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Spurs 2014/15 season recap: injuries, inconsistency lead to early playoffs exit

Let's look back at an up-and-down season that feels like the end of an era.

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

The Warriors, Rockets, Hawks and Cavaliers are still playing but for the rest of the league the work for next year has already started. The NBA draft lottery has come and gone, marking the unofficial start of the 2015/16 offseason. Free agency and the draft will be the focus soon. So before letting go of a disappointing but still fun season, let's go back and remember the high and low points.

Injuries strike early and the Spurs don't look like the Spurs

In the first game of preseason the Spurs lost to Alba Berlin, giving credence to the notion that complacency was going to be hard to battle. Tiago Splitter was already out with a calf injury that would plague him all season long and would flare up at the worst possible time while Kawhi Leonard was lost to an eye infection after the second game against Fenerbahce in Turkey. The two missed most of preseason and would join Patty Mills in the inactive list for the start of the regular season.

The Spurs had a brutal schedule to kick things off and went 2-3 in their first five games. Kawhi Leonard returned on the second game but would go 12-for-39 in his first four appearances. Meanwhile, Marco Belinelli suffered a groin injury the night Leonard returned. We were off to a rough start.

We are going streaking!

After that sluggish stretch the Spurs won 10 of the next 11 in November, including victories over the Clippers, Warriors and Cavaliers. The schedule was soft and if not for a loss against the (at that point, surprisingly good) Kings, the Spurs would have finished that month in the best possible way. Tony Parker was the star, averaging 17 points on 50 percent shooting, including a ridiculous 55 percent from outside.

The team was looking good but challenges were ahead, as the schedule was about to get brutal.

The month from from hell starts

The Spurs played 18 games in December. They had five back-to-backs. After a relatively easy start of the month in which they were slated to face the Sixers and Nets, the second half featured two matches against the Grizzlies and Blazers each, along with games against four other West playoff teams and the Oklahoma City Thunder. It was imperative San Antonio got off to a good start. Instead, they dropped a game against the Nets in overtime and lost to the Jazz in Utah. Worst of all, Tony Parker suffered a hamstring injury on Dec. 5 against the Grizzlies and Kawhi Leonard suffered hand injury on Dec. 10

The Spurs lost to the Lakers in overtime on Dec. 12 as Parker tried to return and to the Trail Blazers to fall to 17-8. Things would only get worse. The Spurs lost consecutive triple overtime games to the Grizzlies and Blazers and dropped the next one to the Mavericks as Pop rested his veterans. Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili were doing their best to carry the team but the injuries to the other stars were too hard to hide and Tiago Splitter, who returned on Dec. 10, was not in rhythm yet. The Spurs had their first losing month in the Tim Duncan era and started the new year seventh in the West.

Treading water

Early in January the Spurs, which were without Kawhi Leonard, suffered a devastating defeat at the hands of the Pistons. It was one of the few times Gregg Popovich decided to foul up three. Jodie Meeks hit the two free throws, then Duncan botched the inbounds pass and turned it over. Brandon Jennings hit the shot at the buzzer to give Detroit the game. The punches kept coming.

That game summed up the month: the Spurs played well enough to give themselves a chance to win -- and they did, more often than not -- but something wasn't right. They went 10-4 in January but the rest of the losses were lopsided. Duncan and Ginobili were not as sharp as in December, Parker was not playing well and Leonard was out for a big chunk. The hope was that after the struggles, a finally healthy Spurs team would find its bearings during the Rodeo Road Trip in February.

It didn't happen. The Spurs won the two games at home before going on the road, then lost to Toronto. Wins against the Pacers and Pistons followed and the All-Star break marked the end of the first leg of the trip. After the festivities, a rested San Antonio team was supposed to start clicking. Instead, they dropped four straight games, including an inexplicable defeat in Utah. They finished the trip with the worst record since its inception. The Thunder were climbing the standings fast and finishing eighth in the West was a real possibility.

The Spurs are back!

At the end of February, the Spurs had 23 losses. They would finish the season with 27. They went 5-1 in the six-game homestead after the RRT, with the only loss coming in overtime on the night Kyrie Irving went crazy and scored 57 points. Two games later, they had their wake up call in New York, when they lost yet another overtime match, this time against the worst team in the league. After that embarrassment, the Spurs started to click. A loss to the Mavericks after three wins got them mad and they stomped on the Thunder the following game.

Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard were destroying teams and Tiago Splitter was back to his level before his calf injury flared up on April 3. Even without him, the Spurs beat the Warriors, Thunder and Rockets (twice) in consecutive games. The second seed was up for grabs but a loss in the last game of the regular season pushed San Antonio down to the sixth spot. Yet with Splitter set to return and the high level at which almost everyone was playing at, an upset over the Clippers was a distinct possibility.

THE BEST FIRST ROUND SERIES EVER...ended in defeat for the Spurs

The Clippers beat the Spurs handily in Game 1 and it was clear that Splitter was not himself. They somehow stole Game 2 on the road anyway, behind great performances from Leonard, Duncan and Diaw. As the series moved to San Antonio, the Spurs held serve in Game 3 with a decisive win. Things were not looking good for the Clippers but they dug deep and with a typically brilliant Chris Paul and an unexpected contribution from Austin Rivers, they tied the series.

After four games, it came down to the best of three, with two of those matchups coming in Los Angeles. The Spurs clawed their way to a Game 5 win largely thanks to their bench but couldn't close it out in San Antonio in Game 6 despite a 27-point explosion from Marco Belinelli. Of course such a close and enthralling series would take seven games before we knew which team was better.

The Clippers prevailed. Neither squad led by more than eight points in Game 7 and there were 31 lead changes. Chris Paul strained his hamstring in the first half and that looked like it could be the edge the Spurs needed to beat LA. Unfortunately, Paul didn't let his injury slow him down and scored 18 of his 27 points after the break, including the game winner. The Spurs had a chance to tie but Matt Barnes intercepted a lob to Kawhi Leonard. The title defense ended prematurely and in heartbreaking fashion.

Where do we go from here?

The 2014/15 season is done and it was at times a mess and at times beautiful to watch. Now comes a busy offseason. Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili could return and the old guard could get another shot at a title. With so many free agents to be, there will be new faces in the roster next season. If Duncan and Ginobili retire, there will be cap room to make a splash in free agency. This is also the year the Spurs lock up Kawhi Leonard to a max contract, marking the beginning of a new era. It's an exciting time in San Antonio.

Feel free to share your memories of the season in the comments or your hopes for the offseason.