The season may not have ended the way we'd hoped, but that doesn't mean there weren't plenty of moments from 2012-2013 that, like a fine wine in Pop's cellar, Spurs fans shouldn't be able to appreciate now and for years to come. Here's a subjectively objective list of the top 10 games from last year's near-vintage championship run-think of it as a nostalgic accompaniment to your remedial post-Game-6 dinner. Swirl it around, check out its legs, and share your thoughts in the comments section.
Depending on your feelings towards the Dallas Mavericks-and, really, last year's pick-and-mix of players was hardly your reviled Mavs of old-this game could've maybe cracked the top 10. Regardless of sentimentality, however, this final meeting between the two teams clinched the series sweep for the Spurs-the first time San Antonio had done so since Timmy's rookie season in 1998-and kept San Antonio atop the Western Conference for a little while longer.
Thanks to shrewd offseason moves that helped position Dallas to eventually sign star PG Deron Williams/top FA Dwight Howard/Monta Ellis, 2012-2013 was an especially trying effort for Mark Cuban's boys. In a home stretch where every win counted, this showdown against the Spurs was a close one that could've really bolstered their push for the 8th seed. Helping their cause was an injured Tony Parker who sat out with a sprained ankle, as well as inconsistent play by San Antonio that allowed the Mavs back in it late.
Yet, a last-second (and well-defended by Tiago) three-point attempt by Vince Carter rimmed out, leaving the Mavs three games behind the Lakers in their chase for the final spot in the West - a difference they wouldn't overcome.
May 27th, @Grizzlies, Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals, AKA: Return to the Promised Land
After losing to OKC in 2012, Tony Parker made a promise to Tim Duncan that he would get him one more shot at a title. In the 2013 Western Conference Finals, TP made good on that promise, putting the Spurs on his back with averages of 24.5 points, 9.5 assists and 53% shooting from the field, en route to an impressive sweep of the Memphis Grizzlies.
Those numbers included a masterful performance by Tony in Game 4 (37 points on 15-21 shooting, 6 assists), which pushed the Spurs into the NBA Finals for the first time since 2007.
Here are the highlights, seemingly narrated by Macho Man Randy Savage.
June 16th: Heat, Game 5 of the NBA Finals, AKA: Vintage Manu
Thanks to a recently inked two-year deal, Manu's Game 5 brilliance will not end up being his last time dressing up in the AT&T Center. Yet, at the time it seemed like a very big possibility and, re-watching the highlights, it's hard not to imagine similar thoughts passing through the Argentine's head.
The ultimate 6th man, the 35-year-old Ginobili got a rare start in Game 5 and made the most of it, hitting a three-pointer on the very first play of the game. He was relentless from then on, and finished with a season-high 24 points to go along with 10 crafty assists.
The game put San Antonio up 3-2 in the series and remained the last true bright spot in the Finals. Had the Spurs taken Games 6 or 7, this one would likely be higher. Still, it most definitely deserves a spot on this list, and shows that Manu might still have something left in the tank for the next two years.
November 29th: @Heat, AKA: the $250,000 Game
Even between two of the league's best, it's unlikely for a game to generate much interest around the NBA in November, but that's precisely what Greg Popovich did when he gave Timmy, Tony, Manu and Danny Green DNPs in a showdown against the Miami Heat. Not only did Pop not play them, but he had them on a plane to San Antonio before tip-off, opting for a slightly less rating-friendly starting lineup of Matt Bonner, Boris Diaw, Tiago Splitter, Nando de Colo and Patty Mills.
The league office, of course, took note, slapping PATFO with a hefty $250,000 fine, despite a surprisingly close game that wasn't decided until the final ticks.
The game may have ended in a loss, but pushing the defending champs (and David Stern's sanity) to the brink only further cemented Pop as a brilliant basketball mind that is happy - and fully capable of - playing by his own rules.
February 11th: @Bulls, AKA: The Replacements
Following a win in Brooklyn the night before, and with five games still left on the Rodeo Roadtrip, Pop found himself once again playing without his three aging stars against one of the East's finest. This time, Timmy and Manu were hampered with injuries, and Tony sat out with a swollen knee, meaning a call from the league office wouldn't be necessary.
Unlike the game in Miami, the Spurs won this one easily, taking it 103-89, and sending a message to the rest of the league that they were an elite team regardless of who was on the floor.
Sure, the Bulls might not have been at their best (giving the ball up an uncharacteristic 19 times and, of course, still playing without Derrick Rose), but nobody expected an even-more-depleted Spurs team to do this kind of damage on the road.
Equally encouraging was Kawhi Leonard's strong performance, scoring a career-high 26 points and showing that he could someday be The Man for the Spurs.
June 11th: Heat, Game 3 of the NBA Finals, AKA: Neal, Green, and History
In one of the greatest shooting displays the Finals have ever seen, Danny Green and Gary Neal combined for 13 of San Antonio's 16 three pointers (and 51 points), and quickly became the league's two favorite unknowns, as the Spurs routed the Heat 113-77.
Following a lopsided Spurs loss in Miami, this game made it all the more evident that neither veteran team believed in terms like "momentum" or "hype".
For an extra-special walk down memory lane, look at the "Game Boss" section of J. R. Wilco's Rehash and relive the re-imagining of what was going on behind the scenes with Gary Neal and Danny Green as they were on that historic hot streak.
Here are all 16 of the Spurs' threes, including Danny Green's impressive one-on-one block of Lebron at 0:40.
November 2nd: Thunder, AKA: "Nobody's Happy"
One really couldn't have asked for a better early-season battle, which included resilient, last-minute heroics, a victory against the defending conference champs, and another unforgettable Pop moment.
After tying the game one play earlier on an unlikely corner three (following an equally incredible save by Boris Diaw), Tony Parker found the ball in his hands once again. Receiving a pass behind a Tim Duncan screen, Parker stepped into his shot-and into the path of Serge Ibaka-and pulled the trigger, arching it high to avoid the shot-blocker's outstretched arms.
The shot fell, and became just one of the many exciting moments that the season - and Tony - would provide.
See both shots by Parker here:
The game is equally remembered for the 3rd game interview Pop had with TNT's David Aldridge.
With the contest tied through 36 minutes, Aldridge asked the Spurs coach a fairly pedestrian query about how happy he was with the team's shot selection.
Immediately honing in on the interviewer's diction, Pop - notoriously not a fan of in-game interviews - took exception to Aldridge's choice of words.
"Happy?" Pop asked incredulously, with a look and a tone that had Aldridge scrambling for a follow-up question, and whose face quickly becomame that of a diffident husband who's just learned to never - ever - tell his partner that she looks "nice". Game highlights (including the exchange with Aldridge) are below.
May 10th: @Warriors, Game 3 of the Conference Semifinals, AKA: The Turning of the Tide
Game 1 will get all the attention (and rightfully so) but after the Warriors took the next one in San Antonio, many will recall that the outcome of this series was very much in the air. Beyond Curry elevating his play to all-world status, Klay Thompson had just gone off for 34 points and 14 boards in Game 2, and it was unclear just how the Spurs would contain Golden State's two young guns the rest of the way.
Game 3 was a very Spurs-like response to that seemingly complicated situation.
Facing a raucous, sold-out crowd, San Antonio came in and, sticking largely to its familiar gameplan, let the law of averages come into effect.
In a synchronous fall back to earth, Curry and Thompson went a combined 12 of 37 from the field, and Curry's ankle woes made their inevitable appearance, as well. The Spurs, meanwhile, kept on trucking, as they rode Tony's stellar play, stole Game 3 and took back control of the series. (Quick highlights here.)
March 29th, 2013: Clippers, AKA: Tim Duncan
The 2012-2013 season had its fair share of bright spots for Spurs fans, but watching Duncan's Cocoon-like resurgence was especially heart-warming for those who'd followed the team over the last decade and a half.
Game in and game out, Duncan had been able to use his newly svelte frame to dominate the paint against quicker and younger big men. One month before turning 37, he visited New LA to face two of the league's most athletic pivots.
With a combined age of 48, Blake Griffin and Deandre Jordan failed to contain The Big Fundamental, who outscored (31 vs. 27) outshot (12-19 vs. 11-24 FG) and outblocked (2 vs. 0) Griffin and Jordan. Duncan also went an unheard of (at least before this year) 10-10 from the free throw line. All in all, the game was Tim Duncan's remarkable renaissance in a nutshell.
Yet, the game still came down to the final moments, with the Spurs down 1. On a perfectly drawn up play, Duncan curled around to the elbow, pump-faked Willie Green into the air, drew contact, and rattled home a tough shot.
June 6th, @Miami, Game 1 of the NBA Finals
One tenth of a second. Or less. After what seemed like an eternity of dribbling, that's what made the difference in Tony Parker's memorable shot-clock-beater that clinched the Spurs' Game 1 upset victory in Miami.
Watch the play in slow motion and it almost seems like the ball has a mind of its own, consciously evading the clutches of Heat players as Tony plays the part of the frantic marionette, stumbling through traffic, falling to the ground while keeping his dribble, and eventually pretending to shoot/hoisting it towards the basket just - just - before the shot clock expires.
Despite a triple-double from the MVP, the win had many people questioning Lebron's lack of selfishness (he only scored 18 points), as well as his potential effectiveness against Kawhi Leonard.
The Spurs may not have won the championship - and Ray Allen's Game 6 dagger may go down as the most famous shot of the series - but this play is one that Spurs fans should hold on to.
May 6th, Warriors, Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals, AKA: Steph Curry vs the World
You won't find a better game from all of last year than the series-opening, double-overtime heart-stopper played between the Spurs and Warriors. San Antonio survived one of the great playoff shooting performances/coming-out parties in recent history, shaking off 44 points and 11 assists from Steph Curry to retain home-court advantage in what was to be an extremely competitive series.
By the time the 4th quarter of Game 1 began, Curry had already made it evident that he was a bonafide star in this league (and entirely undeserving of his recent All-Star snub). The sweet-shooting PG had a massive 3rd quarter, going off for 22 points-and 14 straight at one stretch. He scored off cross-overs (0:02), step-backs (0:12), pull-ups (0:40), bouncing it off his own foot (1:15) and, well, you'd have to ask Cory Joseph about the last one (2:09). Take a moment to catch Matt Bonner's reaction at 2:44 and you'll recall what it felt like to helplessly stand by and witness Curry's plucky prodigiousness in action.
With 4 minutes left, the Spurs were down 16 points and 1 Tim Duncan (ill in the locker room). Then, anchored by Tony Parker's persistent penetration into the paint, aided by two Richard Jefferson missed free throws, and ultimately capped by a Danny Green 3-pointer with 20 seconds left, San Antonio reeled off an unbelievable 18-2 run to push the game into overtime.
That finish alone would've likely made this matchup number 1 on this list, but while some games lose steam once they hit a first (and certainly a second) overtime, the two teams, locked at 106 a piece after regulation, kept the intensity on through two more grueling periods.
The first overtime came down to the ball in Manu's hands with the game tied. Ginobili had had a poor shooting night thus far, and his buzzer-beater from the elbow may have been his worst attempt of all, coming up both wide and short.
In the second OT, both teams continued to trade baskets for 4 minutes. After another flat attempt by Manu - a long, step-back three with 47 seconds left - the Warriors were able to reel off two straight buckets, first off an incredible finger roll by Curry, then off a Curry-assisted Bazemore layup that had GS up 1 with less than 4 seconds left.
Then, tragically/unfortunately/serendipitously, the ball once again ended in the hands of Ginobili (now 4-19 from the field), who was wide open off the cross-court inbounds pass from Kawhi. In true Manu fashion, he caught it and, without giving it a second thought, let loose on a high-arcing three, skimming the top of the Tower of Americas before splashing through the bottom of the net:
The Warriors had one last chance to tie or win, but came up short, thus concluding, in my (admittedly biased) opinion, the most entertaining sports game of the year.
Popovich's comments on Manu succinctly summed up the game's final moments - in fact, in a season that was rich with moments bitter and sweet, with notes both fresh and old, and a finish not lacking in bite, the connoisseur's range in emotions is something we could all likely relate to.
Now, what are your favorite moments of the last season?