Spurs History: Best moments from the playoff streak – ’97-98 to ’00-01
By Ethan Farina
Our favorite moments from the first years of the San Antonio Spurs historic run
It was one of the greatest achievements in all of modern sports but after 22-years, the San Antonio Spurs historic run of playoff appearances finally came to an end this year.
Fueled by multiple Hall of Famers, the Spurs consecutive playoff appearances spanned three decades, saw them collect five championships, and cemented themselves as the gold standard that all NBA teams should aspire to. Only one other team in NBA history, the Syracuse Nationals/Philadelphia 76ers of 1950-1971, can claim an equally uninterrupted record of consecutive postseason visits.
It’s hard to put into words how much this streak means to the Spurs and their fans. There are whole generations of fans, myself included, who can’t remember what the playoffs look like without San Antonio. We’ve grown up believing that the Spurs were a fixture in the postseason, and now that’s not the case. It’s a jarring splash of reality.
The future of this team is incredibly bright. With young talents like Keldon Johnson, Lonnie Walker, and Dejounte Murray, the team is well poised to start another run of success. We look forward to seeing what this young core is able to accomplish over the next few years.
But before we shift our focus entirely to the future, let’s take a trip down memory lane. This is the kick-off of Air Alamo’s recap of the past 22-years of San Antonio Spurs’ history. We’re going to be taking a look at one moment from each season that stood out to us. These moments might not be the most important, or the most well known, but they’re the ones that stood out to us as deserving of recognition.
A rookie Tim Duncan leads the San Antonio Spurs over Kevin Garnett
It’s no coincidence that the San Antonio Spurs run of postseason appearances spanned the entirety of Tim Duncan‘s career. The success of the Spurs is intimately linked to Duncan’s presence on the team. None of the championships or playoff appearances are possible without The Big Fundamental holding down the paint and serving as the leader of the team.
Duncan was the prize of the 1997 NBA Draft. A consensus National Player of the Year and first-team All-American, the expectations for Duncan’s rookie year were high. And, as he did so many times across his career, Duncan rose to the occasion.
One moment that stands out from his 1997-98 Rookie of the Year campaign was his first duel with Kevin Garnett. Garnett had gotten the better of Duncan and David Robinson in the first matchup between the two teams in November of ’97, but with Robinson out for the second meeting between the squads Duncan was solely tasked with handling Garnett.
Duncan helped lead the Spurs to a 105-99 victory and would end the game with 28 points, 19 rebounds, and 2 assists to Garnett’s line of 25 points, 11 rebounds, and 4 steals. An epic battle between two future MVP’s would dominate the Western Conference for much of the next decade.
Timmy is widely viewed as the best power forward of all-time but Garnett is one of the few players who’s resume stands up to his. This first meeting of the two Hall of Famer’s would be the starting point of a rivalry that would be one helped define the balance of power in the West for years to come.
Duncan leads San Antonio Spurs to first NBA championship
This is more of a series of moments spanning the San Antonio Spurs dominant 1999 playoff run. After a lockout-shortened season, the Spurs went 15-2 in the playoffs on their way to capturing their first title. People can put an asterisk on this championship if they want, banners all look the same regardless of how many regular-season games were played.
The Spurs’ impressive playoff run was made even more difficult by the quality of opponents that they had to take down just to get out of the Western Conference. Rasheed Wallace‘s Trail Blazers, Shaq’s Lakers, and Garnetts Timberwolves would all fall to the Spurs without putting up too much of a fight. You knew San Antonio was heading for greatness when they decisively swept the Lakers. Their improbable Memorial Day Miracle, courtesy of Sean Elliott, against the Blazers only served to further cement this idea.
In the Finals, the Spurs would face a plucky New York Knicks squad that, if we’re being honest, didn’t have much of a chance. San Antonio handily won most of the games, closed things out in 5, and in averaging 27 points and 14 rebounds, Duncan captured his first Finals MVP.
In terms of how much this championship meant to the team, this title might be second to the one the Spurs would win in 2014. After years of being one of the best players in the league, Robinson had finally reached the ultimate goal. Watching the trophy celebration after the game it’s clear how much this championship meant to him.
Tim Duncan records first career triple-double
Timmy was the quintessential old school big man. He cut his teeth in days when players of his size were predominantly expected to rebound, play defense, and dominate the low post. These were, for the most part, not the big men that we see in today’s NBA.
While players like Nikola Jokic and Giannis Antetokounmpo might record a few triple-doubles a season, this accomplishment was rare for a player like Duncan. While it didn’t make him any less dominant, triple-doubles were few and far between for Timmy.
He only recorded eight triple-doubles across the entirety of his career, the first of which came during the 1999-2000 season in a late March game with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Duncan finished the game with 17 points, 17 rebounds, and 11 assists.
Duncan was a good passer, very capable of finding cutting teammates. His skills as a passer helped the Spurs put together one of the most beautiful and effective offenses we’ve ever seen during their ‘Beautiful Game’ years of 2012-2014. But for the most part, he was fortunate enough to play with talented playmakers like Avery Johnson, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili. This contributed to his low triple-double numbers. He simply wasn’t asked to take on a lot of the playmaking duties for the Spurs during his years with the team.
David Robinson makes the final All-Star game of his career
After a long and storied career, The Admiral finally started to slow down during the later parts of his time with San Antonio. An athletic marvel, Robinson was one of the most physically imposing players the league had ever seen but even he couldn’t hold off the effects that Father Time would have on his body.
Thankfully, Robinson’s slow decline was timed perfectly with Duncan’s rise to the top of the league. They were on level playing fields for the earlier parts of Duncan’s career but by the 2000-01 season, it was becoming clear that Timmy was the guy.
Still, Robinson was a vital part of the Spurs and was rewarded for his efforts during this season with his tenth and final selection to an All-Star team. It would be the seasons where he made the All-NBA team for a tenth and final time with his selection to the All-NBA third team.
Other than Robinson’s final selections to the All-Star and All-NBA teams, the ’00-01 season wasn’t the most notable for the Spurs. Though with their incredible performance that was about to come over the next four years that’s hardly something to fret over now.