Saying goodbye to the worst playoff exits of the Tim Duncan era

Gary Miller

In 12 of Tim Duncan's 17 NBA seasons, the Spurs have not floated down the river walk in glorious celebration. Some losses left lasting pains and trauma. However, the most recent Spurs championship seemed to be a final cleanse of all the hurt. Here's a final farewell to the bad times.

"It makes last year okay."

Tim said it best. When the Spurs throttled the Heat and held the LOB once again, a weight was lifted. Ray Allen didn't matter anymore, 2012 didn't matter anymore, the "dark" years didn't matter anymore, seven years without a championship didn't matter anymore. Cinco was a purification of any stain playoff heartbreaks left on the Spurs franchise.

Now none of it matters. It doesn't matter to them, it doesn't matter to us fans. All of the losses and all of the lows have proved to be an amazing foundation to a superb narrative. The Spurs finally got the team they deserved, the run they deserved, the revenge they deserved.

I watched the 45 minute Alamodome ceremony tonight and it really sunk in. They did it. The Spurs won. They are the gold standard again. The rest of the NBA now looks at them on top of the throne and is forced to lick their wounds and try to deal with their deficiencies.

And watching someone like Kobe, Shaq, Dirk or LeBron lift the trophy each time really stunk. But now, I don't care. You probably don't either. Because we got the most satisfying ending we could have asked for. Even if it isn't the end, everything that Pop and the big 3 do together now is icing. So now, while we are all on a steady dose of euphoria and cleansed of our playoff nightmares, I thought it would be a good time to look back.

It's now time to evaluate the worst losses/playoff eliminations of Tim Duncan's career. In 12 years since 1998, someone other than the Spurs have hung a banner, while the Spurs were defeated by their foe. Some exits were excruciating, others ehh. But like I said, all of the losses have played into the tapestry of the Spurs narrative. The Spurs have always used their losses as impetus to get back to the top.

I've evaluated the following defeats on Context and Expectations Blown: when did the loss happen and what were the expectations for that year's Spurs team. Also considered: who they lost to and how bad the most brutal loss of the series was. Because this week is meant to be full of nothing but joy and good tidings, I've decided to compare every Spurs loss to a cinematic defeat. I hope this countdown serves as a final release of any demons any fan is still holding on to, though Sunday night probably cured most of that.

12. 1998 Spurs lose 4-1 to Utah Jazz in WCSF

I will tell you right now, I had to look up a lot of things about this series. I knew the backstory, but I was 8 and was not avidly checking box scores or reading analysis back then. Forgive me. One thing stands out -- the Spurs could've left Utah up 2-0. Had the Spurs made The Finals, we would've gotten a Towers/Bulls showdown throwdown. What would a finals loss in Tim's rookie year have done to the trajectory of his career? Sorry about this, but I am assuming a team with Vinny Del Negro starting couldn't beat MJ.

Anyways, I have to compare this movie to Rocky I. Rocky loses a split decision to Apollo Creed in a matched propped up by promoters to pad Creed's resume and tune him up for better competition. The Jazz had their eyes set on Chicago, not on the Alamo City.


Rocky, a south paw who trains with meat and loses to Spider Rico goes toe to toe with The Count of Monte Fisto. Tim Duncan, a rookie, takes the perpetually playoff soft Spurs and almost beats The Mailman and company. The Spurs and Rocky clearly lost, but the loss was in fact a sign of great things to come. A year after their defeats, both the Italian Stallion and The Twin Towers stand victorious.

Most Brutal Loss: Losing by a combined 4 points in games 1 and 2 doesn't seem fun. Especially when you could've come out of Salt Lake with a split or up 2-0.

Also, how similar are Mickey played by Burgess Meredith and Pop? Eerily similar.

11. 2000 Spurs lose to Suns 3-1 in first round

I couldn't think of a sports movie where the best player gets hurt and is unable to play, then all is lost. So I decided to paint a picture for us. Imagine Hoosiers, but an alternate ending. Jimmy Chitwood slips on a sheet of ice outside the arena in Indianapolis, minutes before Hickory High is set to take on the big bad integrated team from South Bend.

The Hoosiers are lost without Chitwood's calm Duncan-like demeanor. Ollie is getting pressed before he can even get the ball past half court, Strap is begging God for mercy on the sidelines, Shooter has gone off on a bender and Buddy gets ejected. Everett shrinks under the pressure of having to carry his team as a solo act and Hickory High fires Coach Dale ala Lane Kiffin on the bus ride home. There's no buzzer beater, no movie. No way, no how do the Spurs and Hoosiers win without Duncan and Chitwood.

Yeah the fact the Spurs couldn't defend their championship was a bummer, but what's the Admiral going to do when he's got Samaki Walker?

Side-notes: The Spurs lost game one 72-70, doing their best Hickory Hoosiers tribute. The Admiral, suddenly the Spurs best player averaged 23.5 points. Not bad Mr. Robinson, we're sorry Timmy got hurt.

Also, how similar are Coach Dale and Pop. Eerily similar?

10. 2009 Spurs lose to Mavs 4-1 in first round

Mr. 3000 was the worst sports movie I have ever seen. It was so predictable. The Barry Bonds esque big head retires after he gets his 3000th hit, then realizes he's actually a few hits short. He then comes back and is still arrogant, but learns to be a team player and lays down a sac bunt instead of getting his 3000th hit.

Mr 2,999 is awful and predictable. Just like a playoff series without Manu Ginobili that relies on old Brent Barry, Michael Finley, Bruce Bowen and Kurt Thomas is awful and predictable. I hated this NBA and Spurs season and I just rolled my eyes at this playoff exit. It felt like a wasted year.

The worst thing about the loss was that it ended the "every other year champion" theory. We also didn't get to see LeBron and Kobe in The Finals. PS: I still think this was LeBron's best season and I'll never change my opinion on that.

9. 2010 Spurs lose 4-0 to Goran Dragic Phoenix in WCSF

How hopeless do you feel when Darth Vader cuts off Luke's hand, then proceeds to lay the Daddy news down on him?

About as helpless as you feel when this happens...


Goran Dragic scored 23 points in the fourth quarter of game 3 and exposed the shaky defense of the Spurs, making it seem like they were finished. You feel like Luke, watching in shocked horror as all you know crumbles around you. This felt like the end of the Spurs. Steve Kerr, Bill Simmons, my roommate James, all thought it was over.

Though if you want to feel better, watch Dragic's interview.

8. 2008 Spurs lose 4-1 to Lakers in WCF

I am going to take a big reach here and compare this series to White Men Can't Jump. The Spurs blew big leads in games 1, 4 and 5. You were watching the Spurs age every game and fatigue was like a plague. The Hornets series and the plane ride took its toll. Watching blown lead after blown lead was like watching Billy Hoyle perpetually lose his hustling earnings. All us fans wanted was back to back championships. All Rosie Perez wanted was stability and Jeopardy. Is that too much to ask? Damn you Billy!

I think the Spurs were absolutely better than the Sasha Vujacic-led Lakers. However, they just didn't "hear Jimi" in this series. Something was off. They caught no breaks. As evident by this awful no call on Derek Fisher's foul on Brent Barry. And of course, there was the fact that Manu was playing on one leg by that point.

Worst loss: A 20 point lead blown late in game one was terrible and one of the more overlooked painful losses in the TD era. I am just sad we missed out on a Tim/KG finals. But, it's probably better off that we didn't see the Spurs lose to that very good C's team with images of a hobbled Ginobili bringing tears to every Spurs fan's eye.

7-6. 2001 and 2002 Spurs get throttled by Lakers

A wise man once said that you have to understand the bad news to appreciate the good news. Well, the Looney Tunes had to see the absolute dominance of the Monstars to see that they desperately needed help.


The imposing nature of the Monstars are what led the Tunes to go recruit Michael. While the Lakers 8-1 thrashing of the Spurs in two playoff series showed San Antonio that they desperately needed to retool against the three time champs. Spurs fans always seem to view these two series as the only time that they've been truly humiliated in the playoffs during Tim's era. For good reason, Shaq abused Tim like the Monstars abused Bill Murray.

I was so disgusted with the Spurs in 2001 that I decided to be a Sixers fan for the rest of the playoffs and 2002. It was that bad folks. Even though AI remains my favorite non-Spur ever.

But, the Spurs stocked up with Stephen Jackson and Manu after these two beat-downs. Then Tim delivered his own pummeling in the following year. The 2003 victory over the Lakers was The Finals that year and the greatest revenge the Spurs have ever gotten besides The Finals this year.

5. 2011 Spurs lose 4-2 to 8 Seeded Grizzlies in 1st Round

I'll always remember the way that the Grizzlies tanked for the 8 seed. And though it seemed foolish and Sean Elliot hated it, the Grizz knew exactly what they were doing. They hunted the Spurs. It was another humiliating time for Spurs fans. Everything in that series was such an effort for the Spurs and so easy for the Grizzlies. Antonio McDyess, Matt Bonner and Dejaun Blair were flat-out whipped.

This loss did convince the front office that they didn't have what it took to truly compete anymore. Changes had to come. We know the story, RC Buford traded the popular George Hill to the Pacers for a cornrowed, soft spoken swingman who's now the Finals MVP.

All three Mighty Ducks movies feature blowout losses at the beginning. The Hawks, Iceland and the Varsity all carve up the lowly and unorganized Ducks in D1, D2 and D3. Each loss resulted in a dramatic change of philosophy that gave the Quack Attack the "circumstantial fuel" they needed. The Grizzlies loss taught the Spurs that "ducks fly together."


Worst Loss: Game 3. Zach Randolph hit a three and we realized it wasn't a fluke. The Spurs were in trouble. Randolph was as vicious as Team Iceland's Gunner Stahl, who paird with Wolf "The Dentist" Stansson and could've topped MJ and Phil Jackson as the most threatening player-coach combo ever. They just couldn't stop playing the blame game. Oh what could have been.

Side-note: It obviously gets overlooked because the Finals loss was so gut-wrenching, but 2013's WCF revenge-sweep of the Grizzlies was beautiful.

And now we get to the top four. Each one of which could all be a lot of other team's number one.

4. 2012 Spurs lose to Thunder 4-2 in WCF

I said in my most recent piece that the 2012 Spurs were playing the best ball I had ever seen until the Thunder reeled off four straight wins. I declared the Spurs would undoubtedly win The Finals. I had never been more sure of it in my life. Then...the season was over. Where did it go? We were trotting along, winning 20 straight, pillaging and burn-OH MY GOD THE THUNDER AND HEAT ARE IN THE FINALS? What happened? How?

I am sure Roy Hobb's felt pretty similar in The Natural. He was up and coming, striking out everyone he saw. Hobbs was on a serious warpath till the crazy lady shot him in his hotel room. James Harden played the role of the psycho serial killer woman with some of the shots he made in that series. So did Serge Ibaka when he went 11-11. There's never been another series where I was more baffled. It was going so well and then it was just...gone. Just like Roy's pitching career. One minute you're striking out The Whammer and the next you are lying on the floor, bleeding out.

Worst Loss: Losing Game 5 in San Antonio was terrible. Danny Green hid in a hole and bunkered down like there was a bombing going on outside. James Harden repeatedly dropped shots with rookie Kawhi Leonard's in his face. In high school my house got broken into. I had never had a single reason to not feel safe in my own home. Nothing had ever happened to make me doubt my security. Even though the Spurs dropped two in OKC you still felt like they were going to handle the young Thunder in Game 5. But when the baby Thunder grew up before our very eyes and stole one in game 5, it was like their house got broken into. They were shocked, the safe place had been compromised. There was no panic room. It was over.

3. 2004 Spurs lose to Laker 4-2 in WCSF

Had the Spurs won Game 5, I think Tim's shot is always and forever the best shot in Spurs history. But, they didn't win. We know the story of the infamous .4 game. It's the one win that I will never fully get over. It was haunting. It was ridiculous. I'm over 2013 because of 2014, I'm over 2012 because of 2014 and I'm over 2006 because the Mavs didn't win The Finals and The Spurs won it in 2007/have beaten the Mavs a bunch since then.

When it comes to 2004, I can't ever really get over it. The Spurs never got revenge on the Lakers and the shot was so impossible that it didn't make any sense. It was literally a one in a thousand shot. At least with 2006, 2012 and 2013 the series didn't come down to one play. 2013 didn't come down to one play because the Spurs still could've won in overtime or in game 7. Not the case in 2004. One play. Game 6 didn't matter, not after that. And it will haunt me forever. Plus, it was the Lakers. Had it been the Timberwolves or the Kings? Probably isn't as high on this list.

Only one moment haunted a movie character like the .4 seconds shot has the Spurs faithful. When child Gordon Bombay missed the penalty shot in Mighty Ducks and the Hawks finished second. Bombay's Triple Deke clank off the crossbar is still as chilling a sound as Derek Fisher's swish. It destroyed Bombay. I mean, losing a pee-wee hockey game somehow made him a money-driven alcoholic! It ruined him.

2. 2006 Spurs lose to Mavs 4-3 in the 2nd round

The Finals in the second round. A chance at a 3-1 comeback blown by a silly foul on Dirk. The first playoff loss to the perpetual little brother. I was there.

The Spurs had the game won. Ampipe thought they had bitter rival Walnut Heights beat too. Walnut Heights looked like their undefeated season was over. Until Ampipe fumbled in the endzone while trying to run out the clock and gave the precious game away. All the Right Moves features a young Tom Cruise dueling with an old Craig T. Nelson with a dying Pennsylvania steel town in the background.

Games 3 and 4 were terribly officiated. Tim fouled out on a terrible call in game 3, Finley got a technical in game 4 and the game went to OT. I hate the Mavericks.

1. 2013 Spurs lose to Heat 4-3 in The Finals

There's only one loss in sports movies so horrid. Though the scenarios don't quite add up, Rocky IV Drago vs. Apollo was all I could think of that matched the pure sickening nature of the Spurs loss to the Heat. I have a friend who STILL leaves the room every time Ivan Drago kills Apollo Creed. And I will tell you, until these playoffs I hadn't seen Ray Allen's three since the night it happened.

"This can't be happening" was my thought during game 6. I still remember every play of that game, where I was sitting, what I yelled. I was as sure we were going to win as Apollo Creed was and myself and all Spurs fans came away from the fight dead. Rocky's refusal to throw in the towel is like Pop not putting Timmy in to get a board...twice.

Rocky IV is also fitting because it sets the stage for redemption, revenge. The Spurs had their eye on defeating the Heat in The Finals all year. You can think of the Spurs season up to the Finals as a giant Rocky training montage. The Spurs wanted to take back the NBA Championship. Just like Rocky wanted to ... topple Communism.

But now, The Spurs losing to The Heat and even Apollo's death are worth it. Because evil was conquered in the end. The 2014 championship washed away the stain of so many harsh defeats in the Duncan era. May this list and ridiculous amount of Mighty Ducks references set you free from the defeats as well.

Random: Top 5 Worst Losses in Series the Spurs Won...

1) Game 4 Vs. PHX 2007. Only because it marred the series and run to some degree. One of Big Shot Bob's many clutch shots. Sorry Boris.

2-tie) First: Game 6 Vs Detroit 2005. The sky seemed to be falling. The Spurs were in a 3-3 hole. Also: Games 3/4 Vs OKC 2014. The sky seemed to be falling. The Spurs were in a 2-2 hole.

3) Vinsanity's buzzer beater in Game 3 of 2014. It seemed like the basketball gods were not going to forgive the Spurs for letting last year slip away.

4) Game 1 Vs PHX 2003. You can't let Starbury beat you on a buzzer beater. You just can't.

5) Game 1 Vs Denver 2005/07...I'll admit I kind of want the Spurs to lose game 1 of every postseason.

Honorable Mention: Game 2 vs Nets 2003 and Game 2 vs Heat 2014. Because my dad and I spent a ridiculous amount of money both times to go.

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