San Antonio Spurs: Ranking the Top 10 Spurs Teams Ever
The San Antonio Spurs are the blueprint to how to correctly develop a team over time. With some smart guys in the front office, a coach who is not afraid to dish out tough love, and some luck once in a while (getting the first round pick to draft Tim Duncan), it is no wonder why everybody is doing their best to construct their team after them.
Now it is time to take a look at the ten best Spurs teams in history:
No. 10: 2000-2001 Spurs
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Anchored by they still towering duo of David Robinson and Tim Duncan, the Spurs were hungry to prove that they were not going to fade away after a disappointing showing the previous year in the playoffs, when they bowed out to the Phoenix Suns in the first round due to star forward Duncan being sidelined with a knee injury.
Posting an impressive regular season record of 58-24, best for first in the Western Conference, the team appeared poised to challenge the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers for the crown. San Antonio, once again surrounding the “Twin Towers” with role players such as Avery Johnson, Terry Porter, and Jaren Jackson, were counting on their dynamic duo to control the low post with ferocity, while occasionally kicking it out to perimeter scorers who would do their job.
For the regular season, this worked flawlessly, as players like Derek Anderson and Sean Elliott stepped up and helped Duncan and Robinson get to the Western Conference Finals, defeating familiar foes Minnesota (3-1) and Dallas (4-1) to set up a meeting with the defending champion Lakers.
The Lakers had also surrounded their two stars, in their case Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal, with stellar supporting pieces such as Rick Fox, Ron Harper, and the show-stealing Robert Horry.
The Lakers, like they did with their first two opponents (Portland and Sacramento) swept the Spurs away easily, as they only lost one game the entire post-season (to Finals opponent Philadelphia in Game 1), and proved to be an unstoppable buzz saw of strength in the post coupled with sound perimeter shooting.
This was still a very special Spurs team, considering the season Duncan had and how far this team was able to get despite not having a big-time perimeter player (Anderson had a very nice season, but he was not a 20 ppg type player that could have made the difference for them).
The 2000-2001 L.A. Lakers were just a nearly invincible force that no one could topple when it came time for the postseason, and even a very good team like the Spurs proved to be no match at the time.
No. 9: 1978-1979 Spurs
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Led by Head Coach Doug Moe, this was before the time when the Spurs considered defense to be of the utmost importance, as they team averaged 119.3 ppg while holding their opponents to only 114.1 ppg. They still finished in first place with a 48-34 record, with two dynamic scorers in George Gervin and Larry Kenon leading the way for the squad, both averaging over 20 ppg.
The Spurs came very close this year to making it to the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history. With the team still in the Eastern Conference at the time, they defeated the Philadelphia 76ers in the semi-finals four games to three. In the Eastern Conference Finals, they jumped up to a 3-1 lead on the Washington Bullets, before eventually giving the series away in heartbreaking fashion.
Although they did not make it to the Finals stage, this was still an impressive team that knew how to score the ball, with Gervin playing some of the best ball of his career, and James Silas proving he could run the team at the point guard position.
The team would not see the NBA Finals for another twenty years, but this was still an important team that proved that they could compete with the best in the league, and score at a torrid pace while doing it.
No. 8: 2007-2008 Spurs
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Aiming to show that they could repeat as NBA champions, the Spurs finished the season as the third seed in the Western Conference, with a record of 56-26 for the year. Although not stellar offensively, the Spurs remained a defensive force that only gave up 90.6 ppg. After all, this had proven to be a staple to the team’s success over the years. With Fabricio Oberto proving to be the ideal post partner for Tim Duncan in the post and the Spurs acquiring yet another defensive stalwart in Kurt Thomas at the trade deadline, San Antonio looked as though they were ready to defend their crown.
Unfortunately, the “old age” complaints leveled at them by critics caught up to them in the playoffs, with Manu Ginobili being hobbled by a bad leg. The Spurs defeated the Phoenix Suns in five games (Game 1 of this series was incredible, with Tim Duncan nailing a three-pointer to tie the game and send it into double overtime where the Spurs won it), and the New Orleans Hornets in seven (as great as Chris Paul is, the amount of flopping he did in this series was simply incredible).
Perhaps it was a sign of things to come, but after defeating the Hornets in Game Seven in New Orleans, the Spurs plane encountered mechanical problems, and as a result the Spurs had to sleep on their plane overnight. After a horrible night of rest, the Spurs then journeyed straight to Los Angeles where they faced off against the Lakers once again.
As a result of that bad start before the series even began, as well as a one-legged Ginobili clearly showing he was in pain, and a horrific no-call on Derek Fisher’s obvious foul on a Brent Barry shot that could have won the Spurs Game Four and drastically changed the series, the Spurs lost to the Lakers in five games. Although they went on to lose in the NBA Finals, the Lakers have arguably been the best team in the NBA since 2008 when they acquired star power forward Pau Gasol in one of the worst trades in all of professional sports.
This Spurs team was still a very special one, with Barry and Michael Finley proving to be fantastic subs off the bench, and the “Big Three” still playing at a high level. With a healthy Ginobili and the right call on Fisher for fouling Barry on a game-winning attempt, this could have been a seven game, grind it out kind of series. Instead, the Lakers returned to the NBA Finals.
No. 7: 2005-2006 Spurs
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Oh, what could have been. If only Derek Fisher would not have hit the seemingly impossible .4 shot in the 04’ playoffs and if only Manu Ginobili had not committed a silly foul on Dirk Nowitzki in the waning moments of Game 7 in the Western Conference Semi-Finals against the Mavericks in the 06’ playoffs, the Spurs may very well have won five titles in a row. Instead, Fisher did hit a miraculous shot and Dirk’s nasty sneer presented itself after converting on a layup, and the Spurs were sent home wondering about what could have been.
As tough as losing to the Mavericks was (poor Michael Finley, who had been cut by the Mavs in the off season and signed with the Spurs, hoping for a title), the Spurs still had a fantastic year. The “Big 3” of the Spurs had solid seasons, and supporting pieces like Bruce Bowen, Brent Barry, and Finley proved to be crucial reasons to why the Spurs posted the second best record in the league (63-19) as well as nailing down the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference.
Barry and Finley would prove to be star subs for the squad in future title runs, and Manu Ginobili’s willingness to either come off the bench or play big-time starting minutes fit in neatly with the team’s “unselfish” reputation.
While losing in the second round under incredibly disappointing circumstances certainly put a damper on the tremendous regular season the team had, it would be tough to argue that the early defeat they suffered in the post season did not have a positive effect on what the team accomplished that following season.
No. 6: 2003-2004 Spurs
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Let’s just go ahead and say that either Derek Fisher’s ability to catch, turn, and shoot the ball in a matter of 0.4 seconds is the fastest in human history – or the scoreboard guy started perhaps a tenth of a second or two too late. The way the Spurs title run came to an end this season was just flat-out unfair when one considers the ridiculous, impossible shot a leaning Tim Duncan hit over the always intimidating Shaquille O’Neal, as well as the fact that San Antonio was so close to toppling the super-team Lakers (Gary Payton and Karl Malone joined the Lake-Show during the off season).
Instead, the Game 5 loss put a permanent nail into the collective confidence of the team, and they lost Game 6 on the road in Los Angeles. The only good thing Spurs fans took out of that postseason was the fact that the Lakers collapsed in the Finals, which eventually led to the way-too-talked-about Kobe and Shaq feud and thus, Shaq’s departure from the Lakers.
The team recorded a 57-25 record for the year, good enough for second in their division and third in the conference. Offseason acquisitions Hedo Turkoglu, Robert Horry, and Rasho Nesterovic proved to be valuable additions to the team, with Horry and Nesterovic becoming important pieces to team’s championship drive the following year.
It is widely believed that the Spurs were .4 seconds away from adding yet another banner to their budding dynasty, and one would be hard pressed today to present a formidable argument against that logic.
No. 5: 1994-1995 Spurs
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It always helps when you have the MVP of the league on your team driving you to the league’s best record (62-20). 1995 was the year I was introduced to basketball. At the age of five, sitting in the living room in my townhouse in the small state of Delaware where I was born and raised, I first watched David Robinson bump heads with Hakeem Olajuwon in the 1995 Western Conference Finals. I immediately started rooting for Robinson and the Spurs, seeing I was a fan of his gigantic, super-hero sized muscles and freakish athletic ability.
Robinson had a valuable guy next to him in the post in Dennis Rodman that year, who absolutely ate glass for the team that year, collecting 16.8 rpg. With Rodman, Avery Johnson, Sean Elliott, Vinny Del Negro, and Chuck Person all recognizing their role to feed the MVP and let their offense run through him, the Spurs were absolutely the favorite to win it all going into the playoffs.
The defending champion Houston Rockets had other plans, however. After the Spurs defeated both the Denver Nuggets (3-0) and the Los Angeles Lakers (4-2), everyone was salivating at the chance of seeing Robinson and Olajuwon face off against one another, with the winner earning a trip to the NBA Finals.
Olajuwon averaged an unbelievable 33.0 ppg during the 94-95 playoffs, and as a result even MVP Robinson could get his team past Hakeem’s Rockets. Houston would go on to win to repeat and win the NBA Championship, defeating the Spurs in six games in the Western Conference Finals before advancing to the biggest stage in basketball.
No. 4: 2006-2007 Spurs
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This season was labeled “Win for Fin”, due to the team’s desire to finally win one for club house favorite Michael Finley, who took the loss to his former team in the 06’ playoffs harder than anybody else on the Spurs. Throw in the fact that he was booed every time he back to Dallas (which continues to mystify me to this day – Dallas does know that owner Mark Cuban cut Finley right? How was it his fault?), as well as that Finley was not getting any younger, San Antonio was devoted to getting one of their most important perimeter players a ring.
With Duncan, Ginobili, and Parker continuing to lead the way for the club, the Spurs posted yet another 50+ win season, going 58-24, good enough for second in their division and third overall in the West. Thanks to a surprising first-round upset concerning the Golden State Warriors upending the seemingly unstoppable Dallas Mavericks (who posted a 67-15 record), the Spurs marched on through the postseason with ease, dismissing the Denver Nuggets, Phoenix Suns, and Utah Jazz before appearing at the altar of “King James” and his Cavaliers in the NBA Finals.
Although there was no denying the greatness of the young phenom LeBron James, the Spurs experience proved to be too much for Cleveland, as they swept the Cavs on their way to an NBA championship, their fourth in nine years.
Tony Parker had a remarkable series, posting an average of 24.5 points per game, and becoming the first European born player to win the NBA Finals MVP.
The most heartwarming moments captured were those of Finley getting to hug that coveted trophy, while thanking his team for what they had been able to accomplish together.
No. 3: 2004-2005 Spurs
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This seemed to be the season that a lot of the haters jumped on the “Spurs are boring” bandwagon, one that has always been flawed when one considers the super-fast and clever back court of Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. It is no secret that NBA fans no longer care that much about great defense (as evidenced by the ratings of the 2005 NBA Finals), even though the 2005 NBA Finals between the Spurs and the Detroit Pistons was one of the grittiest, hardest played Finals in quite some time.
The Spurs once again posted an impressive regular season record, going 59-23, nabbing the second seed in the Western Conference while bulldozing their way yet again to the NBA Finals after dismissing the Denver Nuggets, Seattle Supersonics (now Oklahoma City Thunder, for the kids out there), and Phoenix Suns.
With the “Big Three” continuing to do their thing, Bruce Bowen further establishing himself as one of the nastiest defenders in the league, and the team possessing a two-headed, fundamentally sound defensive center monster in Rasho Nesterovic and mid-season acquisition Nazr Mohammed, the Spurs were absolutely ready for the defending champion Pistons.
After winning the first two games of the series impressively, the Spurs got hammered, and I mean hammered in Games Three and Four in Detroit (a dejected Tim Duncan on the bench being consoled by Pop will never leave my mind). Where the Spurs got burned in the 04’ playoffs with the Derek Fisher shot, they finally got some luck thrown their way in Game Five, when Robert Horry came into the contest and completely shifted the momentum of the series. Thanks to an inexplicable defensive miscue where Rasheed Wallace doubled Manu Ginobili in the corner in the closing seconds of the game, this freed Horry up to knock down yet another clutch three-ball, giving the Spurs a 3-2 advantage in the series, which proved to be pivotal considering that the Pistons were able to force a Game Seven out of them.
The Spurs appeared to be in trouble in the third quarter in Game 7, as the Pistons started building on their lead and not giving up anything easy inside. However, thanks to a fierce performance by Manu Ginobili (sporting Samson-like locks and strength throughout that year) and a fourth quarter featuring strong defense (punctuated by a Bruce Bowen block on a Chauncey Billups three-point attempt in the closing minutes of the game), great passing (Duncan hitting both Bowen and Ginobili in the corners for crucial long balls), and an MVP-type performance from Duncan, the Spurs defeated the Pistons in seven games.
The NBA is a business, and ratings certainly are important to achieving a business’s goals. However, just because ratings were not that high for this series and NBA fans seemed to not care that much about who was victorious does not mean that it was not a terrific NBA Finals, and one that deserves a second view when one looks through different, more defensive-wise lenses.
No. 2: 1998-1999 Spurs
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Due to a season shortened by a lockout, the Spurs finished with a league-best 37-13 record. With David Robinson slowly starting to decline and Tim Duncan quickly ascending into “Best Big Man” talks, the Spurs reached the NBA Finals after laying waste to the Minnesota Timberwolves (3-1), Los Angeles Lakers (4-0), and Portland Trailblazers (4-0) (this series featured Sean Elliott’s magical “Memorial Day Miracle” shot which killed the Trailblazers’ confidence going forward).
Their opponent in the NBA Finals, the New York Knicks, were trying to cap off a Cinderella Story, somehow getting all the way to the Finals as an eighth seed in the East. The Knicks, led by their feisty Head Coach Jeff Van Gundy and headline grabbing superstar Latrell Sprewell were hungry to show that the Larry O’Brian trophy’s destination was the Big Apple, not the Riverwalk.
The deciding factor in this series proved to be the Spurs two great big men (Duncan, Robinson) over the Knicks one (Patrick Ewing). As a result, the Knicks never really stood a chance in this series, as the Spurs steamrolled their way to victory in five games, capped off by a clutch Avery Johnson corner shot that won the Spurs their first championship in franchise history.
The big smiles of both Duncan and Robinson, as well as a hopping up-and-down Sean Elliott are permanently etched into the minds of die-hard Spurs fans. This title started what would become one of the most decorated dynasties in all of sports, started by Robinson, anchored by Duncan, and handled with meticulous care by Head Coach Gregg Popovich.
No. 1: 2002-2003 Spurs
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To me, this is the title that defined how the Spurs have been so successful over the last decade or so. Trusting on their star players to deliver when called upon, but also realizing supporting pieces could come alive at the right times, the 2002-2003 Spurs drive to their second NBA title was something one could not script any better. They nabbed the number one seed in the Western Conference with their league-best record of 60-22, and they appeared to be ready to finally challenge the Lakers for that coveted trophy.
They ran into some adversity right away, when a Phoenix Suns team lead by Stephon Marbury shocked the Spurs at the last second of Game One on a Marbury miracle shot. The Spurs went on to defeat the Suns in six games, and this series helped strengthen the Spurs for who they faced next, the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Lakers were still on the top of the world, looking for their fourth consecutive title and feeling confident seeing they had defeated the Spurs in the playoffs recently. The Spurs had the MVP of the league in Tim Duncan, and with an aging David Robinson announcing before the season began that this would be his last run for a title, the Spurs were hungry to give both of their big men another ring. Their Game Six thrashing of the Lakers literally brought both Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher to tears on the bench, as the Spurs eliminated Los Angeles on their home floor and marched on to face off against another rival, that being the Dallas Mavericks.
After dropping Game One once again on their home floor, the Spurs rebounded and won the next three, before dropping Game Five on their home court once again to the Mavs and having to fly back to Dallas for a sixth game. With no Dirk Nowitzki, the Mavericks still played phenomenal basketball, and looked to be in control heading into the fourth quarter. However, the Spurs role players came alive, with Stephen Jackson hitting two timely threes and Steve Kerr being left open four consecutive times for three-balls, the Spurs shocked Dallas with a 23-0 run and beat the Mavs 90-78 to go marching on to their second NBA Finals appearance.
The Nets proved to be a formidable opponent in the Finals, and there was some added drama concerning Jason Kidd’s free agency and his desire to potentially sign with the Spurs in the offseason given their salary cap room after Robinson’s retirement. However, Tony Parker played this series with a chip on his shoulder, and proved to the Spurs that they could trust in him to run their team. Game Six was once again won in the fourth quarter by the Spurs role players, as Stephen Jackson drilled three straight threes and then-rookie Manu Ginobili provided some quality defense. Tim Duncan’s near quadruple double also helped propel the Spurs to their second title in five years, sending “The Admiral” smiling into the sunset and the Spurs optimistic that they weren’t done just quite yet
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In terms of the Spurs being able to win the 2010-2011 NBA championship, history has proven that when their role players step up, they have a great shot at winning it all. Tim Duncan will be there come playoff time, as will Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, but it rests on the role players to play big-time defense and hit clutch jump shots when called upon.
They will need Gary Neal to go bananas from outside some games, and George Hill’s athletic ability and slithering moves to the lane to draw defenses in will open up the corners for the Spurs shooters. The Spurs are not the same defensive team they have been in the past, but that does not mean that they cannot still win the whole thing.
The “Big Three” will set the tone early, and should the Spurs run into the Lakers at some point in the postseason, their shooters will need to be able to knock a good to very good percentage of their shots.
If the Spurs can survive the West and reach the NBA Finals, there is a great chance they win the whole thing again. They have won the NBA Championship every time they have reached the NBA Finals, so if they are able to reach that stage again, Spurs fans should feel very optimistic in their chances to add yet another banner to the rooftop.