Spurs 94, Blazers 80
PORTLAND, Ore. -- In the moments after the San Antonio Spurs clinched their first trip to the NBA Finals in the 23 years since the franchise joined the league, David Robinson spoke to his teammates behind a closed locker room door.He wanted to thank them and tell them how much they meant to him. After 10 years of criticism that he's too soft or couldn't win the big one, The Admiral was bringing the fleet home in triumph.
"You should have heard him," Tim Duncan said. "It means so much to him. He's worked so many years and this is the first time he's gotten there. What he said is that this is the best that he's felt with a team, looking at all the people on the floor that he knows he can count on."
Avery Johnson knew how much the sweep of Portland in the Western Conference finals, completed with a masterful 94-80 victory on Sunday, meant to Robinson. Johnson remembered 1995, when Robinson was the league's MVP but the Spurs were knocked off by Houston in the conference finals.
"Like I always tell you all, I would love to win a championship," Johnson said. "I really would love to win it. That's what I am here for. But I want to see David win it more than myself. He's a terrific man, and I've been with him for years."
Robinson had 20 points and 10 rebounds and again was a force on defense, stifling repeated attempts by Portland to score inside.
"It's been 10 long years, but it's just what I imagined it would be like," Robinson said. "You work so hard. It feels really good to finally get there."
The Spurs won their 10th straight postseason game, one short of the league record. Since a shaky 6-8 start, San Antonio is 42-6, a record that even Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls would have admired.
"It feels unbelievable," Sean Elliott said. "We're just on a huge high right now, but at the same time we realize that we have a lot more work to do."
First, though, comes a lot more waiting. The Spurs must return to San Antonio to await the outcome of the Eastern Conference finals, where New York has a 2-1 lead on Indiana. The NBA Finals won't start until next Sunday, at the earliest. Robinson won't mind the wait.
"We have, how should I put it, a lot of seasoned players on this team," he said. "We can use the rest."
It was that seasoning that made a big difference against the young, emotional Blazers. San Antonio was unflappable, even when the Blazers rallied to briefly take the lead in the third quarter.
Duncan had two three-point plays, a spectacular slam dunk and a series of big defensive plays to help the Spurs pull away. The Blazers came away impressed.
"I don't know if they'll sweep, but I predict they'll win it all," Brian Grant said. "And I'm not saying that just because they beat us. They're tough. They've set themselves up to be champions."
The Spurs buried the Blazers with a 71 percent shooting performance in the fourth quarter (12-for-17). Even Duncan, usually a man of few words, could not hide his enthusiasm for what was happening on this team.
"It's incredible how well our team is playing," he said. "Everybody is finding a way to contribute, finding ways to make plays for everybody. You stop one guy, and another gets on a roll. We have so much trust in each other. The way we're winning shows how awesome we are."
San Antonio put away the biggest victory ever with a 17-4 run in the fourth quarter. Duncan and Elliott each scored five points and Johnson had four in the decisive surge. The first of Jaren Jackson's three 3-pointers in the fourth quarter put the Spurs up 81-67 with 7:09 to play.
Duncan, who had just five points in Game 3, had 18 points and eight rebounds in Game 4. Elliott scored 16. Johnson, the point guard Damon Stoudamire said would never lead a team to a championship, had 15 points and six assists.