The San Antonio Spurs were strangers to NBA and Western Conference titles once upon a time. In fact, the Spurs came up short countless times when it counted in the 1990’s, as it looked like David Robinson would never win a championship. But San Antonio finally swept its way to a conference crown in 1999 — and 14 years and four rings later, the Spurs came full circle by sweeping towards the NBA Finals again.
San Antonio’s final 93-86 win over the Memphis Grizzles on May 27 ended the conference finals in just four games. Although the Spurs were slight underdogs going into the series, despite having much more experience, they erased all doubt about them — at least in the conference finals.
But the Western Conference finals have been a showcase for the Spurs over the years, at least when they’ve won. Although they blew a 2-0 lead to the Houston Rockets in 1995, they didn’t take their foot off the gas when they reached their first NBA Finals in 1999. Once they swept the Portland Trail Blazers — thanks in part to Sean Elliott’s “Memorial Day Miracle” in Game 2 — there was no stopping San Antonio’s dynasty.
The Spurs’ toughest conference final came against the Dallas Mavericks in 2003, as it took six games to eliminate their arch-rivals. Two years later, it only took five games to defeat another rival in the Phoenix Suns, as San Antonio won all three games on the road. Another two years later, the Spurs barely broke a sweat in five games against the Utah Jazz, before taking just four to beat the Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James.
James, of all people, is two wins away from facing the Spurs again with the Miami Heat. But if San Antonio looks as dominant as it did in the Western Conference finals, a Heat coronation will not be in the bag. And traditionally, it bodes well when the Spurs breeze through the end of the Western Conference playoffs.
Here is a list of the Spurs’ conference final wins, which have all paved the way for greater championships down the line.
1999: 4-0 over Portland Trail Blazers
The 1999 Spurs had to erase the memory of all their near-misses of the past. Despite having the best record in a lockout shortened season, no one would have been surprised to see them collapse. Yet when the Spurs erased an 18-point deficit to the Blazers in Game 2 — and when an ailing Sean Elliott’s last-second three gave them their first lead — a sweep and a long awaited NBA title became inevitable.
2003: 4-2 win over Dallas Mavericks
Four years later, the Spurs faced the Dallas Mavericks in one of many intense playoff battles. It seemed destined to go to a Game 7 after the third quarter of Game 6, but San Antonio roared back to life instead. Despite scoring a combined 34 points in the second and third quarter, Steve Kerr helped the Spurs beat the Mavericks by 34-9 in the fourth to advance, and then beat the New Jersey Nets to cap off David Robinson’s career.
2005: 4-1 win over Phoenix Suns
The Phoenix Suns had home court advantage, a flashy offense and an MVP in Steve Nash. However, the Spurs would expose the Suns’ limitations by taking the first two games in Phoenix. For good measure, they finished them off in Phoenix in Game 5, although it would take seven games to dethrone the Detroit Pistons a round later.
2007: 4-1 win over Utah Jazz
With the top-seeded Mavericks upset in the first round, the path was clear for the Spurs to roll through the West. After a controversial second round series with the Suns, the Utah Jazz posed less of a threat in five games — as did the Cleveland Cavaliers in just four games after that.
2013: 4-0 win over Memphis Grizzlies
The Spurs won their first Western Conference final in a sweep, back when it was assumed that their time would never come. 14 years later, San Antonio has swept another conference final, although it was assumed that its time had passed. Yet the Memphis Grizzlies learned differently the hard way — will the Miami Heat or Indiana Pacers have to do the same?