In Perspective: Fifty Wins, Thirteen Seasons.

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About 20 games ago, our very own Andrew McNeill brought up the remote possibility that the Spurs could win out the string and keep the 50 win streak alive. I didn’t say it then, but I thought he was a bit nuts. At the time he mentioned it (if I remember the timing right), the Spurs had just beaten Indiana at home, making them 34-14 on the season. In order to keep the streak alive, the Spurs were going to need to win 16 of their last 18 games. Six of those 18 were against teams that would be playoff teams, with two more against a team that wouldn’t make it (either the Suns or the Jazz). There were seven back-to-back games left in the season, including a back-to-back-to-back. Given Pop’s promise to sit Tim and Manu on back to backs and the patterns he’d grown into with his rotations and playoff rest, it was hard to imagine the Spurs winning that many even if all the chips fell in their favor. When the Spurs lost two in a row — one a “let’s sit everyone” loss and the other an embarrassing blemish to the Los Angeles Lakers at home, I felt pretty confident that Andrew’s hopes were dashed. The Spurs weren’t going to end the season with 10 straight wins, were they?

And now, well. I look like a right fool, don’t I?

• • •

One of the more impressive things about this particular 50-win season isn’t simply how few games they accomplished it in (which is obviously impressive and must be mentioned in any discussion of how improbable this regular season was), but also how few lucky breaks the Spurs actually got this season. A few of the things that went wrong for the Spurs, all of which probably should have led to the streak’s untimely demise:

  • As you may remember, the Spurs started the year 2-8 on the road. After that inauspicious start, they finished the year 20-3 on the road, making their final road record (22-11) the second best road record in the league. Not only that, their road winning percentage (66%) marks the 2nd best in franchise history, behind only 1995′s 29-12 road record. Suffice to say, Robinson’s 1995 team didn’t start the season 2-8 on the road. (They did start 2-4, though. Methinks we’re not allowed to overreact to bad road starts anymore.)
  • Despite winning 50 of 66 games, the Spurs had significantly worse regular season star-participation than they’ve had the last two seasons. In 2010 and 2011 combined, the Spurs’ star trio missed 49 out of a possible 246 games among the three of them. In 2012, they missed 46 out of a possible 198 games. Three fewer games missed, forty eight fewer games they could’ve missed. Part of this, of course, was by design — Pop intentionally sat the big three far more often than they sat for injury (and, we may remind, essentially tanked four games this season and went 2-2 in contests without any of the big 3 on the court).
  • The Spurs started the season 12-9. That means, for those keeping track, that this year’s team took 21 games to get their first nine losses. The 2011 Spurs started the season 44-9 — meaning that they took 53 games to record their ninth loss. It was one of the 10 best starts to a season in NBA history. But, despite the obvious disparity in how they started, the 2012 Spurs still ended up with a better regular season win percentage than the 2011 edition. That’s… downright eldritch.

In terms of what the streak means on a full-on historical basis, the Spurs now have sole possession of the longest 50-win season streak in NBA history. The Mavericks’ streak (ongoing until this year) was snapped at 11 seasons straight, and the team they used to be tied with (the 1979-1991 Los Angeles Lakers) only had 12 seasons straight. If you switch the streak to a win percentage of 60% to account for the fact that the NBA season was shorter during the 1960s Celtics run, the Spurs move ahead of both the aforementioned Lakers and the 1956-1968 Boston Celtics — though their streak is also extended to a 15 year run in that parametrization, as they won over 60% of their games in 1998 and 1999. No matter how you slice it, the Spurs’ 13 years of 50-win excellence is essentially unparalleled in NBA history. The number of teams that even came close to the Spurs’ accomplishment can be counted on one hand — the Russell Celtics, the Showtime Lakers, and the Nowitzki-Cuban Mavericks. Pretty nice company. (Wait, the Mavs? What are you guys doing here? Jeez, guys.)

• • •

So, in short, an interesting thing happened on the way to the playoffs this year. The Spurs bench, their starters, their scrubs — the whole team, really — simply forgot how to lose. The 50 win streak goes on to live another year. And Andrew — whose prognostication I’d written off as soon as it fell from his lips — gets the last laugh.

Honestly, I don’t ever remember being this happy to be wrong.

  • Titletown99030507d

    It’s nice to get 50 games and get 13 season streak alive and beat the Laker organization in that department but that streak don’t mean a bit to me at this point. Failure to bring home the NBA championship trophy home at this point would be a complete and utter disappointment. To show everybody that your the bad ass of the entire NBA league at this point then fizzle out would be an embarrassment. Timmy will need to crack open that championship window with a crowbar if he wants to see any glimmer of it again. Do you honestly think we go resting Timmy even more next season and win it? Wow.

  • LPspursFan

    if at the end of the day my favorite team wins 4 titles over a 15-year span where every regular season had a winning percentage of at least 60 percent (meaning your team is a CONTENDER EVERY YEAR), i could live with that

    it’s easy to take for granted that for the last 15 years, we fans followed a team that arguably had a chance to win a title EVERY YEAR…now don’t get me wrong, i hate when the Spur haters call us regular season wonders and discount our 4 rings, and anything short of winning a title this year lends credence to their BS

    i do have a good feeling about this team…there’s a certain air of confidence, a noticeable look of determination and purpose in their play and I’m sooooooooooo glad the playoffs are here

    Go Spurs! Go!!

  • idahospur

    So our best team put together 50 wins. If these Spurs that played the last few games (without Duncan, Parker, Manu, etc) existed for an entire season, would the team of Mills/Splitter/Blair/Anderson etc be a team that could qualify for the playoffs? The way they’ve played, it makes me think so. And it should make Jordan feel bad that this unit could easily get a better record than Charlotte did this year.

    I have to feel pretty good about the way this team looks right now. Obviously winning the final game takes a lot of things to go well but this team is finding ways to win and has managed to enter the playoffs with everyone in good health. Last year against Memphis, it took Pop a few games to realize Duncan/Dice-Blair couldn’t last against Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, and brought in Splitter more. After the Lakers loss with Bynum killing on the boards, Pop adjusted and found the way to counter that attack (even though Kobe was injured, coming off injury). It feels as if Pop knows that adjustments need to be made quickly and letting a game or two go in the playoffs before changing will no longer cut it.

    This team plays extremely well. Our starters are healthy and our bench is ready is step in at any time. All the additions made (Jax, Diaw, etc) fit into the system well. This team scores a lot of points leading me to believe that it can counter against any “younger” team the Spurs may face, plus has experience and defense.

    Reading my thoughts doesn’t make as much sense as in my head, but I just wanted to state how optimistic I am about the chances theses Spurs have.

  • hookem731

    This was posted on Pounding the Rock a couple days ago. It’s a beautiful read.

    http://www.poundingtherock.com/2012/4/26/2977919/san-antonio-spurs-tim-duncan-poetry-ballad

  • Tim in Surrey

    Anybody see John Hollinger’s round-by-round playoff predictions on ESPN today? He’s got the Spurs winning it over the Heat, which is nice. But it’s his commentary that’s particularly gratifying. My favorite bit is this:

    “They’re 21-2 in their past 23 games; one of the two losses was a game against Utah in which they opted not to play their three stars. If New York or L.A. had a stretch like this, it would break the Internet, but because it’s San Antonio hardly anyone is discussing it.”

  • Vermont Spurs Fan

    I wrote out a response to Titletown and then I deleted it. Why bother? This moment is a beautiful one and no one can take that away from the Spurs and Spurs fans. I am so happy for those guys who played in the last two games without our 4 best scorers. They came through and it was somehow so fitting that we relied on the bench to win those games. They are officially a big part of this improbable run to 50 – 16.

    I am going to say it, championships are over-rated. I am a regular season guy! Normally there are 82 games in the regular season. I watch them all and I get joy from them all (unless we have someone get injured like Ginobili in Minnesota). If I did not enjoy I would not watch. Give me a winning team that makes every year fun and exciting. There is sometimes a bit of randomness in a championship run, a bit of good luck required. But there is nothing random about the “Greatest 15 years of any Team in Any Sport in History!”

    The Lakers have 5 titles in the past 13 years and we have 4, but I would never trade. The Lakers have missed the playoffs, had criminal trials, suspensions, turmoil, BIG EGOs and just overall bad behavior. The Spurs make me proud and optimistic and hopeful.

    If the Spurs were to lose 4 straight to Utah I would be disappointed for THEM since I know that THEY would take it hard. But I would not be disappointed for ME and I would always be proud of what they have done on the court and in the community. The Spurs are a diverse team, with diverse fans and they just give me so much hope for the future. The basketball court is small, the world is big and Spurs are great in both.

    Living in Vermont (originally from Missouri) I hear mostly bad things about Texas. Hate crimes, more executions than any other state, the fight over redistricting and the ability of minorities to be represented, and so forth. But when I watch a Spurs broadcast I know that is not what Texas is. Texas is really a beautiful place full of great people. Like I said the Spurs (and Spurs fans!) bring me hope and joy and that is worth so much more than a 5th championship.

    All I can say is Go Spurs, Go! and Go Spurs Fans!

  • Peggi

    Well said, LP and VT Spursfans! I’m so proud of mySpurs and ALL they’ve accomplished (without drama) since I became a fan after moving here 16 yrs ago:) Go Spurs Go!!!!!

  • DorieStreet

    A breakdown of the streak by victory totals:
    50-53 wins – 3 seasons
    54-57 wins – 3 seasons
    58+ wins – 6 seasons -these are of winning percentages of 70% or greater

    The 50 wins in 66 games comes out to be a winning percentage of .758, which is only surpassed by the .763 put up by the 2005-06 squad (63-19).

    The season before the streak started- 1998-99 -the 37 wins (13 losses) in 50 games by the Spurs extrapolates out to 60-61 victories in a regular 82-game schedule.
    Add in the record during Tim Duncan’s rookie year (56-26), one can make the conjecture that the Spurs have delivered 50-win campaigns during Tim’s entire career.

  • Titletown99030507d

    @Vermont

    Good for you and speak for yourself but the playoffs matter more to me. No one is going to care about the 50 games they won if they blow it in the playoffs. Playoffs is what the NBA is all about. It’s big! Don’t judge me I’ve been a Spurs fan since the days of Swen Nater, James Silas, Larry Kenon, and the Ice man. I waited 25 years to see them win their first championship in 1999 and they’ve been winning since and yeah I’m a little bit spoiled at this point. What the hell is wrong with that? All I’m saying the way they’ve been playing they better win it all or its just another big let down to everybody. Don’t let an arena full of happy rich people on the front rows fool you into thinking San Antonio is a great place to live. In the last 30 years this town has turned from the best kept secret to a laden crime city thanks to the influx of transplants in that time. Oh how I wish I had my little town back.
    And yes I enjoy the Spurs when they win and win big. I don’t care about the regular season. Insane.

  • Nima K.

    Titletown,

    San Antonio is still a nice place, even despite its sprawl and influx of newcomers. We’ve had it better than many other cities. If only we could have a bit more rain!

    I dont expect the Spurs to clinch the 5th title this year. That sun is realistically setting. Still, it was fun watching the Spurs in the past 15 years. We did well. And I enjoyed it. I hope you did too.

  • DorieStreet

    I’m with Titletown on this one- especially after last year’s postseason. The sports media wants the megastars to start getting titles to augment their spectacular play and individual accomplishments. One last championship from the Core 3 and their ensemble of young luncnbuckets and veteran castaways to stick it in everyone’s craw.
    Then we can sit back and be content while the ‘A list’ stars/teams fight it out for their 1st or 2nd title.
    Heck, with some luck, the Spurs could keep it going without a slide post-#21 & #20.
    The basketball gods should reward us for the team’s stellar run minus disgust and drama that seems part and parcel with professional sports life.

  • KG

    Gotta agree with VT here… it’s not all about championships. They are a HUGE part of “success”, and luckily we’ve had 4. I don’t care what my Mavs fan friends think, and I don’t care what the media says. This season was the most enjoyable one I’ve watched, for a number of reasons (some personal, but a lot of it was based on what was happening on the court).

    I just don’t agree that Lebron and the Heat are “failures” because they lost in the Finals, just as I didn’t think the Mavs had to win it to validate Dirk’s greatness (although it did add a bit to the legacy)… but I’m very happy to keep these Spurs to myself, just as Titletown wishes he could have kept SA to himself.

    That being said, how freakin awesome will it be when we win it again!?!?!