No matter how many times we wonder when their wheels will finally fall off, the San Antonio Spurs just keep rolling, and keep taking care of the first bit of business necessary to win an NBA title: qualifying for the postseason.
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The Utah Jazz's loss to the Toronto Raptors on Wednesday officially punched playoff tickets for Gregg Popovich and company, marking the 19th straight year in which the Spurs will be one of eight teams vying for the right to represent the Western Conference in the NBA Finals. If 19 consecutive playoff trips sounds like a lot, that's because it is. It's the NBA's longest active streak by far — the Atlanta Hawks, with eight straight playoff trips, and the Chicago Bulls, with seven, are their closest competition — and it's tied for the fourth-longest run of playoff berths in league history.
This is a staggering consistency of high-level achievement, a perpetual pursuit of excellence that makes the Spurs organization one of the most respected in all of professional sports. There's a flipside to that, though; when you're always vying for the grand prize and focusing on the long haul, you don't always even realize when you've completed the first leg of your journey. From Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News:
They celebrated in exactly the manner you might expect.
“We did what?” asked guard Patty Mills.
“I was not aware,” LaMarcus Aldridge said.
“I don’t even look at it,” point guard Tony Parker said. [...]
“We don’t take it for granted,” said Parker, whose team owns the longest active postseason streak in the NBA. “But we also don’t think about it.”
Not content to merely clinch a spot on the strength of another team's failure, San Antonio went out and smacked around the Detroit Pistons on Wednesday, earning a 97-81 win behind 27 points, six rebounds, five assists and two steals from Kawhi Leonard and a defensively dominant second half in which they limited Detroit to just 30 points on 9-for-36 shooting.
Fellow All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge added 23 points, 10 rebounds and three assists for the Spurs, who improved to a perfect 29-0 at home this season, the third-longest undefeated home stretch to start a season ever. They have won 38 straight games at AT&T Center dating back to last season, tied for the fourth- longest home winning streak in NBA history.
The Spurs sit at 51-9 — 60 games is the fewest they've ever needed to clinch a spot in the playoffs — which also extends San Antonio's remarkable streak of 50-plus win seasons. They've hit the half-century mark in 17 straight seasons, and in 18 of the 19 during this playoff streak. The only time they didn't? The 1998-99 season, which was shortened to only 50 games by the NBA lockout. Pop's club went 37-13 that season, a 61-win pace, and won the NBA championship.
After hoisting the O'Brien five times during this legendary run, you can understand why the Spurs weren't exactly popping champagne when the Raptors finished off the Jazz ... or, really, even aware of what had gone on. This franchise measures itself with rings, and all 51-9 and the earliest playoff clinch in franchise history has bought the Spurs is a 3 1/2-game deficit behind the 54-5 defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors, who are also undefeated at home, who locked up their postseason spot earlier than any team in NBA history, and who have their sights set on topping the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls' all-time record for wins in a regular season.
When you've got your head down grinding away trying to chase down an all-time elite team for home-court advantage, you don't have much time to stop, smell the roses and congratulate yourselves on what you've accomplished. But don't sweat it, Spurs; I'll do it for you. Way to go, everyone. You have made the playoffs for 19 straight years, and while you will say that means nothing if you don't win a championship, I'll respectfully disagree, and say it means your whole organization is doing something — and more likely about 100 things — very, very right.
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