The San Antonio Spurs won their fourth NBA championship in an eight-year span in 2007. Their championships had an odd quality to them—as in odd years, in 1999, and then going every other year in 2003, 2005, and 2007. So you know what that means for the following year—the 2008 San Antonio Spurs were a good team and a contender all the way to the end, but the bid for a repeat title came up short in the even-numbered year.
San Antonio was starting to get a little long in the tooth. Tony Parker, at age 25, was the only player in the top thirteen, who was younger than 30. It helped that one of the 30-plus players was Tim Duncan, who continued to churn out good years, with a 19 points/11 rebounds per-game average. It also helped that Manu Ginobili, at age 30, had his best season, with 20 points/5 rebounds/5 assists.
Parker himself had a great year, with 19 ppg and dishing six assists per game. The veteran help in the backcourt came from shooter Michael Finley and defender Bruce Bowen, while Fabricio Oberto and Kurt Thomas were the older players brought in to rebound.
The Spurs started 20-7, and had an 11-game win streak in March, then another eight-game win streak later in the month and extending into April. But they also had a stretch where they lost six of seven. The record was 56-26 in a ruthlessly competitive Western Conference where every playoff team won at least 50 games.
San Antonio finished tied with the New Orleans Hornets for the Southwest Division title. The Hornets got the tiebreaker and the 2-seed. Thanks to a rule change now two years old, the Spurs could be seeded #3, rather than having to be behind all three division winners. San Antonio was one of the reasons for the change—two years earlier, fans didn’t like that their epic series with the Dallas Mavericks came in the second round, with the Mavericks having to be seeded #4 in spite of the second-best record in the West behind the Spurs.
This year’s Spurs would meet the Phoenix Suns in the first round. It was the rematch of a second-round battle that was San Antonio’s toughest test en route to the 2007 title. The Suns still had Steve Nash and Amar’e Stoudamire, and they’d added a familiar foe—the 35-year-old Shaquille O’Neal. Phoenix won 55 games and presented a stiff test.
Duncan answered the bell with a big Game 1, going for 40/15, while Parker scored 26. The game went double-overtime and both starts played over 50 minutes in a 117-115 win. They still had enough in the tank for Game 2. In spite of trailing by seven at the half, the Spurs dominated the third quarter. Parker went for 32, Ginobili for 29, while Duncan hit the boards for 17 rebounds and a 102-96 win.
If you were expecting Phoenix to come out strong on their home floor for Game 3, you’d have been disappointed. Parker went off for 41 points, San Antonio got out to a quick 14-point lead and rolled to a 115-99 win. An anticipated showdown series had become anticlimactic. The Suns won in a blowout for Game 4, but San Antonio came back home and closed it out. Duncan posted 28/17, and Kurt Thomas’ 12 rebounds keyed an edge on the glass. Parker’s 31 put the finishing touches on a 92-87 win.
New Orleans was up next and this one was a showdown. The Hornets were led by Chris Paul, and had David West and Tyson Chandler down low. This had the look of a franchise ready to be on the scene a long time. It didn’t work out that way, but there were a formidable opponent in 2008.
The Spurs-Hornets series became one of those “good bad series”, or “bad good series”, however you want to phrase it. The series was good, because it went the distance. The series was bad because the individual games were lopsided.
New Orleans dominated their home floor and Duncan played his worst postseason game in Game 1, with five points and three rebounds and the Hornets owned the glass in a 101-82 win. Paul controlled Game 2, with 30 points and 12 assists. While Duncan played better, the Hornets took over the third quarter and won 102-84.
The change in scenery brought a change in San Antonio’s play. They hit 11 treys in Game 3, four by Bowen and three by Finley to key a 110-99 win. Defense and rebounding led the way in Game 4. The Spurs held the Hornets to 40 percent shooting from the floor and won rebounding 45-36, as Duncan looked like the Duncan we’ve come to know and love, with a 22/15 night.
Game 5 was close at the half, but New Orleans took over from there. Duncan had 23 rebounds, but on a team-wide basis, the glass belonged to the Hornets. The night belonged to West, who went for 38/14. And the game belonged to New Orleans, 101-79.
Back in San Antonio, the three-point show resumed. Ginobili hit 6-for-9 from behind the arc, scored 25 points and the Spurs collectively hit 11 treys. They won 99-80 and forced Game 7.
Game 7s are about experience and homecourt advantage, and those conflicted in this case—San Antonio with the former and New Orleans with the latter. Score one for experience. Neither team shot very well, but I was the Spurs who rebounded, led by Duncan’s 14 boards. They hit enough three-pointers to keep an offense going, led by Ginobili’s four treys and 26 points. San Antonio led by fifteen points after three quarters and won 91-82.
San Antonio was back in the conference finals and there was a familiar foe—the Los Angeles Lakers. Shaq may have been gone, but Kobe Bryant was still there, and coming off his one and only MVP year. The Lakers were the top seed in the West and the favorite to win the NBA title.>
Duncan went to the Staples Center and dropped a 30/18 night in Game 1, but he was the only Spur to show up. The team shot 40 percent and they lost 89-85. Game 2 got away completely from the Spurs—they shot 35 percent, no one played well and the Lakers won 101-71.
There must be something about the shooting background in their home arena that the Spurs’ shooters like, because the three-ball carried them again at home in Game 3. They hit 10-for-18 behind the arc, with Ginobili going for 39. Duncan had a big 22/21 game and a 103-84 game gave San Antonio the chance to get back in the series.
It wasn’t to be. In spite of a 29/17 game from Duncan, the Lakers won the rebounding battle, got 28 from Kobe and escaped with a 93-81 win. San Antonio didn’t roll over on their trip to LA for Game 5. They led by thirteen at the end of the quarter, but it slowly got away. Parker and Duncan played well, but Kobe drilled 39, Gasol had 19 rebounds and the Lakers won 100-92.
Los Angeles lost the NBA Finals to the Boston Celtics, but the Lakers were beginning a new period of ascendancy in the Western Conference. For the Spurs, the playoff loss represented the start of a brief (and relative) step back.