What a wild night that was! Heading into the NBA’s regular season finale on Wednesday, there were still SIX undecided seeds in the West and almost too many possible scenarios to keep up with. The Spurs alone had three possible landing spots and four possible first round opponents still at play. Knowing all of this was mostly out of their control, and they just needed to win and let the chips fall where they may, the Spurs came out ready to do just that.
Coming off a 2-1 road trip and with one last chance to find their peak form again heading into the playoffs, the Spurs came into the AT&T Center to face an old rival who had nothing on the line in this game but plenty to play for: namely a win to send their best player in franchise history off in style. The Spurs were ready to take care of business, with LaMarcus Aldridge getting them out ahead early while the Mavs were content to keep feeding the ball to Dirk Nowitzki, who was icy early after playing over 30 minutes the night before.
After the Spurs dominated the first half, Dirk caught fire in the last 24 minutes of his career, helping lead a couple of charges to get the Mavs back from 20 down to within single digits of the Spurs a couple of times. However, this was when we the saw the real improvement of the Spurs throughout this season come to bloom. They didn’t have to let Aldridge or DeMar DeRozan go into hero ball mode to stave off the upset that would have dropped them to the 8th seed (all other results being equal) and facing the Warriors for a third playoff series in a row.
Instead, the young guns took over. Davis Bertans hit a couple of timely threes to stave off the Mavs’ third quarter run. After another Mavs run in the fourth quarter, Derrick White came back in and did what he has done several times this season: hit big shots when the Spurs needed them the most. Bryn Forbes joined the act too with a 7-0 run of his own to secure the win and let the final four minutes of the game return to “Celebrating Dirk” mode. It was truly one of the most fun nights of the season and was a win-win for everyone involved. The Spurs got the result they needed (with some confidence boosting along the way), while everyone got to appreciate Dirk one last time.
Thanks to the results of the Denver and Portland games, Lady Luck finally smiled upon these resilient and deserving Spurs with the path of least resistance (at least theoretically) through the first two rounds of the playoffs: the Nuggets in the first round, and either the Trail Blazers or Thunder in the second. This is not to say either of these series will be easy. The Spurs will not have home court advantage in any of them, making them face perhaps their biggest demon of this season if they want to advance, but they would still be competitive with the possibility for an upset being higher. It also doesn’t hurt that their three worst match-ups — the Warriors, Rockets and Jazz — all ended up on the other side of the bracket.
While it’s hard to say being the 7th seed in the playoffs and no real chance at championship contention barring a miracle is a “reward” (Spurs fans are used to so much more, after all), there’s still something that is extremely satisfying about this regular season. The Spurs far exceeded many pundits’ expectations by making the playoffs at all, let alone surpassing last season’s win total, and all after losing so many key players in the offseason and their starting point guard/best defender to injury during the preseason.
There was no drama hanging over their heads this season, making it easier to just sit back and enjoy the ride, bumpy as it was at times. There’s also what should be a competitive and fun playoff series to look forward to instead of knowing making it to five games would be fortunate, and unlike a year ago the future beyond this season looks even brighter. All things considered, this season couldn’t have gone much better.
Okay, maybe it could have when getting persnickety about all wins the Spurs dropped to lowly teams and what those wins would have meant to their playoff seeding today, but it’s just something you have to accept from a rebuilding team. And considering this was the outcome their biggest rebuilding season in over two decades, I think any other franchise would accept the same result in a heartbeat.
- This bears repeating, but even though I felt confident the Spurs would hold on for the win last night, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t start getting a little nervous when the Mavs got close in the fourth quarter, bringing back memories of those aforementioned losses to non-playoff teams and the possibility of facing Golden State returning to the surface. So there was nothing more satisfying last night than seeing White and Forbes — the two biggest surprises of the season — coming to the rescue and saving Aldridge and DeRozan the pain. More players capable of closing and unafraid of the moment is a huge boon for these Spurs as defenses will start bogging down on their stars in the playoffs and make the others beat them. Last night, the “other players” did just that, and they need to be ready to do it again.
- I’m trying really hard to be nice to my Rockets fan work buddy today. Until the last few minutes of the Denver game, I was sure I would be coming to work today to talk about a Spurs-Rockets series with him, knowing they would definitely be favored. Instead, the Rockets got the worst end of the deal with the crazy results from last night after Denver’s late comeback in the fourth quarter and Portland pulling out a 28-point comeback with just a six-player rotation that consisted entirely of the end of their bench. As a result, the Rockets fell from 2nd to 4th in a matter of minutes and got the hardest path to the WCF: the Jazz in round one and what will surely be the Warriors in the second round. I feel a little bad for my friend, but on the other hand it could have hardly worked out any better for the Spurs, and that’s all I care about. Sorry, not sorry.
- DIRK WATCH: Yep, we’re truly doing this for an opposing player, but how could we not? The Spurs did what they had to do and won, but Dirk was the main attraction last night. While ending his career at home surely would have been ideal, if it had to be on the road there was no better place than San Antonio. He played more road games here than anywhere else, and while the IH-35 rivalry was certainly bitter at times, that was more thanks to characters like Mark Cuban, Jason Terry, and Eduardo Najera. With Dirk, there was never anything but respect, and Mavs fans would probably tell you the same thing about Tim Duncan. Despite looking exhausted, he shined on offense in the second half last night, and the last shot of his career couldn’t have been a more perfect sendoff. The hilarity of Pop telling Drew Eubanks to back off, only for him not to notice, and yet Dirk still hits his signature one-footed fadeaway as his encore is just too perfect. #DankeDirk