When great teams in any sport come to mind, there always seems to be a reason that we remember those teams as well as we do. Whether it was the Packers of Lombardi, the Bruins of Wooden or the Yankees with Ruth and Gehrig, we tend to easily recall those teams. Perhaps it was the coaches themselves or the dynamic personalities of some of the players but whatever it is, we remember them.
Maybe it’s the banners that hang in Boston Garden or the Forum in Montreal. I guess it really doesn’t matter what it is because there is always something to remind us of their greatness.
Down in South-Central Texas, there is a team that is deserving of such recollections. Thursday night at home in the ATT Center, the San Antonio Spurs defeated the rival Dallas Mavericks 92-21 to clinch their 16th consecutive trip to the NBA Playoffs. This ties the Minneapolis/LA Lakers for the sixth-longest such streak. The Syracuse Nationals/Philadelphia 76ers have the record of 22 straight years of playoff appearances.
- Popovich would love to add a fifth title to the resume with a title this year.
Not only did they clinch a playoff spot against the Mavericks but they accomplished two other important feats as well. For the first time in 15 years, the Spurs completed a season-sweep of the in-state Mavs and perhaps the most incredible stat of all, they won their 50th game last night. No big deal you say? This is the 14th consecutive year in which they’ve won 50 or more games. That is a record and a damn fine impressive one at that.
The fact that this streak started when the great David Robinson was still playing for the Spurs in the late 1990′s is amazing in and of itself. Consider too that current Head Coach Gregg Popovich was actually the general manager of the team when he came down from the front office to replace the fired Bob Hill. If you’re looking for one constant with San Antonio, it begins and ends with Popovich running the team.
With four titles and this string of playoff appearances and 50-win seasons under his belt, Popovich deserves much more praise in my opinion than he gets. If you talk to people who know basketball, then they know just how valuable this guy has been to the franchise. What impresses me the most with ‘Pop’ is his ability to change his team based on the talent available and then mold them into a dynamic, championship caliber team year-in and year-out.
Certainly it helps when you have Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili as such a constant presence but it goes deeper than that with this club. Popovich has been able to coach teams who are defensive-minded and play lots of half-court basketball but he has also had great teams where the tempo can change over-night and the teams suddenly starts running and gunning with the best teams in the league. This is not easy for any coach to do especially at the professional level.
Earlier this year, the Spurs were fined for not having their best players travel to Miami for an early season game against the defending champion Heat. None of the players were injured and Popovich flat out said, the veteran guys needed rest. Commissioner David Stern was appalled and slapped them with a heavy financial punishment. There is a method to the Spurs’ madness and I believe it will pay off.
Even with Tony Parker out right now with a bad wheel, the team continues to play well. As old and slow as they looked in the Western Conference Finals’ loss to Oklahoma City last year, I still believe they can get this done and I believe the Spurs are all-in to do. Right now, I wouldn’t bet against them.