The San Antonio Spurs had three NBA championships under their belt in a seven-year window. The only thing that was missing was back-to-back titles, with the rings coming in 1999, 2003 and 2005. The 2006 San Antonio Spurs made a noble run at a repeat crown, and were only derailed by a crushing defeat one of the great postseason series ever played.
Tim Duncan continued to anchor the Spurs, though his scoring dipped below the 20ppg, and Duncan averaged 19 points/11 rebounds. Tony Parker, now 23-years-old, averaged 19 a game himself, along with six assists. Manu Ginobili popped in 15, and Michael Finley, signed as a free agent away from the Dallas Mavericks kicked in 10 a game.
San Antonio had a defensive stopper in 34-year-old Bruce Bowen, but the one thing head coach Greg Popovich did not have was great depth. The Spurs were heavily dependent on the Big Three of Duncan/Parker/Ginobili.
It didn’t stop the Spurs from ripping off a great regular season. They were 21-6 going into Christmas Day. They lost to the Detroit Pistons on the holiday, the rematch of the previous year’s NBA Finals, but San Antonio promptly won 10 of 12, and then nine a row after that.
A seven-game win streak in March saw the Spurs roll to a 63-19 record. They were the #1 seed in the Western Conference, and just a game behind the pace set by the Pistons for the best record overall.
The Sacramento Kings were the first-round opponent in the playoffs. This was no longer the same Kings team that had been one of the league’s best in the early ‘00s, and were denied the 2002 NBA title only by the worst officiating travesty in the history of the league. But they still won 44 games, with the trio of Mike Bibby, Bonzi Wells and Ron Artest leading the way.
San Antonio blitzed Sacramento in Game 1. They used a 41-15 second quarter rout, and a 51-32 rebounding edge to key a 122-88 win. No Spurs starter went over 25 minutes of game time. And that rest proved fortuitous, because Game 2 was an overtime battle.
This time, the Kings hit the board and won the rebounding battle. They held Duncan to 14 points. The difference was Ginobili stepping up with 32 points, and Brent Barry’s 22 off the bench keying a 52-10 edge in bench scoring. So much for that depth problem, at least for one game.
The series went to northern California, but while Duncan and Finley played well in Game 3, it appeared no one else made the trip and Sacramento stayed alive with a 94-93 win. Thus off the mat, the Kings stepped up and shot 50 percent from the floor in Game 4. Duncan and Parker combined for 39 points, but again, no one else stepped up. The depth that had delivered in Game 2, was now the reason the series was tied heading back to Texas for Game 5.
Wells went off for 38 points, but San Antonio’s Big Three all brought their A-games. Duncan, Parker and Ginobili combined for 72 points, more or less evenly distributed among them. The Spurs pulled away in the third quarter to win 109-98. At that point, the Kings seemed to crumble. Game 6 back in Sacramento was close for a quarter, but San Antonio put it away with a 105-83 blowout, with Parker scoring 31 points on 11/20 shooting.
Now it was a time for Texas-sized battle with the Dallas Mavericks. The Mavs had won 60 games and were the second-best team in the West, but because they finished behind the Spurs in the Southwest Division, Dallas was stuck as the 4-seed, right on San Antonio’s side of the bracket.
Dallas was coached by someone San Antonio was familiar with—Avery Johnson, who had been their floor leader for the 1999 title run. The Mavericks were led by Dirk Nowitzki, who was ably supported by Jason Terry, Devin Harris and Jerry Stackhouse in the backcourt, along with Josh Howard.
It would be a championship-level fight in the second round, and the Mavericks and Spurs made sure this series lived up to its billing.
Duncan shot 12/24 in Game 1, the one good shooting performance night in a game that was mostly ragged. San Antonio led 87-85, when Stackhouse had an open jumper to tie the game. He opted not to take the shot, and instead dribbled out to the three-point line to shoot a contested trey to win it. The dubious decision failed and the Spurs had the opener.
Game 2 got away from San Antonio in the second quarter, and Dallas blew it open to a 113-91 win, taking excellent care of the basketball in the process. The middle games in Big D went down to the wire and appeared to tip the series irrevocably in the Mavs favor.
In spite of a 35/12 night from Duncan in Game 3, the Mavericks got balanced from scoring. Harris and Terry combined for 43. And though Dirk couldn’t get it going from the floor, he repeatedly got to the line, sinking 21/24 foul shots. Dallas escaped with a 104-103 win.
Nowitzki continued to get to the line in Game 4, shooting 14/15. For all of Dallas’ correct griping about how the 2006 NBA Finals were officiated in favor of the Miami Heat, the Mavs were getting their share of free throws in this series. Dallas as a team shot 50 percent from the floor, and the game went to overtime. Duncan, Parker and Ginobili were great, combining for 90 points, but there was no help. Dallas won 123-118.
The Spurs came back home and shot 54 percent from the floor themselves. Duncan continued to be electric, posting a 36/12 line while Parker scored 27. In yet another game that went to the wire, the Spurs survived 98-97.
Game 6 was tied after three quarters, as the Dallas fans implored their team to clinch at home. The Spurs brought their defense to this must-win battle. They held the Mavs to 39 percent shooting from the floor and Ginobili dropped 30. San Antonio was back from the grave—they won 91-86 and were going home for Game 7.
In the early part of Game 7, it appeared the Spurs were out of gas. Dallas led by as many as 20 points. But San Antonio came all the way back, and this classic series would have a classic ending. Duncan and Dirk were both magnificent, with Duncan scoring 41 points, while Dirk went for a 37/15 night. Terry and Parker staged their own battle in the backcourt, with 27 and 24 points respectively.
With the scored tied 101-101, Ginobili hit a three-pointer with 32 seconds left. Dallas came back down the floor. Dirk took it to the hole, scored, got fouled and tied it with a free throw. With six seconds left, Ginobili drove the lane. His shot missed, but Duncan was in position for a put-back at point-blank range. Dirk got his hand on the ball clean and altered the shot. We were going overtime.
The missed opportunity at the end was the last one for the Spurs. Dallas got off to a quick six-point lead in overtime and went on to win 119-111. It was the conclusion of a series where five of the seven games were within a basket in the final minute of regulation and two of those games went to overtime, including the decisive battle.
It would be impossible to ask for a better series. The 2006 San Antonio Spurs didn’t get their repeat title, but if you’re going to lose, they went down about as proudly as a team can go down.