger that pains Spurs fans every time it’s ever brought up.

Had Duncan been in the game, would Bosh have gotten that rebound? We’ll never know, but he probably wouldn’t have. Popovich over-analyzed the situation, making a decision that likely cost the Spurs a championship. He should have stuck with his best player instead of a smaller, slightly more mobile defender.

The Consequences

Of course, it’s extremely difficult to place such heavy criticism on Popovich. It’s not fair to call it a dumb or foolish move; it’s just a mistake. It was a strategy that simply didn’t work. Had Bosh been given the ball and Diaw quickly scrambled to contest the shot, forcing Bosh to miss, then we’d be praising this move as one of the gutsiest and wisest of all time. Instead, we sit here claiming it’s been the biggest mistake the franchise has seen in the past ten years.

The fact that this is the Spurs biggest mistake in a decade says a lot about how successful the franchise has been. Drafting Manu Ginobili 57th overall and trading George Hill for Kawhi Leonard on draft night in 2011 were two of the greatest moves in franchise history, and spoiler alert – the Hill/Leonard trade will show up later on when we analyze the Indiana Pacers biggest mistake.

Be sure to stick with us the next few weeks as the Last Word on Sports basketball department analyzes the biggest mistake of every NBA franchise from the past ten years.



Main Photo

Jun 16, 2005; Auburn Hills, MI, USA; TIM DUNCAN and coach GREGG POPOVICH of San Antonio during Game 4 of the NBA Finals at the Palace at Auburn Hills in Auburn Hills, Michigan on June 16, 2005. The Pistons beat the Spurs 102-71.  (Photo by Sporting News/Sporting News via Getty Images)