For the first time since 1997, the NBA playoffs will not include the San Antonio Spurs.
The Spurs’ 22-season playoff streak came to an end on Thursday, as wins by the Memphis Grizzlies and Phoenix Suns eliminated the 32-38 Spurs from postseason contention. It is the first elimination for the team in a full season under head coach Gregg Popovich.
The team with the longest playoff streak is now the Houston Rockets, with eight straight postseason appearances.
In total, 2020 is just the fifth time the Spurs have missed the playoffs since joining the NBA in 1976.
The last time the Spurs had missed the playoffs was their infamous 1996-97 campaign, in which injuries to Hall of Fame center David Robinson led to the team posting a miserable 20-62 record. Of course, that down year also led to Popovich’s installation as head coach and a draft lottery win that allowed the team to draft Tim Duncan.
The NBA is likely praying the team doesn’t see similar luck at the upcoming lottery.
Popovich: ‘Fake News’
When asked about the end of the streak after the Spurs’ 118-112 loss to the Utah Jazz on Thursday, Popovich opted to have some fun with reporters.
Pop’s reaction to the Spurs playoff streak coming to an end 😅 pic.twitter.com/bTkHQNch38
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) August 14, 2020
“I don’t have any thoughts, it doesn’t enter my mind,” Popovich said. “Did you talk about the streak at all before it ended, or was it just important when it ended ... I’m just screwing with you.”
He then took the opportunity to needle President Donald Trump and one of his favorite phrases.
Gregg Popovich on the Spurs' playoff streak ending (1998-2020): "That’s fake news. That’s total fake news! Lots of guys have been telling me the streak hasn’t ended! I talk to people all the time. They call me. They tell me, ‘Pop, the streak didn’t end! It didn’t end!'"
— Mark Medina (@MarkG_Medina) August 14, 2020
Spurs’ streak was one for the history books
In the 22 seasons following the Spurs’ drafting of Duncan, the team won five championships and averaged a 57-25 record with their .700 win percentage. Alongside Duncan over the years was a set of teammates that, at various points, included a recovered Robinson, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Kawhi Leonard.
In total, the 22-year streak is tied for the longest in NBA history. The only other team to match it is the Philadelphia 76ers, whose streak from 1950 to 1971 started when the team was the Syracuse Nationals. For perspective, the last time the Spurs missed the playoffs, LeBron James was in middle school and Michael Jordan was still on the Chicago Bulls.
With Popovich leading the way, the Spurs became a model of consistent excellence. Duncan dominated year after year on both ends of the court, with a supporting cast always there to provide as needed.
It was a run we may not see matched for a long time, given how the current economy of stars works in the NBA.
What had to go wrong for the Spurs to miss the playoffs
The Spurs’ elimination was years in the making, a natural fact given how well the team was set up as recently as 2017. For starters, Duncan, Ginobili and Parker all had to finally succumb to age and retire from basketball. That was always going to happen, but the Spurs appeared to have planned for that day quite well.
Kawhi Leonard was the obvious future of the team, and was buttressed by the addition of LaMarcus Aldridge. That frontcourt combo should have kept the Spurs in contention for years, but we all know what happened there. Leonard missed nearly an entire season with a mysterious injury, and eventually pushed his way out of the team on acrimonious terms.
The Spurs were at least able to get an All-Star in return for Leonard with DeMar DeRozan, but it was clearly a downgrade, especially after Leonard led the Toronto Raptors to their first NBA title.
But even then, the Spurs had Aldridge, DeRozan and a pair of highly promising guards in Derrick White and Dejounte Murray going into this season. And Popovich. There have been worse cores. Unfortunately, Aldridge missed several games due to a shoulder injury and eventually missed Disney World play after undergoing shoulder surgery.
The Spurs were still able to put up a good fight in the bubble, posting a 5-3 record, but it just wasn’t enough.
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