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Spurs “what if” #1- 1979 NBA Finals

The Spurs first Finals trip could have taken place two decades earlier

San Antonio Spurs Larry Kenon, 1979 NBA Playoffs SetNumber: X23417

Before the “Race for Seis,” before the “Drive for Five,” the San Antonio Spurs were in the “Run for One.”

In May of 1979, the San Antonio Spurs, only three seasons into their NBA merger, were already poised to make a run at an NBA title. As we all know, it took two more decades before the Silver & Black would hoist their first (asterisked, if you ask Phil) trophy.

At the time, the Spurs were in the Eastern Conference of the NBA, Central Division where they were coming off a 48-34 record, good enough for first in their division and 2nd in their conference.

Under head coach Doug Moe, the Spurs had improved their postseason stamina each year. In 1977, they were knocked out by the Boston Celtics in the first round of the playoffs. In 1978, they lost in the Conference Semifinals to the Washington Bullets. The Bullets would go on to win the 1978 NBA Championship.

However, in 1979, they knocked out the Philadelphia 76ers in the Conference Semifinals and faced the defending champ Bullets, this time in the Conference Finals.

On May 4th, the Spurs won Game 1 in Washington, stealing homecourt advantage. George Gervin went off for 34 points while Larry Kenon pulled down 21 rebounds.

Game 2 saw the Bullets bounce back and even the series. The Bullets had been down by four at halftime, but immediately turned it around on the Silver & Black.

Games 3 and 4 saw the Spurs take back-to-back home wins and a 3-1 series lead. Again, Gervin shined with 29 and 42 points respectively.

It looked inevitable that the Spurs would make their first NBA Finals appearance, but the Washington Bullets had other plans.

Game 5 took the series back to Washington where home court proved to be key as the Bullets eked out a four-point win, sending the series back to San Antonio.

Game 6 was the only Spurs loss at HemisFair during the series. It was also only the second game in which The Iceman wasn’t the scoring leader.

It all came down to Game 7 back in Washington. Bob Dandridge hit a baseline jumper over three Spurs to take the lead with 8 seconds remaining.

A block by Elvin Hayes as James Silas drove in for the tie sent the ball out. Larry Kenon could not recover in time and time elapsed.


“What if” Hayes had missed the block. James Silas makes the two sending the game into overtime.

AND...the Spurs recover as George Gervin goes for a perfect five of five in OT, giving them the lead and win in Washington, upsetting the crowd and ruining the Bullets chances of a back-to-back.

The Spurs board a late night plane with no time to celebrate as they fly cross-country to Seattle to face the top seeded Western Conference SuperSonics.

The Sonics have six players who averaged double figures for the season, but their best is Gus Williams who pales in comparison to George Gervin.

Billy Paultz dominates Jack Sikma, Kenon dominates Lonnie Shelton, and the Spurs surprisingly upset the Sonics by taking the series in six games, winning on their own court on June 2, 1979.

Does San Antonio become a destination after proving themselves in the NBA? Do they rack up a few more titles in the 80s?

As it turns out, they regressed the following season, Doug Moe left and Bob Bass took over for the last 16 games. One highlight was George Gervin’s 1980 All-Star Game MVP, but other than that, the Spurs lost in the first round. The next year they brought in Stan Albeck and produced a 52-30 season.

Okay, so the Spurs could have gone to the Finals in 1979 and still lost, but what an impact it would have had on the franchise and what an omen set forth for that David Robinson led era.

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