As the San Antonio Spurs lost in overtime to the Cleveland Cavaliers for the 2nd time this year, a few stats perfectly encapsulated this Spurs season so far. For context, the Cavs were 19-45 (tied for last in the eastern conference) Ironically, Cleveland had a small bit to celebrate as they tied their win total from last season in the game against the Spurs. In the same game, San Antonio surpassed its loss total from last year, and are not looked at as an odds on favorite to return to the playoffs.
36 losses isn’t so humorous, seeing as that’s the most losses in any Spurs season of the last 23 years.
In 1997, the Spurs last losing season, they finished 20-62. The year became almost a benchmark for the franchise as just about every streak or record of sustained success originates with the lottery pick they accrued that year to draft soon to be Hall of Famer Tim Duncan. In the 23 years since San Antonio has had a league-high six 60-win seasons, 19 separate 50 win seasons, and have yet to finish with a losing record or miss the playoffs.
Until now the closest they ever came was the 2018 season while the Spurs were mid-breakup with Kawhi Leonard. In spite of the drama that 35 loss team was still able to earn the 8th and final playoff spot. If not from just the sheer will of Manu Ginobli’s last act. Last year’s team finished with 34 losses which was enough to earn the 7th seed. More importantly, it tied San Antonio with the Philadelphia 76ers for the most consecutive postseason appearances in any major league sport. This is the year San Antonio could break a nearly 50-year-old record set by the former Syracuse Nationals in the 22 seasons between 1950-1971.
With history at stake, the added pressure of playoff implications makes each loss even more detrimental. With the win over the Dallas Mavericks, San Antonio is just 1.5 games behind the Portland Trail Blazers who are in ninth place. And if losing to the team ranked 14th in the east isn’t bad enough, the Spurs have now fallen to 12th in the Western Conference standings.
Cleveland hasn’t swept the Spurs in a season series since 2009, two years after San Antonio swept the Cavaliers in the NBA Finals; but who’s to say which matters more.
In the 11 years since the two teams have split regular-season matchups back and forth, and unfortunately never met again in the Finals. LeBron James was indeed able to deliver on his promise to bring an NBA championship back to his home, but he was never able to sweep the Spurs. Yet somehow, this team, once again “Lebron-less” and one of the worst in the league was able to win not one but two overtime games against San Antonio.
The game was a microcosm of the Spurs season as a whole. Playing down to their opponents level rather than simply playing their own proven winning brand of basketball. The Spurs are currently 15-15 against teams with a losing record, and of the five teams San Antonio has taken to overtime four have losing records. The Spurs are now 4-2 in extra minutes this season, with the Cavs handing them both losses. These are tough losses against a team more concerned with the draft lottery than the actual result of the game. The Spurs have far more pressing matters to attend to than stumbling over the Cleveland Cavaliers, twice.
While 36 losses is officially a new low for the Spurs, all would be forgiven if the team is able to rally for the playoff push. However, a few more games like this and the Spurs will be flirting with their first losing season since 1997 and just their second since 1989. Given that Coach Popovic took over midway through that ill-fated year, and this would be his first ever full season to finish under .500 and it could be something even worse.
The 1st Spurs team to “unintentionally” miss the playoffs in over 30 years.