SAN ANTONIO — If things had been different, the Spurs most likely would have played their last game of the season Wednesday night against the New Orleans Pelicans at the AT&T Center.
The players would have cleaned out their lockers either Thursday or Friday, and coach Gregg Popovich would have had one more session with the media before turning his attention to the Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
For the record, the playoffs were scheduled to start Saturday.
It’s been a little more than a month since the early days of the coronavirus crisis practically shut down the country and relegated sports to an afterthought. It’s difficult to place much importance on sports as the United States continues to reel from the outbreak of a disease that already has claimed the lives of more than 34,000 Americans.
But after so much suffering and angst, the country is starting to look ahead and speculate about what the “new normal” will look like when the COVID-19 pandemic begins to fade. While no one is sure, we know at least this much: Daily life is going to be different. Much different.
Before the country was turned on its head and live sports events still saturated our TV programming, the Spurs beat the Dallas Mavericks 119-109 on March 10 at the AT&T Center.
One day later, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver stunned the sports world when he announced that the league was suspending the season.
Silver acted swiftly after Utah Jazz All-Star center Rudy Gobert tested positive for the coronavirus, postponing the Jazz-Thunder game in the Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City just before tipoff. As it turned out, Jazz star guard Donovan Mitchell also had tested positive.
The Spurs (27-36) trailed the Grizzlies by four games for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference when play was halted. San Antonio was 12th in the West standings with 19 games left on its schedule.
With deaths still rising across the United States, there’s no telling when or if the NBA season will resume. Nobody knows.
If the shots start going up again, it’s uncertain whether the league will pick up where it left off or go straight to the playoffs, taking the top eight teams in each conference. The Silver and Black would be out in the second scenario, of course.
There’s also the possibility that the league could opt to play some regular-season games. But even in that case, the schedule would be scaled back, according to some reports. Teams had anywhere between 15 to 19 games left before play was stopped. It’s doubtful they would play that many. The fewer the games, the longer the odds of the Spurs sneaking into the playoffs.
As noted earlier, San Antonio was a long shot to make the postseason when the season was suspended. The Spurs would have had to catch fire down the stretch to make a run at the No. 8 spot. And let’s face it: There was nothing to indicate that was going to happen.
After all, this is a team that never won more than three straight games before the season was suspended—and it did that only twice. That’s pretty weak.
Called “defensively challenged” by Coach Pop, the Silver and Black simply couldn’t put together enough stops at critical stretches to give themselves a chance to win time and again. In the end, the only consistent trait about the Spurs was their inconsistency.
With 11 of their remaining 19 games at home, the Silver and Black had a fairly favorable schedule down the stretch. But then again, they were only 16-14 at home when play was halted. That’s quite a comedown for a franchise that went 40-1 just four years ago, when the Spurs tied the 1985-86 Boston Celtics for the best single-season home record in league history.
Former NFL coach Bill Parcells famously said that “you are what your record says you are.”
In the case of the 2019-20 Spurs, you’re talking about a team that was well on its way to finishing under .500. The last time that happened in San Antonio was the 1996-97 season, when a guy named Tim Duncan was getting ready to graduate from Wake Forest.
The Silver and Black have made the playoffs an NBA-record-tying 22 consecutive seasons, all under Coach Pop, who has led the franchise to all five of its NBA titles.
It’s been a heck of a run. And, who knows? It's highly unlikely, but the streak could continue if the NBA pulls the plug on the season, playoffs and all.