The San Antonio Spurs came into the 2004-05 season as a team whose star player and coach had nothing to prove. Tim Duncan and Greg Popovich won rings in 1999 and 2003. But they had also been knocked out by the Los Angeles Lakers of Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant in 2001, 2002 and 2004. Surely, Pop and Duncan were hungry, and they had Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili on hand to help. The 2005 San Antonio Spurs would make it three rings in seven years for this great franchise.
Duncan was in the prime of his career, at age 28. Ginobili was 27 and Parker was only 22. The Spurs of recent years have become renowned for their depth. In 2005 they had some veteran help in Bruce Bowen and Robert Horry, but the Big Three played a more disproportionate role, in both minutes and production, then would the excellent teams we’ve seen over the last few seasons.
San Antonio got 20 points/11 rebounds per game from Duncan. Parker and Ginobili each averaged 16 ppg and each shot better than 50 percent from the floor. The Spurs came rolling out of the gate and was 25-6 by the New Year and 41-12 at the All-Star break, before a mediocre finish saw them end the year at 59-23. It was still good for the 2-seed in the Western Conference, trailing only the Phoenix Suns.
The Western Conference was, by far, the superior conference, just as is the case ten years later. The Denver Nuggets might have been a 7-seed, but they won 49 games and had 20-year-old Carmelo Anthony averaging 21 ppg. The Nuggets got solid floor leadership from Andre Miller and had Marcus Camby to bang with Duncan down low.
Denver forced Duncan into a 7-for-22 shooting night, they controlled the fourth quarter and they surprised everyone in the NBA by stealing Game 1, 93-86. To say the Spurs came out strong for Game 2 understates the case—San Antonio was up 31 by halftime and tied the series with a 104-76 win.
San Antonio now needed to reclaim homecourt, and they hit the boards hard in Game 3, overcoming some bad shooting. Duncan personified both ends of that, shooting just 5-for-19, but getting 11 rebounds and leading the way to an 86-78 win.
For Game 4, Duncan simply lit it up. He poured in 39 points, while Parker scored 29 and Ginobili went for 24 off the bench. It was the first game of the playoffs that the trio really got rolling and they won in overtime 126-115. One more strong rebounding effort awaited back home for Game 5. This time it was Nazr Mohammed coming off the bench for 13 boards and the Spurs closed out the series with a 99-89 win.
Up next was the Seattle SuperSonics (today’s Oklahoma City Thunder). Seattle was led by Ray Allen and Rashad Lewis, who averaged 24 ppg and 21 ppg respectively, but they didn’t have anyone who could match up with Duncan. San Antonio dominated each of the first two games at home. They led by 27 points at halftime of Game 1, and by 12 after one quarter of Game 2. Parker scored a combined 51 points in the two games and victories of 103-81 and 108-91 gave the Spurs the early series edge.
San Antonio lost a little bit of the edge when the series went to Seattle. Duncan was the only one who bothered rebounding in a tough 92-91 loss. The Sonics were off the mat and they rode Allen to a win in Game 4. The man who would one day break San Antonio’s heat when he was with the Miami Heat in the 2013 NBA Finals, kept Seattle alive in this game. Allen drilled 32 points and overcame a big 35-point night from Duncan, the Sonics took over the fourth quarter and won 101-89.
Homecourt advantage still reigned back in San Antonio in Game 5 and it was Ginobili that came up big. He came off the bench and shot 10-for-15, including four three-pointers and finished with 39 points. Mohammed shot 8-for-10 and scored 19. In spite of bad nights from Duncan and Parker, the Spurs won the pivotal game 103-90.
Game 6 in Seattle is somewhat of a mystery. The Spurs were outplayed in all facets of the game, as measured by the boxcore. But they found a way to steal a 98-96 win and advance to the conference finals.
Now it was time for the showdown with 62-win Phoenix for the Western Conference championship. The Suns were coached by Mike D’Antoni, who orchestrated an explosive offense. Steve Nash, one of the game’s great passers, averaged 11 assists per game and won the league MVP award. Joe Johnson knocked down 17 a night as his backcourt mate. Amare Stoudamire led them all with 26 ppg and Shawn Marion averaged 19/11 each night.
Consequently, no matter how much respect one had for San Antonio, no one could have foreseen what was about to happen.
No one would ever accuse a D’Antonio-coached team of playing excessive defense and the Suns didn’t in the fourth quarter of Game 1, as San Antonio scored 43 points. Duncan, Ginobili, Parker and Brent Barry were all 20-plus point scorers in a 121-114 win. The Spurs again controlled the fourth quarter in Game 2. They got a combined 80 points from Duncan, Parker and Ginobili and won a tight 111-108 win.
A team controlling their homecourt is no surprise, but the fact San Antonio kept it going right into Phoenix was. It was the Spurs that rebounded like the desperate team, with a 49-35 edge on the boards. Duncan went for 33/15, they were ahead by seventeen at the half and won 102-92. Even though a poor shooting game from Parker cost the Spurs a sweep, they came home for Game 5 and closed it out, 101-95, behind a 31/15 night from Duncan.
The last hurdle was the Detroit Pistons, who won the 2004 NBA title and then got back to the Finals by taking a Game 7 on the road from the Miami Heat.
With 54 wins, the Pistons were well-balanced, with Chauncey Billups, Rip Hamilton, Rasheed Wallace and Tayshaun Prince all averaging between 15-19 ppg. Ben Wallace was a force in the middle, averaging 12 rebounds per game, and Antonio McDyess was a quality sixth man. The Eastern Conference top-to-bottom might not have been very good, but these Pistons could compete with anyone.
It was a homecourt series for four games, and each of the games were ugly. San Antonio took the opener 84-69, behind a plus-14 edge on the glass and a 24/17 night from Duncan. Game 2 was a rout, as the Spurs got control in the first quarter and rolled to a 97-76 win behind 27 points/7 assists from Ginobili.
The worm turned in Detroit and now it was San Antonio that couldn’t score. They only mustered 76 points, and with Ben Wallace fighting Duncan to a draw on the glass, the Pistons were able to pull away for a 97-76 win. They tied the series with a 102-71 win, with Duncan shooting 5-for-17 and no one in the Spurs lineup able to pick him up.
The NBA Finals were played in a 2-3-2 format from 1985-2013, so the crucial Game 5 would be in Detroit. And it was here that the Finals really got good.
Duncan scored 26 points and got nine rebounds, but the story of the game was Horry. Starting late in the third quarter he hit five three-pointers. The game went to overtime and Detroit led 95-93 with nine seconds left.
Horry inbounded the ball to Ginobili. The two players executed a simple give-and go and Horry got open for his final three. “Big Shot Rob” nailed it, and the Spurs had control of the Finals with a 96-95 win.
Game 6 back in San Antonio was a good game, albeit ugly. The Spurs shot 8-for-28 from three-point range and the Pistons were able to make the key plays in the second half to win 95-86. For the first time since 1994, the NBA Finals would see a seventh game.
It looked like the Spurs might manage the unprecedented feat of losing the final two games of a series at home when the trailed by nine in the third quarter. Duncan didn’t let that happen. He scored 10 quick points before the quarter was out, got the game back to even and San Antonio won 81-74.
Everyone already knew that the Spurs had a great organization and that Duncan was a Hall of Famer in the making, as he collected his third Finals MVP. The 2005 San Antonio Spurs, by making it three rings, took that to a new level.