After the title runs of 2003, 2005 and 2007, the Spurs of Greg Popovich and Tim Duncan had started to take modest steps backwards. They lost in the conference finals of 2008 and then in the first round of the 2009 playoffs. The Los Angeles Lakers had usurped the role of Western Conference frontrunner and were the defending champs. The 2010 San Antonio Spurs continued the pattern of the previous two years, but also showed that a renewed push for the top of the NBA was not far away.
Duncan continued to be the foundation for the Spurs and The Big Fundamental averaged 18 points/10 rebounds per game in 2010. Tony Parker ran the show at point guard, averaging 16 points/6 assists. Manu Ginobili went for 17 points/4 rebounds/5 assists per game.
Parker missed over thirty games with injuries but second-year point guard George Hill was starting to come into his own. Hill averaged a 12/3/3 line. Richard Jefferson knocked down 12ppg. And San Antonio got solid rebounding help from Antonio McDyess and 20-year-old rookie DeJuan Blair, who combined to average twelve boards a night.
The Spurs did a lot of stopping and starting over the season’s first half and at the end of January were 27-19. That continued through February, although it might have been worse. There was an eight-game road trip that could have sunk San Antonio. But even though they lost in Los Angeles, 101-89, the Spurs split the eight games and reached the beginning of March with a 33-24 record.
San Antonio’s schedule was filled with marquee games down the stretch of the regular season and the Spurs started to show some real life. Even though they lost again to the Lakers, San Antonio knocked off LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers. The Spurs beat the Finals-bound Boston Celtics by 21 points.
On a Sunday afternoon in early April, San Antonio went to Los Angeles. Duncan put on a vintage 24 points/11 rebounds performance for the national television audience and the Spurs coasted to a 100-81 win. They finished the season 50-32.
The Western Conference was exceptionally good at the top and all eight teams who made the playoffs won at least 50 games. San Antonio finished in a three-way deadlock for sixth in the conference and tiebreakers put them as the 7-seed in the bracket.
Dallas was the first round opponent. The Spurs had played an epic seven-game playoff battle with the Mavericks back in 2006 and matched up again in 2009. San Antonio lost both of those series. This Dallas team was coming in with 55 wins. Dirk Nowitzki was leading the way, averaging 25/7. Dirk was supported by Caron Butler, Jason Terry and Shawn Marion, while 36-year-old Jason Kidd was running the show at the point.
It was rebounding that beat the Spurs in Game 1 though. They lost the board battle 45-37 and were outscored at the foul line 25-12. Duncan’s 27 points and Ginobili’s 26 couldn’t save San Antonio from a 100-94 loss.
They only needed one road win though and the Spurs came out hitting the glass in Game 2. McDyess and Jefferson combined for 17 rebounds. And Duncan? The big guy went off for a 25/17 night. San Antonio won 102-88 and got out of Dallas with a split.
Now they had to defend their home floor in the middle games. Dirk stepped up with a big 35-point night in Game 3. But the big German didn’t have a lot of help. Duncan’s 25 and Parkers’ 23 were enough to pull out a 94-90 win. And to show how different basketball has become even in the last 10-plus years, San Antonio won this game without making a single three-point shot.
The Spurs dug themselves an 11-point halftime hole in Game 4 and were in danger of handing back homecourt advantage. Duncan was a non-factor. Enter George Hill. The kid hit 5-for-6 from behind the arc. He scored 29 points. San Antonio had a dominant third quarter to get the lead and then pulled out a 92-89 win.
On the verge of advancing, the Spurs went back to Dallas for Game 5 and basically took a night off. They were outrebounded 52-41, shot 36 percent from the floor and were blown out, 103-81. Clearly, they were going to put their eggs in the basket that was Game 6 back home.
The defense came out in lockdown mode and San Antonio led 22-8 after the first quarter. Hill again shot the ball well, 7-for-12 from the floor and scored 21 points. Duncan delivered an efficient 17/10 night. Ginobili poured in 26. It was all enough to overcome another big night from Dirk, who scored 33, but lacked sufficient help. A 97-87 win clinched the series.
Phoenix was up in the conference semifinals. Steve Nash, the Hall of Fame point guard, was at the top of his game and averaged 11 assists per night. Amar’e Stoudemire was a force down low, averaging 23/9. The Nash-Stoudemire combo was what drove the Suns, with support from Jason Richardson and 34-year-old Grant Hill.
Nash was brilliant in Game 1 and San Antonio had no answers. They shot poorly and George Hill’s magic from the Dallas series wore off, as he went 0-for-5 from three-point range. The Spurs lost 111-102.
It was a Game 2 road win that turned the Dallas series around and San Antonio came out ready to do it again in Phoenix. They took a nine-point lead after the first quarter. Duncan and Jefferson were lights out, combining to score 67 points on 28-for-47 shooting. But they were also the only ones that rebounded. Phoenix controlled the boards overall and the Spurs lost 110-102.
The NBA playoffs are driven by homecourt advantage though, and San Antonio could certainly get back in this series in the friendly confines of home. They again took a nine-point lead after the first quarter of Game 1. The lead was chipped down to a single point after three quarters. The defense wasn’t slowing down the Suns, who shot 53 percent. The fourth quarter was a disaster and ended as 110-96 loss.
This series was all but over. San Antonio didn’t roll over and die. They again took a first-quarter lead, this time a six-point margin. But Phoenix was again shooting the ball efficiently, this time from downtown. Ginobili struggled to a rough 2-for-11 night and the season ended with a 107-101 loss.
Being swept out of the playoffs always leaves a little sting, but San Antonio’s strong finish to the regular season and upset of Dallas signaled more typical Spurs days ahead. The next two seasons saw them finish as the 1-seed in the West even though they lost in the playoffs. In 2013, San Antonio returned to the Finals. And in 2014, they won another NBA championship.