The Runner Sports

The Signature Moment From All Five Spurs’ Championship Drives

Every year, on their way to the championship, the winning team leaves behind a signature moment, destined for the pages of basketball lore. Think LeBron’s chase-down block on Iggy, the Jordan double-pump against Utah, the Magic skyhook, the list goes on.

Here is a list of those iconic moments as they pertain to every San Antonio Spurs championship drive since 1999. Each of these moments bears significance as either a series-altering momentum shift and/or a decisive, dagger-like quality that left the other team with no choice but to shake their heads in doomed disbelief.

But you know what my favorite thing about this list is?

Every year’s winner is a completely different player. The Spurs have been taking turns winning games for each other since they played in the Alamodome. It turns out the names on the list are pretty close to an all-time Spurs squad, right down to ‘honorable mention’ Manu Ginobili as the all-time sixth man.

1999: Sean Elliott’s Memorial Day Miracle

vs. Portland Trailblazers, 1999 NBA Western Conference Finals

4th Quarter, Game 2

I know, it wasn’t in the Finals, and it wasn’t by one of the Twin Towers.

If you haven’t heard of the Memorial Day Miracle, read the full story of what happened that day.

Once you finish that, come back to this one and keep reading.

Basically, if you want to be over-dramatic about it, you could probably get away with saying ‘no Memorial Day Miracle, no Spurs dynasty.’ I think that’s a fair statement. It’s not like the Knicks put up much of a fight the next round in the Finals.

This Conference Finals series was peak ’99 Spurs, this was peak Sean Elliott, and the iconic win turned out to be a fledgling sign of many good things to come.

2003: Tim Duncan and David Robinson Double-Putback Over Kenyon Martin

vs. New Jersey Nets, 2003 NBA Finals

3rd Quarter, Game 6

Towards the end of the 3rd quarter in Game 6 of the ’03 Finals, Tony Parker drove into the lane and tossed up a runner. It rolled off the left side of the rim, and three hands rose up for the rebound. Each hand belonged to a different player. Two of them were Spurs. The other was poor Kenyon Martin, who found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. All three hands flushed the ball through the basket at once, and suddenly, Kenyon Martin knew the Nets had no real chance in the series.

The Twin Towers have a million back-and-forth plays to choose from as their calling card, but this one was special. The Spurs were down by 12 when it happened. They couldn’t lose Game 6 at home against this scrappy Nets team. They just couldn’t.

Not only did this play give the world a peek into the world of Spurs-ian composure, it also showcased how in-sync the two big men could be. It signified how the two of them, as a combined force, were about as unstoppable as a triple-handed rim stuff. It also symbolized how badly the Nets needed someone besides Kenyon Martin and the ghost of Dikembe Mutombo clogging up the paint against that Spurs team.

Besides, it came after a Tony Parker teardrop, and who doesn’t like watching that?

2005: Robert Horry’s Buzzer-Beating Three For The OT Win

vs. Detroit Pistons, 2005 NBA Finals

End of OT, Game 5

Everything Robert Horry ever touched in his career turned to gold, and I mean that quite literally. For a good 12 years, it always felt like as Robert Horry went, so too did Larry O’Brien. It is because of moments like this game-winning three-pointer that so many cities have a soft spot for Robert Horry.

Personally, this is the moment that my younger self learned that miracles happen, and impossible is nothing, and every other positive euphemistic cliché you can think of. Horry’s high release and even higher arc are burned forever into my teenage sports brain, up to and including the suspended shooting arm suspended in the air as he watched his masterpiece fall through the net. It was all so ahead of its time. The Red Bull ad campaign about how amazing sports look in slow motion wouldn’t be a thing for another eight years or so.

Nowadays, rates buzzer beaters using something called the Horry Scale. Five Horry’s is the maximum possible rating. The criterion is a combination of factors (game importance, shot difficulty, etc.), and Big Shot Rob himself has final say on the rating. There’s a reason he gets to do this. He did it for every team he ever played for.

This clutch three to win Game 5 in OT during a tied Finals series against the defending champs is undoubtedly one of the best Finals moments of the last 20 years. It was a moment of flash that shifted momentum in a Finals matchup won largely in the trenches. And it was a golden opportunity for Horry to be Horry. Of course, when you’re Robert Horry, everything you touch turns to gold eventually anyways.

2007: Tony Parker Reverse Layup Against LeBron James and Every Other Cav At Some Point Too

vs. LeBron James Cleveland Cavaliers, 2007 NBA Finals

Every Quarter, Every Game

On his way to a Finals MVP trophy and 3rd championship in four years, Tony Parker was actually very charitable with his time in the spring of 2007. He managed to personally give every single player on this Cavaliers team complimentary tango lessons. It was a truly generous gesture, and it led to the most twisty-turny, beautiful version of TP the world had ever seen.

First, he picked on Ilgauskas. Then Varejao. Then he broke LeBron down. Then it was Drew Gooden’s turn. One by one, Tony Parker blew by them, each time quicker than the last, as if someone was pushing him down a steep hill with skates on. But it was his control that was always the breathtaking thing. The Spurs’ four-game sweep of the Cavs contained a truly suspicious amount of English off the glass for a man who says he’s from France. Every time the Spurs needed a bucket, Tony was there to flick it in off the backboard while falling away and moving forward. An innumerable amount of these drives and teardrops were so silky smooth we’ve forgotten how clutch they were. Even a young LeBron James couldn’t blink fast enough.

2014: Kawhi Leonard’s Baseline Dunk Over Chris Andersen

vs. Miami Heat (The Sequel), 2014 NBA Finals

4th Quarter, Game 3

Kawhi Leonard driving past a helpless Ray Allen and then stuffing all over Chris Andersen’s face is the moment San Antonians herald as a new Spurs era that now belongs to the Braided One. The revenge aspect of the series’ context made it all the sweeter.

As he took off and ascended into the stratosphere, I could almost hear an angelic voice singing ‘Redemption Song’ from the rafters of American Airlines Arena. Or maybe it was Rage‘s ‘Take The Power Back.’ Or perhaps it was just the rim, yelling for mercy as the figure of Kawhi Leonard blotted out the sun.

“Somebody’s going to help me, right?” thought Ray Allen as Kawhi Leonard used him as a human turnstile. “Someone’s going to help that guy, right?” mused Chris Andersen to himself as he extended one arm halfheartedly to meet Kawhi at the hoop. Maybe this was the moment Popovich realized he could give the car keys to Kawhi after Tim Duncan took a couple final laps around the block.

Either way, for those lingering seconds, as Leonard hung in suspended animation above the rim, the pain of the previous year’s collapse against the Heat was replaced with optimism for the future. More than that… I think it may have been the moment Leonard finally discovered he had it in himself too. Kawhi Leonard got hair on his chest that day. I wonder if he braids that too?

Honorable Mention: 2005: Manu Ginobili Slashing Dunk Down The Middle Against Rip, Sheed, and Antonio McDyess

vs. Detroit Pistons in the 2005 NBA Finals

4th Quarter, Game 1

Everyone remembers long-haired Manu, right? The flowing mane added a level of hyper-theatrics to his already frenetic style, and its sheer presence made this dunk look even crazier than it was, if that’s a possibility. Manu abandoned all regard for human life on this one, slashing and dashing and dunking over three of Detroit’s best defenders.

It put the Spurs up by nine with less than three minutes to go in Game 1, so really, it served two purposes; both as a dagger, and an irreversible momentum shift. It was two of 15 points Manu scored in the fourth quarter alone. The best second-round draft pick ever decided he wanted to win that day, and that nobody was going to take that away from him… not Richard Hamilton, not Antonio McDyess, and especially not anyone with the last name ‘Wallace.’

Justin Heller
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Justin Heller

NBA Spurs Lead Writer at The Runner Sports
NBA guy. Manu apologist. Tim Duncan clergyman. Van Exel admirer. Embiid fan club. Players Tribune articles can never be bad. The three most important letters in the NBA are g-i-f.
Grew up all over, ended up in San Antonio, where I live currently. Come enjoy the churros with me, Chuck.
Justin Heller
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