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1999 NBA Playoffs


Duncan, Robinson lead San Antonio to first NBA title

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Posted: Monday June 28, 1999 04:19 PM

  Twin Towers stand tall in NYC: Tim Duncan (21) and David Robinson (50) combined for 46 points and 21 rebounds to lead the Spurs to the NBA title. AP

NEW YORK (CNN/SI) -- The monkey has been shed and the critics have been silenced.

The Spurs will no longer be known as the "San Antonio softies" and if Tim Duncan wasn't considered as the best player in the NBA, he is now.

After 26 years of frustration and great teams that never produced a championship, San Antonio finally finished on top.

The best game of the NBA Finals, a thrilling 78-77 victory over the New York Knicks on Friday night, proved that the Spurs are the best team in the league.

San Antonio's run of success through the playoffs ended with a missed shot by the Knicks at the buzzer, a celebration in front of a stunned Madison Square Garden crowd and the Spurs' first NBA title.

On the game's final play, Charlie Ward's inbounds pass found Latrell Sprewell too far under the basket. Sprewell's awkward shot missed, and the Spurs stormed the court, their wives, children and girlfriends soon joining them to celebrate.

"It's a journey that goes to show that hard work and persistence truly pays off," said Robinson, who had been criticized during his 10-year career for not being able to lead his team to a title.

Peak & Weak Performers: Gm. 5 Spurs-Knicks
Tim Duncan: 31 pts. (12-22 FG), 9 rebs.
David Robinson: 15 pts., 12 rebs.
Avery Johnson: 8 pts. (Title winning jumper)
Latrell Sprewell: 35 pts., 10 rebs.
Allan Houston: 16 pts.

Team 1-of-9 3-PT. FG
Larry Johnson: 7 pts. (0-3 3-PT. FG)
*Houston: 0 pts. in 4th qtr.
Sean Elliot: 2 pts. in 36 min. (0-4 FG)

The victory, keyed by 31 points from finals MVP Duncan, gave San Antonio a 15-2 record in this postseason, tying the second-best playoff run in NBA history.

And with the way the 23-year-old Duncan combined with Robinson to form the dominant Twin Towers, the Spurs figure to be contending for more titles for years to come.

For now, though, this first title of the post-Jordan era will be the one they savor. San Antonio became the first of the old ABA teams that joined the league 23 years ago to win the championship.

"This is incredible. It feels so great out here," Duncan said. "We kept our focus and we pulled it out."

Said coach Gregg Popovich: "That's what it's all about for me, watching all the joy they felt when this was accomplished."

Game 5 of the best-of-7 series turned out to be the best of the bunch, with a back-and-forth fourth quarter featuring Sprewell, who scored 35 points, and Duncan doing most of the work for their teams.

CNN/SI On-Site
CNN/SI's Alex English examines the Spurs' title-clinching Game 5 win
Vince Cellini: One guy wasn't going to let the Knicks go quietly. Latrell Sprewell almost shot his team to a Game 6.

Alex English: Sprewell was the only Knick that was not intimidated by the San Antonio Spurs. He continuously went inside trying to draw the foul. He did a great job. He was in the zone tonight. He didn't get much help from Allan Houston in that fourth quarter and they still almost won the game.

VC: We didn't hear from Tim Duncan much at the beginning of the second half, but then by the end of the third quarter, he asserted himself in a big way.

AE: All during these playoffs, we have talked about Duncan's footwork, his basic fundamental basketball game, and he showed us again tonight. In that third quarter, he carried the Spurs. David Robinson didn't score in that quarter, but Duncan came up big each time they went to him with that sweet turnaround jumper off the glass. He was the man tonight.

VC: Strange, with about 14 feet of basketball talent on the Spurs in Robinson and Duncan, the littlest Spur comes up with the biggest shot.

AE: What can you say about this little guy. Johnson controlled the game for them and took that big shot down the stretch. And it's fitting that he hit that shot with all the talk about him not being able to hit the shot in the playoffs and with Damon Stoudamire talking about him in that Blazers series. He was great tonight.

VC: Now the Knicks, to their credit, have a chance to the win the basketball game and they get the ball to their hot hand, Sprewell. What happened?

AE: He was the man they wanted to get it to. Sean Elliott lost him and Sprewell was going to the basket and the Knicks got it to him, but his momentum took him too far under the basket. And when he did get a chance to shoot the ball, who was there? The Twin Towers.

VC: We talked about another Spur stepping up to help out scoring-wise, and tonight it was Jaren Jackson.

AE: He had a pretty bad series, but he came up big tonight -- hitting those two 3-pointers and just being there for the Spurs. They need Jackson. He made a difference tonight.

VC: We have to tip our hats to the Knicks. They came in here short-handed, but they gave the best team in basketball everything they wanted, going toe-to-toe with the Spurs.

AE: A lot of people have not looked at the job Jeff Van Gundy did. He prepared this team for a great series and they would not be here without the preparation that he put them through. And you have to give a lot of credit to him under the pressures he was under -- losing his job, no Patrick Ewing, a hobbled Larry Johnson and a hobbled Chris Childs. He did a fantastic job.

The winning points, however, came from the shortest player on a team known for its height -- 5-11 point guard Avery Johnson, who hit a wide-open corner jumper with 47 seconds left.

Sprewell, closely guarded, missed a jumper with 26 seconds left, and the Spurs ran much of the remaining time off the clock before Robinson missed a runner that didn't hit the rim. Johnson then fired the ball off the back of the rim from long range, avoiding a 24-second violation, and the Knicks had only 2.1 seconds to set up the final shot.

Ward's pass found Sprewell almost directly under the basket, and his momentum carried him to the wrong side of the backboard and prevented him from getting a decent shot.

"We were trying to get a layup, Charlie threw an excellent pass, I was just so far under the basket, and with their size I didn't have a shot," Sprewell said.

The fans at the Garden, after a moment of silence, gave the Spurs a polite ovation as the teammates swarmed each other near New York's basket.

"We fought hard," Sprewell said. "We didn't want them to win on our court, but they played well. They deserved it. They were the best team this year."

Duncan finished with seven points in the fourth quarter, 31 in all and nine rebounds.

"I've got Tim and you don't. That's the difference," Popovich told Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy in the locker room after the game.

Latrell Sprewell played his best game of the finals, but his 35 points weren't enough. AP  

Nearby, several players recorded the mayhem on home video cameras, Jaren Jackson shared the good news over a cell phone and Jerome Kersey and Malik Rose lighted victory cigars.

Robinson, dismissed for so long as a softie because of his genteel manner and losing history, had 15 points and 12 rebounds.

Jackson added 11 points and Mario Elie 10 for the Spurs, whose season of success ended with 46 victories in their final 53 games and resounding playoff victories over the Timberwolves, Lakers, Trail Blazers and Knicks.

"I don't know if people thought it wouldn't be important for me, but I know how important and special it is," Duncan said. "I'll celebrate as much as I can before I go back to training camp."

As for New York, its quest for its first NBA championship since 1973 ended in disappointment. But at least the Knicks went down with a fight.

Sprewell scored 14 of his career playoff-high 35 points in the fourth quarter as the Knicks were unable to get anything offensively from Allan Houston or Larry Johnson.

Houston finished with 16 points, none in he fourth quarter, and Johnson also failed to score in the fourth and finished with just seven.

Combined with the absence of Patrick Ewing because of his torn Achilles' tendon, the Knicks simply did not have enough to keep pace with a San Antonio team that was too big and too good.

"I felt bad for Patrick," Robinson said. "But really that wasn't our concern. We had to get ourselves together.

"That team is very good, gave us as good a match as any team that played us in the playoffs. That team had some serious fire. They played great and worked their tails off. They don't have anything to hang their heads about."

Sprewell scored New York's first 10 points of the fourth quarter, including a 3-pointer for a 66-63 lead with nine minutes left, while Duncan scored the first six for San Antonio.

A three-point play by Marcus Camby off an assist from Sprewell put New York ahead 71-68 with 6:21 left. A dunk by Camby made it 73-70, and a 3-pointer by Mario Elie tied it at 75-all with 3 1/2 minutes left.

Sprewell hit from the line with 3:12 left to give New York a 77-75 lead, and Duncan made only one of two from the line 39 seconds later when he had a chance to tie it. The Knicks committed a 24-second violation with 1:53 left, Robinson missed a hook shot and Larry Johnson missed a 3-pointer before Avery Johnson hit from the corner to give the Spurs a 78-77 lead with 47 seconds left.

They turned out to be the final points of the game. The Knicks didn't score over the final 3:11.

"Nobody wanted to lose and it really showed," Sprewell said. "I'll bet it was a fun game to watch."

Jackson scored the final three points of the first half and the first five points of the second, then stole the ball from Sprewell, leading to two free throws by Elie that made it 47-38. The Knicks could have quit right there, but instead came right back with a 10-0 run that included five points from Sprewell and four from Houston for a 48-47 lead.

A jumper by Houston completed a 16-3 run and gave the Knicks a 54-50 lead with 2:29 left in the third, but the Spurs scored six of the final eight points of the period to take a 59-58 lead into the fourth.

Camby found himself in early foul trouble again, picking up two personals in the first 3 1/2 minutes, but the Knicks didn't let it hurt them. Sprewell scored on a drive off an offensive rebound to give New York a 21-15 lead, and it was 23-20 entering the second.

A 6-0 run -- a jumper by Kurt Thomas, an inside move by Larry Johnson and a fast break layup by Houston -- put the Knicks ahead 30-22.

The Spurs, behind 16 first-half points from Duncan, steadily chipped away and took a 40-38 lead into the locker room on Jackson's 3-pointer with six seconds left in the half.

Notes: Duncan, a poor free throw shooter when he entered the league, shot 35-for-44 (80 percent) in the series. ... The 1982-83 Philadelphia 76ers had the best postseason record in NBA history, 12-1. The 1991 Chicago Bulls also went 15-2 in the postseason. ... The clock above the Spurs' basket malfunctioned in the third quarter, and portable clocks were set up at floor level for the remainder of the game. The clock over the Knicks' basket was turned off, too, so that New York would not have an advantage. ... The Knicks drew their 298th consecutive sellout crowd, a span of six seasons.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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