It was a dominating era but no one can escape the ravages of time. Since Gregg Popovich took over as head coach in 1997-98 14 seasons ago the Spurs have made the playoffs every year and averaged 57 wins a year.
There are three things that make this early exit so surprising; 1) The Spurs became the fourth number one seed in the history of the NBA to lose to an eighth seed. 2) The entire roster suddenly looked really old. 3) The Spurs recent playoff history in those 14 years. Aside from winning the title four times, the Spurs made it to the Western Conference Finals two other times, the Western Conference Semi Finals five times and have been eliminated in the first round three times. By following their “playoff arc” over that time, they have peaked and bottomed out. The playoff trend has followed the “career arc” of the franchise, Tim Duncan, who looks to have also bottomed out.
As I wrote here
, it was surprising to me that no one had mentioned what a sub-par year Duncan was having while it was happening
. In 14 years, 2010-11 saw Duncan set career lows in mpg (28.4), fga (11.0), fta (3.4), rpg (8.9), and ppg (13.4).
But the decline in numbers was easy to overlook because the Spurs were the unquestioned best team in the NBA for about 90% of the season. But still when your franchise player isn’t producing, who picks up the slack? The Spurs never found an answer.
It certainly wasn’t Richard Jefferson. As a close friend put it the other day, “Who is that actor wearing RJ’s jersey on the floor, pretending to be a basketball player? Once you shave your eyebrows, part of you never grows back.” And for RJ the part that never grew back was his ability to score or maintain his interest during games. For RJ just like Tim Duncan, his numbers were down across the board. His ppg (11.0), rpg (3.8) and minutes (30.4) were the lowest since his rookie year. He took (7.9) and made (3.8) the lowest amount of field goals in his career. But even those regular season numbers would have been improvements considering in the series against the Grizzlies he averaged 6.5 ppg and shot 38% from the field. Put simply he didn’t carry his end of the bargain when the Spurs re-signed him last offseason.
Two players you can’t complain about are Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. Both players increased their scoring averages in the post season; Ginobili from 17.4 to 20.1 and Parker from 17.5 to 19.7. When no one else looked like they wanted the ball in their hands, Ginobili and Parker did.
The Spurs bench didn’t contribute the way they did during the season and looked completely out of sorts. What happened to DeJuan Blair? With Duncan struggling he only took 21 shots the entire series. Antonio McDyess, who seems to subsist no matter what contributed almost nothing offensively and got dominated by Zach Randolph. Other than the contributions of George Hill and occasionally George Neal, the bench came up empty.
The offseason moves that Popovich and company make will have a lot to do with determining how they “freshen up” the roster top to bottom, but for now it sure looks like an uphill climb. With things as they are currently, a 15th playoff appearance in a row seems pretty unlikely. But it was a great run, one of the best in recent NBA history.