Looking back on the San Antonio Spurs’ championship pursuit in the 1999 NBA playoffs.
In 1999, the San Antonio Spurs broke out for their first-ever NBA championship. It came during the lockout-shortened season, the first of two over the past two decades. This team was led by dominant interior players that brought the organization into its golden age.
It was May 5, 1999, the Spurs had just beaten the Golden State Warriors in the last of a strike-shortened 50 game season. With the win, the Spurs ended the year tied with Utah for the best record in the NBA. With both at 37-13, the Spurs won the tiebreaker and had the No. 1 seed in the West, and home court throughout the playoffs.
The Big Ticket comes to town
On May 9, they would begin their opening round playoff series against Kevin Garnett and the Minnesota Timberwolves. They would win the first of a best-of-5 series. Two days later though, the Timberwolves would tie the series at 1-1. The Spurs would win the next two games to win the series 3-1. Neither team reached 100 points in any game. Garnett was no match for the twin towers, and he was missing point guard Stephon Marbury, who missed the series due to injury.
We move ahead to May 17, 1999. The Spurs were set to host Game 1 of the Western Conference Semi-Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers. Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant were their top scorers, but they also had players like Glen Rice and Eddie Jones. A tough match-up for the Spurs is what we thought it would be. That was not the case though. The Spurs proved to be too much, and swept the Lakers in 4 games.
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Blazing past Portland
Now we jump to May 29, 1999. The Spurs opened up the Western Conference Finals, that night, against the Portland Trail Blazers. Rasheed Wallace and J.R. Ryder were the offensive focal points. Arvydas Sabonis and Brian Grant were their big banger’s, and Damon Stoudamire ran the point. The Spurs would squeak out the first two games by a combined 5 points. Game 2 ended with the Memorial Day Miracle, Sean Elliott hitting a three pointer with his toes tipped to avoid going out of bounds. The next two games in Portland, the Spurs won by double digits, and won the Western Conference in a 4-game sweep of the Blazers.
Over the next 10 days, the city of San Antonio was buzzing. There was excitement in the air. Everyone gearing up for the first NBA Finals appearance in franchise history.
Who will the Spurs play?
While San Antonio prepared, the Indiana Pacers and New York Knicks battled in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Knicks would lose Game 2, bringing the series to 1-1. In that game, Patrick Ewing suffered an Achilles injury that would keep him out the rest of the playoffs. New York would go on to win the series 4-2, and go to the NBA Finals as a No. 8 seed.
The stage is set
So there they were on June 16, 1999, Game 1 of the 1998-99 NBA Finals. The Spurs would clash with the New York Knicks. Over 35,000 screaming fans packed into the Alamodome. San Antonio would take the first two games at home pretty handily, and were only 2 games away from a world title.
Allan Houston and Latrell Sprewell were quite the tandem, with help from Marcus Camby, Larry Johnson, and Kurt Thomas. They won Game 3 in New York, beating the Spurs 89-81, giving San Antonio their second loss of that postseason.
Spurs would win the next two games in New York, taking the series 4-1. The Spurs hoisted the trophy that night, June 25, 1999. The twin towers, David Robinson and Tim Duncan, would win the first of two championships together (’99 & ’03).
The usual suspects, Tim Duncer, David Robinson, Sean Elliott, and Avery Johnson paced the Spurs that season. It was a great team effort. Everyone excelled at the particular role they were given. Good shooting by Jaren Jackson, Mario Elie, Steve Kerr, and Antonio Daniels. While Malik Rose, Jerome Kersey, and Will Perdue crashed the boards down low.
As the Spurs took champagne showers, what felt like the entire city, headed downtown. Fans going nuts, honking, screaming, waving flags and towels. This continued into the wee hours of the morning.
A few days later, San Antonio put on a massive victory parade for the team. Of course, at that time, we didn’t know it would be the first of five NBA championships and five parades.
To this day, people still say, “Oh, well that was the asterisk year.” My rebuttal to that is, “Well then why didn’t your team win it?”