This year the Spurs are celebrating their 50th season in San Antonio. There have been many highs and a few lows. One trademark of the San Antonio Spurs has been their culture and consistency. The keys to those qualities lie in their players. Always noted for development as well as being ahead of the curve on scouting international players, the Spurs way has made them one of the most successful organizations of all time. As we look back on the Silver and Black, we recognize the top 50 players in franchise history. Each day, we will move up the countdown.
43 - Speedy Claxton
In the 2002-2003 season, the Silver and Black finished the season with 60 wins, and were looking for their second championship. The team was loaded with talent, with second-year French point guard and Argentinian rookie Manu Ginobili being added to the twin towers of Tim Duncan and David Robinson. The Admiral was in his final season, but he still had a commanding presence in the paint, and Tim Duncan was in his prime. But the most important player in the 2003 Finals against the New Jersey Nets might have been a player who only spent one season on the Spurs, and averaged 5.8 pts/game in 30 games during the regular season.
Tony Parker was matched up against Jason Kidd in the finals, and the Spurs romped to an easy 101-89 Game 1 win over the Nets in San Antonio as Tony played almost 40 minutes and scored 16, with his backup, second-year player Speedy Claxton, playing about 8 minutes and scoring 2 points. In game 2, Tony scored 26, but the overall Spurs defense stalled and the Nets took the second game 87-85 behind Kidd’s 30 point effort, stealing home court advantage in the series. Claxton once again sat on the pine. Game 3 was a Spurs win, with Parker the game’s leading scorer with 26 points, and Speedy stuck to the bench as the Spurs reclaimed home advantage with a 84-79 win in New Jersey.
The Spurs championship run almost came a cropper in game 4 as the Nets found a way to shut down Tony Parker, holding him to just 3 points in an plodding 77-76 win for the Jersey swamp denizens. But Gregg Popovich, as he often does, had a response to the New Jersey defensive strategy.
The fifth and sixth games saw increased minutes minutes for Speedy Claxton, relieving some of the pressure on Tony Parker. Both Claxton and Parker were second-year players, but at 25 years old, Claxton’s life experience might have given him a little more resilience than the 21 year old Frenchman.
If I may, I’d like to digress a bit on the nature of memory and narratives. My memory of that series was that Tony Parker crumbled under the pressure and Speedy Claxton took over and saved the team. But after researching the game logs, that’s not really what happened. Except for a bad statistical performance in game 4 caused by a swarming Nets defense, Tony had a phenomenal series. The real story was that Popovich changed the rotations to limit the time that Tony was matched up against the taller Kidd, and gave those minutes to Claxton, who rose to the occasion to turn in solid performances in games 5 and 6, while Parker also played well within the new strategy. Tony played more minutes than Claxton in every game of the 2003 finals, but Speedy’s impact on the outcome was undeniable, without him relieving Parker, there very likely wouldn’t have been a riverboat parade in 2003.
Speedy Claxton was just a bit player in the history of the Silver and Black, but his part was a key one. He took over the role that Popovich assigned to him and performed admirably, bringing the O’Brien Trophy back to the Alamo City.
After the 2003 season, Speedy moved onto the Warriors and ended up playing for a total of 6 teams in his 9 year pro career. He never won another championship, but his role in 2003 Spurs championship will never be forgotten.
Next up: A 6’7” swingman nicknamed Chill.
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