HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — Maybe it’s time to change Tim Duncan‘s nickname from “The Big Fundamental” to “The Big Immortal.”
Duncan turns 37 next month, yet he is having a renaissance season of sorts that is cementing what was already a Hall of Fame career. At one point during the San Antonio Spurs’ 92-91 win over the Dallas Mavericks Thursday, the TNT broadcast put up one of those State Farm-sponsored poll questions. It read: Will Tim Duncan finish with 20 points and 20 rebounds?
Even though 55 percent of those who responded said he would, it certainly seemed like a stretch. Duncan’s been terrific, sure, but 20 and 20? He had 25 double-doubles coming into the game, but just one 20-rebound game back on Dec. 12 and the last time Duncan scored 20 was on Jan. 21.
And so the 55 percent who voted yes to Duncan notching 20 and 20 were, predictably, wrong. OK, halfway wrong. OK, barely wrong.
Duncan “The Immortal” finished with 28 and 19.
“Timmy played great,” Spurs guard Gary Neal said. “Timmy was phenomenal. Normal Timmy.”
Maybe not normal at this stage for the 14-time All-Star, now in his 16th season. But what the Spurs accomplished in the process of hanging onto the victory over their Texas rival certainly was.
San Antonio became the first team in the Western Conference to clinch a playoff spot (yeah, and taxes are due in a month). It’s the 16th consecutive season that the Spurs have advanced to the postseason, the longest active streak in the NBA dating back to the 1997-98 season, not coincidentally Duncan’s rookie year.
The next-longest playoff streak belongs to the Mavs, who dropped to 30-34 as their four-game win streak was snapped. Dallas isn’t out of the playoff hunt just yet, but their franchise record of 12 consecutive playoff appearances is on life support. San Antonio has been a particular thorn, sweeping the season series for the first time since Duncan’s first season and, not coincidentally, the year before Dirk Nowitzki landed in Dallas.
The Spurs (now 4-2 without injured point guard Tony Parker, who coach Gregg Popovich said Thursday is progressing well from a sprained ankle and could beat the four-week prognosis that had him returning in early April) extended another amazing streak Thursday night, notching a 50th win to make it 14 consecutive seasons with at least 50 (and that included last season’s 66-game lockout shortened season).
Again, the Mavs were closest in this category of consistency until their run of 11 in a row ended last season with a 36-30 record (well below the .610 winning percentage of a 50-win campaign).
The absurdity of the Spurs’ consistency during the Duncan era, which is aligned with Popovich’s tenure, is striking when considering the next active streak of winning at least 50 games is the Chicago Bulls with two. And, at 35-29, there’s much work to be done for it to get to three.
These are two streaks that won’t be touched for years to come, if ever.
Now, back to Duncan, who’s averaging 16.9 ppg and 9.8 rpg in less than 30 mpg. He might have a beef with Popovich for preventing him from nabbing a 20th rebound and fulfilling his second 20-20 night of the season. With 8.7 seconds left in the game and the Spurs clinging to a one-point lead and Dallas with the ball, Popovich pulled his 6-foot-11 power forward, opting for a smaller, quicker lineup.
It worked. Mavs guard Vince Carter missed a 3-point attempt. Manu Ginobili grabbed what could have been Duncan’s 20th board. Not that Duncan was counting.
“It’s always tough to sit in that position,” Duncan told the San Antonio Express-News. “It is what it is. He’s got a game plan, a system in those times to go smaller. If they go smaller or have a shooter in there, he likes to put someone a little more mobile in. You’ve got to respect it.”
That about sums of Duncan and the Spurs: Respect.