2013 San Antonio Spurs: One Shot Short Of A Title

The 2013 San Antonio Spurs had a magnificent season, a tremendous playoff run and they battled in one of the great NBA Finals of all-time. A pair of crushing losses left them just short of the title, but the ’13 Spurs marked Tim Duncan’s return to the Finals for the first time since 2007 and set the stage for crowning redemption in 2014 .

Duncan was 36-years-old, but age didn’t stop The Big Fundamental from throwing down an average of 18 points/10 rebounds per game. He could also still defend in the low post, earning 2nd-team All-Defense honors.

Two more veterans with a championship pedigree held down the backcourt. Tony Parker was 30-years-old and made 2nd-team All-NBA with his 20 points/8 assists per game. Manu Ginobili came off the bench as the sixth man, and the great 35-year-old was still good for 12 points/5 assists a night.

A second-year forward by the name of Kawhi Leonard injected some youth into the lineup, with a 12 points/6 rebounds nightly average. Tiago Splitter added further depth up front, with a 10/6 average line. Danny Green, a three-point marksman, rounded out the backcourt with 11 points per game.

All in all, the Spurs ranked seventh in the NBA in offensive efficiency and a sparkling third in defensive efficiency. After two consecutive years of getting the top seed in the Western Conference, but losing in the playoffs, San Antonio was hungry to get back to the Finals.

They got off to a strong start, winning seven of their first eight. The only loss was on the road to a contending Los Angeles Clippers team that had Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan. In November, San Antonio went 5-1 on a eastern road swing.

The only loss was the final game of the trip at LeBron James’ Miami. It was a game when Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich famously sent Duncan and Parker home to rest, essentially mailing in a nationally televised game and incurring the wrath of the league office.

December was a little more sluggish. San Antonio lost four of five in the middle of the month. They were still 21-8 on Christmas, but narrowly trailing both Kevin Durant’s Oklahoma City Thunder and the Clippers in the Western Conference standings.

Over January and February, the Spurs picked up steam. They ripped off 24 wins in 30 games. There were a pair of eleven-game win streaks, including a nice win over the Clips. San Antonio’s record reached 45-14. They had the lead for pole position in the Western playoffs, up one game on Oklahoma City and three on both the Clippers and the Memphis Grizzlies.

When the Spurs knocked off both the Clippers and Thunder in March, their lead extended as high as three games and they appeared in line for a third straight year as the 1-seed. But the home stretch of the regular season did not go well. San Antonio lost four out of seven games, including head-to-head at Oklahoma City and at the surging Denver Nuggets.

The Spurs still finished the season with a 58-24 record, but the Thunder got to 60-22 and grabbed the top seed. In 2012, these teams had met in the Western Conference Finals with OKC coming out on top. They looked destined for a rematch, but San Antonio now appeared to be stumbling a bit and would have to go on the road if the Thunder were indeed in their future.

First things first. The Los Angeles Lakers were the opening playoff opponent. The Lakers had been a hyped team prior to the season, adding Dwight Howard and Steve Nash to a core that was already led by Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. But the Lakers had not played well. They went through an early coaching change, played spotty defense and even a playoff berth looked questionable for a while.

And the Spurs wasted no time taking control of this series. They forced 18 turnovers in Game 1, while Duncan, Parker and Ginobili combined for 53 points. The final was a 91-79 win. In Game 2, Kawhi knocked down 16 points on 8-for-12 shooting while Parker torched the soft Los Angeles defense to the tune of 28 points and seven assists. The Spurs held serve at home with another double-digit win, 102-91.

Nash was unable to go with a hamstring problem, but even acknowledging his Hall of Fame career, it wasn’t going to make much of a difference. The Spurs shot 61 percent in Game 3, dominated the boards  and got 20-plus points from both Duncan and Parker. A 120-89 blowout put them on the brink of wrapping this up. And they finished the job in Game 4, forcing 21 turnovers and getting 23 points from Parker. The easy 103-82 win secured the sweep.

A young team in the Golden State Warriors were waiting in the second round. The backcourt of Steph Curry and Klay Thompson was making their first appearance on the postseason stage. And these kids, destined for much bigger things in the very near future, would give the veteran Spurs a run for their money.

Curry dropped 44 points in Game 1. Parker answered with a brilliant 28/8/8 line, while Green knocked down six treys and scored 22 points. The game went two overtimes. The difference was turnovers. The veteran Spurs only committed fourteen, while the Warriors gave it up 21 times. It was enough for San Antonio to survive 129-127.

But they weren’t as fortunate in Game 2. A poor 39 percent shooting night put the Spurs in a 19-point hole by halftime and they lost 100-91. Homecourt advantage had shifted to Golden State as the series went west.

The veterans dug deep. Parker poured in 32 points on the road at Oracle Arena. Duncan posted a 23/10 line. The defense held the Warriors to 39 percent from the floor and San Antonio reclaimed homecourt with a 102-92 win. They essentially mailed in Game 4, getting crushed on the boards and shooting poorly in a 97-87 loss. The series was tied at two games apiece.

Defense told the story in Game 5. The Spurs held both Steph and Klay to single-digit point totals. Combined with Parker rolling for 25 points and handing out ten assists, it was enough for the Spurs to go on cruise control and win 109-91. And that tough defense stayed with them on the road in Game 6.

The Spurs forced the Warriors to 39 percent from the floor in Game 6. Ginobili came off the bench to deal out eleven assists. In a game that wasn’t pretty offensively, San Antonio hit 21-for-25 from the foul line and held a narrow 46-40 edge in the glass. It produced the 94-82 win that finally dispatched this rising force from Golden State.

On the other side of the West bracket, the biggest development came early in the first round. Russell Westbrook, Durant’s spectacular sidekick in Oklahoma City, tore up his knee. While the Thunder still won that series, the loss of Westbrook had reshaped the playoff dynamic. Facing a tough Memphis team, OKC lost several tough games and was ousted.

So the Spurs were back to having homecourt edge in these conference finals, but the Grizzlies were not an opponent you could overlook. They had a physical frontcourt of Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and Rudy Gay. They had a young and capable point guard in Mike Conley. And above all, they could make your offense’s life miserable, ranking second in the NBA in defensive efficiency. San Antonio was the favorite, but no one was expecting this series to be easy. And it wasn’t.

Well, the first game was. The Spurs sizzled from downtown, hitting 14-for-29 from behind the arc. Kawhi was particularly hot, nailing four of his five three-point attempts. San Antonio jumped out to a 17-point lead after the first quarter and cruised home, 105-83.

But Game 2 was where Golden State stole their road win, and Memphis was ready to roll in this spot as well. The game turned into a tough, ugly defensive battle, the kind the Grizzlies could excel at. Parker only shot 6-for-20. But proud veterans can win in spots like this. Parker found a way to still dish out 18 assists. It took overtime, but the Spurs survived, 93-89.

Game 3 in Memphis was a little prettier on the offensive end, but it was still a battle and for the second straight game, the Spurs and Grizzlies went to overtime. Once again, it was the veterans who delivered. Parker scored 26. Duncan went for 24/10 and Ginobili chipped in 19. San Antonio pulled away in the extra session to win 104-93.

The Spurs continued to show they could play defense and won Game 4, 93-86, behind 37 points from Parker. For the series, San Antonio held Memphis to 38 percent shooting. The final three games of these Western Conference Finals had been fierce battles, but the war as a whole was a rout. The Spurs were heading back to the finals on the strength of a four-game sweep.

LeBron and Miami were the defending NBA champs. Over February and March of this season, they had ripped off a 27-game winning streak, just six shy of the all-time record. They finished 66-16 and were back in the NBA Finals.

But league observers expected a good Finals. There were questions over whether the Heat had perhaps peaked too soon. It took them seven games to survive the Eastern Conference Finals with the Indiana Pacers. San Antonio was playing well and their veterans would not be intimidated by the stage. The battle was at hand.

In a series opener that was basically evenly played, Duncan scored 20 points and pulled down 14 rebounds, while outplaying LeBron. Parker scored 21 and outplayed the great Dwayne Wade. Parker hit the game’s biggest shot, a runner in the lane just before the shot clock expired that secured a 92-88 win.

A road win in hand, the Spurs played what we’ll kindly call less than exceptional basketball in Game 2. They turned it over 16 times. A game that was tied after the first quarter gradually turned into a Miami rout, punctuated when Splitter had a breakaway dunk blocked by LeBron. The game ended 104-83.

The schedule format of the NBA Finals from 1985-2013 was 2-3-2, to the Spurs would get all of their home games in succession. In theory, they could close out the title without ever returning to South Beach, although no one on the planet expected any such thing. But the homecourt was good to San Antonio.

Green was sizzling hot from behind the arc in the early games of this series and he hit 7-for-9 from downtown in Game 3. Gary Neal, a reserve guard, hit six of his ten three-point shots. The Spurs blew this game wide open in the second half and it ended a 113-77 laugher.

But Game 4 again saw San Antonio get sloppy after a big win. They turned the ball over 18 times. A game that was tied at halftime and still competitive after three quarters ended up a 103-93 loss. The Spurs now realistically had to win Game 5.

And that’s what they did. Green continued his hot shooting with 24 points, a performance that had people talking about him as a frontrunner for Finals MVP if the Spurs could close this out. Parker scored 26. Ginobili went for 24, while Duncan added a 17/12 line. San Antonio jumped out to a 32-19 lead after a quarter and kept Miami at arm’s length the rest of the way, winning 114-104.

They were going on the road, but there was just one more win to go. The one downside—and it was a big one—that loomed over the Spurs—was that Parker was playing with a bad hamstring. They just needed the proud point guard to hold on a little longer.

For five games, the 2013 NBA Finals had been competitive in general sense, in that the teams were trading wins. But after Game 1, the individual games had not been compelling. That was about to change in a very dramatic way.

Game 6 was one of the classics in league history. Smelling his fifth ring, Duncan went off for 30 points and 17 rebounds. Kawhi added a 22/11 line. The Spurs led by ten points after three quarters.

LeBron heated up and Miami pulled even. San Antonio calmly responded and nudged back out to a five-point lead with less than thirty seconds to play. The championship trophy was being maneuvered into position for a celebration.

Then some sloppy defense from Green let LeBron free for an open look at three-pointer. The Miami star buried it and cut the lead to two. No problem. Kawhi was fouled and simply had to hit the free throws to secure the championship. But Leonard only made one of two.

Miami could still tie as the clock wound down. LeBron fired from three. He missed. A long rebound ensued. Duncan had been removed from the game to allow for more perimeter defense. Miami’s Chris Bosh chased the ball down and flipped it out to Ray Allen who was backpedaling rapidly behind the three-point line. Allen nailed one of the epic shots in NBA lore. Tie game.

The Heat won in overtime. Popovich faced questions over why Duncan had not been on the floor for the game’s decisive possession. So many chances missed. Now San Antonio’s vets, with just one day to recuperate, had to try and do it all over again.

One thing the Spurs always had was heart and watching them play Game 7, you would never have guessed how thoroughly their hearts had been broken just two nights earlier. Duncan went off for 24/12, while Kawhi added 19/16. But Parker’s hamstring was giving out. He couldn’t shoot any more and only hit 3-for-12. LeBron answered with 37 points, while Wade knocked down 23.

Late in the game, the Spurs trailed 90-88, but got a big defensive stop. Duncan got the ball in the open court, one-on-one against veteran Miami reserve Shane Battier. Duncan got close to the hoop, went in for a layup that was strongly contested, but also one that he had made a thousand of in his career…and missed. The Heat won 95-88.

The ending of these Finals was devastating. Spurs players and coaches would freely admit to being haunted by the missed opportunities all summer long. The hurt and pain drove the veterans to dig even deeper. And they came back in 2014, got a rematch with Miami in the NBA Finals and won it.

Simply on the merits, the 2013 San Antonio Spurs were a great story—an outstanding basketball team with no quit in them. The fact they got redemption a year later for their biggest hurts makes this two-year sequence one of the outstanding stories in all of sports. They were more than a great basketball team. They taught life lessons by the way they played the game and bounced back from adversity.