The San Antonio Spurs of Tim Duncan and Greg Popovich had taken a modest step back in 2008. That step became more significant a year later. The 2009 San Antonio Spurs were still a good basketball team by any objective measurement, but the need for transition from the era of the decade’s championship years (2003, 2005, 2007) and into what would eventually become another championship team in the ensuing decade became more apparent.
Duncan averaged 19 points/11 rebounds per game, steady as always, while Tony Parker continued to grow as a scorer while continuing to be an outstanding floor leader. Parker averaged 22 points and handed out seven assists per game. Manu Ginobili kicked in 16 ppg to form the core of the team.
The supporting cast was in decline. There was little depth. Roger Mason, age 28, came on and kicked in 12 ppg, but he lost playing time in the postseason. Michael Finley came the team ten points a night, but he was now 35-years-old. The help for the Big Three just wasn’t there.
San Antonio still got off to a nice 19-10 start, and beat the Phoenix Suns in an exciting 91-90 game on Christmas Day. The Spurs split two games with the Los Angeles Lakers, who had reached the NBA Finals in 2008 and would win the first two consecutive titles in 2009.
But the Spurs never got on one of the sustained, long winning streaks that had marked their seasons through the decade. The longest win streak of the season was six, and that came early on. After Christmas, four in a row was the most San Antonio got.
The consistency that has always marked the Popovich/Duncan era still got them to a 54-28 record, and in the West, only the Lakers, at 65-17, won more. San Antonio was one of three teams tied with 54 wins, and when the tiebreakers were done, they were the third seed in the West.
San Antonio met up with Dallas, a team that had waged great battles with in the playoffs of 2003 and 2006. This one would not be one of them.
Dirk Nowitzki brought the Mavericks into San Antonio and took Game 1. The visitors won the rebounding battle, shot 54 percent and won 105-97. The Spurs were able to stay alive in Game 2, when Parker exploded for 38 points and the team came ready to play defensively. On numerous occasions in their championship runs, San Antonio had lost a Game 1 at home, and then reasserted themselves. Could this be another one?
Not this time. The Spurs had won for the last time in 2009. A terrible showing in Game 3 saw San Antonio shoot 32 percent and Duncan play just 15 minutes, an 88-67 rout. Duncan came back and played with hunger in Game 4, with a 25/10 night, but he was a lone warrior in a 99-90 Dallas win.
In a must-win Game 5 at home, the Spurs fell behind by 11 points after one quarter. Duncan shot 14-for-21 and scored 30 points, but his eight rebounds were a low number by Duncan standards. Dallas won the rebounding battle. They hit 10 treys. Even though Parker scored 26, it wasn’t enough and Dallas won 106-93.
It was an unfortunately fitting conclusion for the 2009 San Antonio Spurs—Duncan and Parker playing well, but not nearly enough to go with them. The time for re-tooling had come.