The 1999 NBA season was shortened due to a labor dispute that led to a lockout, canceling the first 3 months of the season, literally making this the 1999 NBA Season and Finals (as all games were played in the year 1999). The NBA schedule consisted of 50 regular season games (61% of regular 82 games), and a normal playoff schedule; many teams never played each other.
This was the second year of the "Twin Towers" pairing of David Robinson and second year star forward Tim Duncan, who switched from his natural center position in college to power forward to play alongside Robinson in San Antonio; the two had been teammates since the Spurs drafted Duncan with the first overall pick in the 1997 NBA Draft- a pick they earned through the draft lottery, due to a 62-loss 1996–97 season that saw Robinson suffer an injury very early in the season and the team collapse from there. As a result of the shaky start, veteran coach Bob Hill was fired and replaced by then-general manager Gregg Popovich. In the first season of the Duncan/Robinson tandem the Spurs won 56 games but were eliminated by the Utah Jazz in the second round of the playoffs. The following year, led by Robinson, Duncan, Sean Elliott, and Avery Johnson, the Spurs won 37 of their 50 games and qualified as the top seed in the Western Conference, as well as the league's best record.
After defeating the Minnesota Timberwolves in their first playoff series, San Antonio recorded back-to-back sweeps in the second round and conference finals, defeating the Los Angeles Lakers and Portland Trail Blazers. The victory over Portland gave the Spurs their first ever trip to the NBA Finals.
The Knicks had a harder time getting to the playoffs than the Spurs did. Toward the end of the season, with the team teetering on the brink of making the playoffs, rumors had begun to spread in the New York media that head coach Jeff Van Gundy would lose his job before the end of the season if the team did not make the playoffs. Instead, New York fired general manager Ernie Grunfeld and allowed Van Gundy to lead the team to the playoffs, with the team barely qualifying as the #8 seed. They would face the Miami Heat, the top seed, in the first round.
Led by an injured Patrick Ewing and relying on contributions from Larry Johnson, Latrell Sprewell, and Allan Houston, as well as a newly acquired Marcus Camby, the Knicks were able to keep pace with the Heat and after Houston hit a shot with 0.8 seconds remaining in Game 5 of that series, the Knicks were victorious and became the second team in NBA history after the Denver Nuggets to win a playoff series as the #8 seed. The Nuggets were led by Dikembe Mutombo in that series, a center who now was playing for the Atlanta Hawks, the Knicks' next opponent. Although the center from Zaire guaranteed a victory, the Knicks won in a four-game sweep to set up a matchup with the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Ewing could not continue due to an injury and was lost for the series after the first two games. In the third game, with 11.9 seconds left and the Knicks trailing 91–88, Johnson looked to attempt a three-point shot but was unable to shake the defender. He continued moving, however, and got off the shot while being fouled. He made the basket and converted the subsequent free-throw for a game-winning four-point play and gave his team a 2–1 lead in the series. In Game 6, however, Johnson suffered a knee injury and although the Knicks rallied around him to get the victory and the conference championship, it would prove costly as his playing time was limited in the Finals.
The Spurs won the series 4 games to 1. Spurs forward Tim Duncan was named the Most Valuable Player of the finals. On June 25 with 47 seconds to go in Game 5, Avery Johnson hit the game-winner. Johnson's shot was followed by a Latrell Sprewell miss that would have sent the series back to San Antonio.
This was the first of San Antonio's five NBA Championships, but they would not return to the Finals until 2003. New York has yet to return to the Finals. No #8 seed has advanced to the NBA Finals or as far as the Conference Finals since, but there have been other instances of #8 seeds defeating #1 seeds in the playoffs: in 2007 the Golden State Warriors defeated the Dallas Mavericks; in 2011 the Memphis Grizzlies defeated the Spurs; and in 2012 the Philadelphia 76ers defeated the Chicago Bulls.
The Spurs would also be the first champions since 1986 to not go on to repeat as champions. From 1987 to 1998 every champion either repeated or three-peated.
As of the 2014 NBA Finals, June 25 is the latest in the calendar that any NBA Finals game has ever been played. Had a Game 7 been required it would have been played on Tuesday, June 29.
The Knicks and Spurs did not meet in the regular season.
Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame‡
The Finals were played using a 2–3–2 site format, where the first two and last two games are held at the team with home court advantage. The NBA, after experimenting in the early years, restored this original format for the Finals between 1985–2013. Since the 2013-2014 season, the Finals returned to a 2–2–1–1–1 site format.San Antonio Spurs
New York Knicks
They want Duncan. Gotten on the entry pass. Double teamed. Elliot on top. Elliot bluffs, drives, kicks. Avery Johnson for the lead...YES! Avery Johnson from the left baseline knocks it down and the Spurs lead it 78–77. 47 seconds to go.
Sean Elliot... Avery Johnson... BIG hoop for Avery Johnson! The Spurs by 1. Avery Johnson, undrafted, bounced around the NBA, cut twice by the Spurs before sticking the third time, a 5'3" high school senior, the last man on his high school team – grew eight inches in the next couple of years to get to 5'11".
Ward... to the paint, Sprewell! He's underneath! Trying to answer...(time expires) ... but can't! The San Antonio Spurs have won their first NBA championship.
The Spurs would become the first defending champion since the 1985–86 Celtics to not win consecutive championships. They won 53 games that season, but were severely handicapped by Sean Elliott's early season kidney transplant, and Tim Duncan's late-season knee injury. The Spurs were eliminated in the first round of the 2000 NBA Playoffs by the Phoenix Suns. The Spurs would also win four more NBA titles in 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2014 and appear in the 2013 NBA Finals, with Duncan and head coach Gregg Popovich the only members of the team to appear in all of the Spurs' Finals appearances.
To date, the series would be the Knicks' last NBA Finals appearance. The next season, the Knicks won 50 games but fell to the Indiana Pacers in six games in the Eastern Conference Finals. After that season, the Patrick Ewing era came to an end when Ewing was traded to the SuperSonics. In the post-Ewing era, the Knicks have managed five playoff appearances (2001, 2004, 2011, 2012, 2013), but only one playoff series win.