Published: June 13, 2012
The San Antonio Spurs season ended in Oklahoma City last week at the hands of Kevin Durant and the Thunder, capping off a remarkable campaign which saw Tim Duncan and company return to the Western Conference Finals for the first time since 2008, along the way rekindling memories of their quiet dynasty. After the grueling NBA lockout San Antonio's season tipped off the day after Christmas against the Memphis Grizzlies, but for many pundits it truly didn't begin until March 15. That was the day that Stephen Jackson returned to the Spurs via trade with his swagger in tow, officially igniting championship aspirations.
Since winning the title in 2007, the Spurs had never benefitted from a 100 percent healthy Manu Ginobili in subsequent playoffs runs. Feeding off the inspired play of their big three coupled with superior depth, San Antonio rode a 20-game winning streak through the playoffs providing some of the most beautiful basketball witnessed in the league since the Jordan era. This year's collapse particularly stung because, with a healthy Manu in uniform, there were finally no excuses for failure.
After sweeping the Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Clippers, the Spurs were in essence swept out of the playoffs by the Thunder, succumbing in four consecutive losses. As Gregg Popovich reminded us near the end, championship teams win on the road, which the Spurs had three chances to do against Durant, each time coming up short. Championship teams must also play well enough to overcome panicked coaching, suspect officiating, and their own paralyzing playoffs jitters.
With free agents like Duncan and Boris Diaw likely coming back, and players like Jackson, Ginobili, and Parker still in the fold, this team will still compete. The further development of youngsters like Kawhi Leonard and Gary Neal is also promising, and one hopes that we have finally seen the last of Matt Bonner in playoff mode. As the season ended, with Jackson raining threes in Oklahoma City like in was 2003, it seemed like a fitting farewell to the most unlikely of dynasties. Although the league is preparing to crown a new champion in the Thunder or the Miami Heat, if Duncan is on the floor, you can never count out these Spurs.