The San Antonio Spurs have had tremendous success as a franchise. Besides the legendary run of Tim Duncan, the Spurs have always been among the class of the league ever since coming over from the ABA.
But like every other team that wasn’t the Lakers or Rockets in the 1980s, San Antonio never sniffed the NBA Finals. They fell short twice in consecutive years in 1982 and ’83 in the Western Conference Finals.
So let’s take a look at those teams and see how they were similar…and different. Could they have beaten the Sixers in either of those years? We’ll start with the ’82 squad. Then the ’83 team gets their turn tomorrow.
The Iceman Cometh
George Gervin won his fourth and final scoring title in 1982, scoring 32.3 points per game. Only his 1980 season, when he averaged 33.1 points a contest, exceeded it.
There have been only 28 individual seasons in which an NBA player has scored 2,500 or more points. Gervin has two of them. Wilt Chamberlain did it seven times. Michael Jordan topped the mark six times. And LeBron James has never done it despite being just 400 points or so away from breaking the all-time scoring record as of this writing.
To say the Spurs offense was a bit one-dimensional is putting it mildly. Jordan’s four highest point totals came before his first championship. Kobe Bryant went over 2,800 points in 2006 on a terrible Lakers team, then James Harden scored over 2,800 in 2019 on a Rockets team that was on its last gasp as a contender.
San Antonio suffered from their own greatness in the person of their Hall of Fame player. Sure, Mike Mitchell was a solid second option on offense, averaging 21.0 points per game on the season, but on the whole, if you stopped the Iceman, you stopped the Spurs.
Or You Could Outscore Them
The Spurs were 13th out of 23 in Defensive Rating in the ’82 season, one reason they went 48-34. That was good enough to win the Midwest Division, however. On the bright side, the Spurs’ lightning-fast 102.5 pace, third-ranked offense, and lousy defense meant if you liked high-scoring basketball 40 years ago, a Spurs game would give you an average score of 113-110.
The average score of the Lakers’ sweep? 121-112. Even without many three-pointers going up (the line was there, but nobody used it back then), they were putting up scores that wouldn’t be out of place in 2023.
Could They Have Won It All?
Oh, come on. With Julius Erving to match up with Gervin and the rest of the Sixers better than their counterparts, the Sixers would’ve mopped the floor with San Antonio. Philly took the Lakers six games in that NBA Finals. They iced the defending champion Celtics in the ’82 East finals.
The Spurs had a great run in the late ’70s and early ’80s, making three conference finals. The other was the 1979 Eastern Conference Finals, believe it or not. The NBA realigned them into a division with the Rockets and expansion Mavericks in 1980.
But they weren’t anywhere near the equal of the class of the league, not in ’82.
Were they better in ’83? We’ll talk about that in the next episode of this series. Stay tuned, and thanks for reading!