May 3, 2010: Gregg Popovich looks on in Phoenix. The Spurs collapsed to the Suns in the playoffs.
How far can the Spurs actually tumble from the No. 1 seed? The season is almost over, and we’ll soon find out. For now, they’ve lost a shocking six games in a row.
But how shocking is it? To some, like me, it’s not much of a surprise as one might think. What was more shocking to me was the Spurs as the No. 1 seed in the National Basketball Association.
It’s been called the greatest implosion in NBA history, and I’m not talking about Gregg Popovich’s rant late in the game. In a game with great importance for both teams, the Houston Rockets sent the Spurs spiraling toward the NBA median.
In a below median performance, Matt Bonner was shooting out of rhythm, and he went 0-for-5 with zero points and five rebounds. The league-leader in three-point percentage continued to be virtually nonexistent.
San Antonio relies on the three, but the Spurs were 4-for-11 at one point. Tony Parker’s mid-range game and layups kept them in it throughout the game. Time and time again, he gashed the Rockets with points in the paint.
Popovich called timeout, though, with 6:47 to go in the third quarter after the Rockets threatened to take off with the game. After six straight points and a tough layup by Kyle Lowrie—his 12th point—the Spurs ambled to the bench.
After the timeout, Ginobili missed a three-pointer and Blair picked up his third foul. The Rockets threatened to take their biggest lead of the game, and they did after two free throws from power forward and former Spurs property, Luis Scola.
Averaging 18 points per game this season, his two points gave Houston a 10-0 run in the middle of the third quarter. Duncan scored in the lane to stop the bleeding, and the Spurs went on a 6-0 spurt. After a timeout, though, Scola went right back to work, drawing a foul from Jefferson and sinking two free throws.
R.J. redeemed himself with a nice block and save to with about two minutes left in the third quarter. Parker turned it over on the next possession, and the hump got higher for the Spurs. Popovich looked on in amazed wonderment, but Parker came right back to score his point No. 25.
At the end of three quarters the score was 87-85. After trailing by 11 in the quarter and eight at the half, the Spurs were within two points to start the fourth.
After Jefferson’s hard screen and offensive foul, Scola took McDyess to the hole for a bucket. Gary Neal caught fire and the Spurs took the lead on a score from him with 9:30 left in the game. It forced a Rockets timeout.
Goran Dragic, who killed the Spurs with Phoenix in the playoffs last season, contributed for the Rockets as their bench started to get loose. They forced a timeout after Patrick Patterson scored on a layup.
Courtney Lee’s three-pointer drove the lead to six and the crowd into a frenzy. Pop was driven to call timeout at the 5:00 mark. It worked.
The Spurs were within one point of the lead with 1:56 left in the game. With 1:31 to go, they took the lead on two Ginobili free throws after an ill-advised foul by Lee. At 1:03, Parker caught the Rockets sleeping and made it a three-point lead for San Antonio.
Shades of Portland, the Spurs gave the ball away on a George Hill turnover with under 30 seconds to play. Duncan converted a free throw and the Rockets—with the shot clock turned off—tied the game with 3.9 seconds remaining.
After a Spurs timeout, Ginboli scored to win the game, but his drive and layup came after the horn sounded. He appeared to lose track of time while being defended by his Argentine National Team friend in Scola.
The red light flashed on the scoreboard and Rockets Dancers were boogieing in the Spurs faces on the way to the bench.
In the extra period, it was Kevin Martin’s three-pointer with 1:40 to go. The shot gave the Rockets the one-point lead, and Manu turned it over on the next possession. The crowd was chanting, “Let’s go Rockets!” Manu turned it over again after a Martin foul—the Spurs' third turnover in OT.
Popovich went ballistic after 13 seconds bled off the clock with the Spurs not fouling. He was calling for his team to foul, but they didn’t hear him—allegedly. They found themselves down five points with seven seconds left in the game—too much to overcome.
With the win, the Rockets kept alive their hopes for making the playoffs. They were a feisty bunch, given they can’t afford to lose a game for the rest of the regular season.
The Spurs were probably hoping the Utah Jazz could keep up the lead on the Lakers in the later game on ESPN Friday night. But the Lakers ripped the Jazz up in the second half with a 30-5 run and pulled to one game and a half behind the Spurs for the No. 1 seed in the NBA.
The Spurs are 3-7 in their last 10 games, while the Lakers are 17-1 since the All-Star festivities. They meet later this month. The loss to the Rockets could indeed seal the Spurs' historic collapse.