After winning the MVP but falling short of a title in the 2002 playoffs, Spurs forward Tim Duncan was driven to lift the Spurs back to a championship. He did exactly that -- and won another MVP for good measure, too -- to highlight the 2002-03 season.
The season was not without its significant changes. Before the campaign began, the format for first-round playoff games was expanded from best-of-five to a best-of-seven. Additionally, the New Orleans Hornets made their debut and finished 47-35 to make the playoffs in their inaugural season in Louisiana. Finally, former MVP and scoring champ David Robinson of the Spurs announced that this would be his final season.
Several key rookies -- such as Carlos Boozer, Tayshaun Prince and Manu Ginobili -- made their debut this season. But the biggest impact was felt from a Western Conference duo: Houston's Yao Ming and Phoenix's Amar'e Stoudemire.
Yao became an All-Star starter and helped the Rockets amass 43 wins, just missing the playoffs. Stoudemire, the ninth pick in the Draft, helped the Suns return to the playoffs and won the Rookie of the Year Award.
The Spurs were a solid 33-16 at the All-Star break, but turned it on in the second half of the season with a 27-6 finish. Duncan averaged 23.3 points and 12.9 rebounds a game for the Spurs as San Antonio wrapped up the No. 1 seed in the West and seemed ready to roll through the playoffs.
All along the way, though, the Spurs needed six games to dispatch the Suns in the first round. San Antonio dodged a bullet in Game 5 of the West semis against L.A. when Robert Horry's potential game-winning 3-pointer rimmed out and the Spurs ousted the Lakers in Game 6. In the West finals, it again took six games for San Antonio to oust its foe, the Dallas Mavericks.
In the East, the Nets weren't the No. 1 team in the conference as they were the season before, but they were tops once the playoffs began. After a six-game series with Milwaukee in the first round, the Nets swept the Celtics and Pistons to reach their second straight Finals.
Once there, they forged a 2-2 split with the Spurs in The Finals. But Duncan dominated the final two games, including 21 points, 20 rebounds, 10 assists and eight blocks in the clincher. Duncan won his second Finals MVP honor after averaging 24.2 points, 17.0 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 5.3 blocks in The Finals.
Eastern Conference first round
Boston defeated Indiana (4-2)
Detroit defeated Orlando (4-3)
New Jersey defeated Milwaukee (4-2)
Philadelphia defeated New Orleans (4-2)
Western Conference first round
Dallas defeated Portland (4-3)
L.A. Lakers defeated Minnesota (4-2)
Sacramento defeated Utah (4-1)
San Antonio defeated Phoenix (4-2)
Eastern Conference semifinals
Detroit defeated Philadelphia (4-2)
New Jersey defeated Boston (4-0)
Western Conference semifinals
Dallas defeated Sacramento (4-3)
San Antonio defeated L.A. Lakers (4-2)
Eastern Conference finals
New Jersey defeated Detroit (4-0)
Western Conference finals
San Antonio defeated Dallas (4-2)
San Antonio defeated New Jersey (4-2)
Points -- Tracy McGrady, Orlando Magic (32.1)
Assists -- Jason Kidd, New Jersey Nets (8.9)
Rebounds -- Ben Wallace, Detroit Pistons (15.4)
Steals -- Allen Iverson, Philadelphia 76ers (2.7)
Blocks -- Theo Ratliff, Atlanta Hawks (3.2)
FG% -- Eddy Curry, Chicago Bulls (58.5)
FT% -- Allan Houston, New York Knicks (91.9)
3PT% -- Bruce Bowen, San Antonio Spurs (44.1)
Most Valuable Player -- Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs
Rookie of the Year -- Amar'e Stoudemire, Phoenix Suns
Defensive Player of the Year -- Ben Wallace, Detroit Pistons
Most Improved Player -- Gilbert Arenas, Golden State Warriors
Sixth Man of the Year -- Bobby Jackson, Sacramento Kings
Coach of the Year -- Gregg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs
All-Star Game MVP -- Kevin Garnett, Minnesota Timberwolves
Finals MVP -- Duncan, San Antonio