Ageless Duncan Has Spurs Primed For Deep Run

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LOS ANGELES – Gregg Popovich still maintains that as soon as Tim Duncan decides to walk away he’ll be right behind him and happily disappear into the San Antonio sunset.

The good news for Spurs fans who have grown up or grown old with the most successful coach-player duo in NBA history, now in their 16th season together, is they aren’t going anywhere soon.

“He plays like he’s six or seven or eight years younger than he is,” Popovich said. “He’s really just a miracle in my mind.”

That’s what some thought it would take just a few seasons ago for the Spurs with an aging Big Three of Duncan, 37, Tony Parker, 30, and Manu Ginobili, 35, to again be title contenders. They were swept out of the second round by Phoenix in 2010 and then unceremoniously ushered out the next season as the top seed in a first-round upset against Memphis.

Parker openly pondered the direction of the franchise at that point just as rumors persisted that he could be traded. He questioned if the team’s age and makeup could still allow it to compete in a Western Conference transitioning to younger, faster and more athletic, headed by two rising stars in Oklahoma City.

Duncan didn’t need to hear concern from Parker to know that the times were changing, and he needed to change with them.

After averaging just 12.7 points in that 2011 first-round loss, Duncan immersed himself in self-evaluation, analyzing everything from where he’s most effective on the floor, to his conditioning, to his weight and nutrition.

He said the lockout, while it hindered many players’ workout routines and stunted their seasons, actually worked in his favor: “Just having that extra time to really focus on getting my game back and getting my body in the right shape that I wanted it to be.

“I changed a lot,” Duncan said following Sunday’s completion of a first-round sweep of a frustrated Dwight Howard and the depleted Los Angeles Lakers. “I understand that my game was changing, trying to extend my game on the floor, understanding where I’m going to be getting my shots, understand that I needed to get some weight off my body so that I could take some of the pressure off my knee. And it worked well for me.”

This season Duncan produced his highest scoring average (17.8), field-goal percentage (50.2), rebounding average (9.9) and minutes (30.1) in three seasons. His 2.7 blocks per game were a career-best, as was his 81.7 percent free throw shoooting, a remarkable leap for a career 69.3-percent foul shooter.

Against L.A. he delivered an array of post moves, spins, jumpers and one mighty alley-oop jam that caught his teammates by surprise.

“I thought he was going to be done after that play,” Parker said, smiling. “His back or something like that would give out on him.”

And so here are the Spurs once again, following up on last season’s run to the West finals, a six-game loss in what always seems to be Duncan’s last, best shot at a fifth title. They’ll be well-rested and favored in the second round against either a young and energetic Golden State squad or a Denver team that will have gone the distance to dig out of a 3-1 hole.

With the top-seeded Thunder wounded, the second-seeded Spurs must now be considered the favorite to emerge from the West.

“We’re getting there,” Duncan said after averaging 17.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and shooting 51.7 percent from the floor against the Lakers. “Obviously this series went well for us. We didn’t end the year well, but the bottom line is it really doesn’t matter how you end the year. This is a good start for us. We like the pace we’re at now, we like the rhythm we’re at now, we like how healthy we are right now and hopefully we can stay that way.”

Only a few weeks ago Duncan and Popovich expressed concern about its own health after a loss at OKC. Old questions of age and durability were cropping up again as Ginobili sat out hurt. Parker was dealing with multiple ailments and had to be removed from that game and faced an uncertain return. Boris Diaw needed back surgery. The team surprisingly released Stephen Jackson.

Yet, there was Duncan, spry and free of physical distress, averaging more minutes this season when Popovich’s desire over the last several has been to limit him more, an All-Star again for the 14th time.

“He’s a really gifted individual as far as his mental capacity is concerned,” Popovich said. “He really has a mature outlook in the sense that he knows what it takes to play at that age. He enjoys the responsibility and takes it seriously 12 months a year and that’s why he’s able to do what he does at this point in his career. His maturity level and commitment are both very unique.”

As Duncan altered his approach the last two seasons, becoming leaner and quicker, especially evident in his defense and 9.9 rebounds a game, his best mark in three seasons, Popovich and general manager R.C. Buford went about reconstructing the team.

The stodgy defensive model complemented by a methodical offense that ran through Duncan was ditched. Young sharpshooters and scrappy, unheralded role players were acquired to form a precision-based, team-oriented and highly efficient offensive attack that surged to became one of the highest-scoring in the league.

Additions like second-year forward Kawhi Leonard helped improve a faltering defense, making San Antonio an all-around threat to run through the West and arguably the best equipped to challenge the Miami Heat in a seven-game series.

Still, the key remains the ever-present Duncan, even as the Spurs’ strategy altered emphasis on him.

In the opening minutes of Game 3, Duncan set the tone for the two games in L.A. that the Spurs would win by 52 points. A 3.2 earthquake was registered just as Duncan snared an alley-oop pass from Danny Green with his fully outstretched right arm rising well above the rim and then he emphatically dunked it.

“That makes sense now,” the self-deprecating Duncan said when told of the simultaneous earthquake. “It lowered the rim.”

Green instinctively launched the pass to the open man, but then quickly grew concerned as he realized the recipient was an old man with bad knees.

“I threw it and when I saw that it was Tim, I was like hopefully he can catch it and come down with it and make a play,” Green said. “But he caught it and threw that thing down.”

For the Big Fundamental, it was no big thing.

“I used to do it a lot, back in the day,” Duncan said. “Fifteen, 20 years ago.”

51 Comments

  1. busa-boss says:

    with spurs as healthy as they are now they have a big shot in the western conference finals…the question now is can the heat be invincible throughout the eastern conference finals???
    bulls even without best actor rose are getting better and the knicks are also on their way there…

  2. rcandcess says:

    I think the crucial point for the next round between SA and either Denver or GSW is the match-up of point guards. Steph Curry has youth, but Tony Parker’s experience matches well. Same thing for Ty Lawson. I think SA will have their hands full, especially with Tiago Splitter out of the roster. Duncan will be covered by the bigs of either teams, and when the ball goes to Tony or Manu’s hand, they’ll have to rely on their connection on the court to outwit the other teams.

  3. Sarge says:

    There’s a good chance of the Spurs making the Finals. I think they have a shot against the Heat, but the margin of error is pretty slim. Still, the Spurs are uniquely constituted to exploit the weaknesses of the Heat. The interior presence of the Heat is sorely lacking, as is strong play at the PG position. But can Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard make Wade and LeBron work for theirs? Or will the Spurs be forced to constantly double, leaving those shooters open beyond the arc? Man, the mind boggles at the ways this could go down.

    Go Spurs Go!

  4. sanjay says:

    spurs can make it to the finals but hard to see them beat heat with james in top form! He is going to kill everybody in paint with shooters loaded outside( ray getting in to form is perfect!). But they do need a fit wade to pull it through! Heat has there own headache with chicago and nyk to take care off mean while just like spurs have to go through okc! gs in semi-finals is an easy bait!

  5. twinm85 says:

    so many heat trolls on here tell me possibly two things: 1) deep down a few heat fans have just a sliver of fear for the Spurs and are coming here to try and sound all tough and macho, or 2) the eastern conference truly is as weak and boring as advertised and they have nothing better in the world to do. so sad.

    don’t get caught looking too far ahead, heat fans. i’m aware that it would take either a near-miracle performance by someone else and/or a mega injruy for you not to make it to the finals, but you’re in for disappointment if you get too high too early..

  6. Willy says:

    Michael you made me cry man, stop it now.

  7. Michael Dimayuga says:

    In my opinion, Tim Duncan should be given the MVP award not because I’m a die-hard Spurs fan but because he deserves it. The Spurs could very well be just an average team without him. Sure, he doesn’t have the versatility of a Lebron James or the sheer athleticism and shot-making ability of a Kevin Durant, but Tim makes his teammates around him better, shows great leadership and, for his age, shows the work ethic and determination that most players his age have possibly forgone. I just hope that he and the rest of the Spurs reach the Finals and, when they do, be able to win or lose in the Finals in a fair and square manner. Let the players determine whether they are good enough or not to win the title BY THEMSELVES. The viewers of the NBA deserve that much to see actual competition, not staged action. Professional sports must be won out on the basis of competition and teamwork and not because circumstances were made just so “high-ratings” teams would advance. I didn’t care before that the Spurs weren’t getting the credit that is due them, the hype, or the viewership of the Lakers or the Heat, and I certainly wouldn’t care in the future. I loved the Spurs, win or lose, because of their honesty to the game and the way they put all their egos aside for a common and bigger goal. The Spurs may not be the deepest, most athletic, and most exciting team for most people but their virtues alone are enough to love them. Go Spurs go!

  8. Willy says:

    TD could have easily been defensive player of the year and I’d the Spurs make a long run at it he could have also been considered for MVP. And most improved player, the numbers aren’t bad. DH was schooled like a JV player on the High School squad.
    Who will guard Curry, maybe somebody with long arms?
    As good as the Spurs are, I am a Spurs fan, the HEAT are a concern to say the least. Not sure who matches up with LBJ and DWade.

  9. Kal says:

    Duncan = greatest PF ever. and probably forever.

    and i have never been a Spurs fan… but i have to admit to would be interesting to see them in the finals against the Heat. a rematch of Duncan vs. LeBron and maybe a team that can find a way to beat the Heat. (on the other hand, Bosh and bench defeated them in San Antonio…) and if the Spurs do go all the way, whether or not they win in the finals, nobody can ever again question Duncan as greatest without looking just plain in denial.

    but the Clippers may have something first in the conference finals… sorry Grizz and Thunder, much respect but the Clippers are too deep. it’s gonna be (an epic battle between) Clippers-Spurs… and sorry Warriors. Steph Curry is amazing but that run will run out versus Duncan The Immortal.

  10. Kev says:

    I am a big fans of spur since 1998. i don’t care how many titles they got. They are stil the favourest team for me.

  11. Gillsy says:

    I think the match up between the Spurs and Warriors will be epic. The speed of the Warriors vs. the tried and tested Spurs.

  12. Aloy says:

    Go Spurs, We love you down under, Tim is like agreat Red Wine.

  13. Rogelio says:

    Tim Duncan is the most under covered, dominant star of his generation. Tim Duncan collects ring number 5 in June.

  14. Drew Baez says:

    The Spurs this year on the contrary of what people may think, actually do have a legit shot at the title.The factor here would be coaching and chemistry , Pop is a much better coach than Eric, and when The Spurs are healthy they are very very good. Yes The Heat are loaded and seem invincible at the moment, but everyone said the same thing when The Lakers played The Pistons a few years back. One thing for sure, this will be a great series!!!

  15. TheRealVelabahleke says:

    its hard to say who will advance in the other wcqf matchups except the rockets bowing out soon.so hopefully clipps make it coz they have more firepower to hit the thunder fo sho.grizz could still do it but wouldnt bet on it with my own coin.spurs should be able to beat any other wc team but since lakers were injured we cant tell how strong the spurs are.skinning a dead lion never made a man a skilled hunter.hopefully rest and practice in the right dose gels the team and t-mac gets a grip on the plays.diaw gets back in the rotation as well as splitter and im ready to put my money on my boys takin it all.not even miami will beat us this time.thats if commish stern doesnt have a hand in getting the finals matchup he wants for his own interests.refs are too obvious sometimes it pisses me off.at least make hidden calls that one cant really dispute like 3 sec counts or somethin.no one really argues 3 sec counts that much but the non foul calls for certain star players is really an insult to both the fans and the opposing team.dwight howard shud not hav been given two techs and i;m a spurs fan sayin this.the spurs need to stay sharp and let timmy ,ginobli and parker guide them to number 5.kawhi , green,splitter,bonerfide red rocket/mamba,neal,t-mac ,diaw,blair and company best keep sharp if yall want to get a ring.bonner has one already though.spurs have put in the work for this drive so lets not have refs deciding who gets a ring.a man puts in the honest work to get his reward not to be cheated by the refs and a panel of fatcats that wanna see things their way.there should be a rule that some calls be overturned if seen on the screen by fans as a false call.too many coaches getting teed up for pointin out wrong calls to refs.with all that said i would like to congratulate timmy for his efforts and ethics.search yourself and improve on yourself instead of tryin to work based on your resume.the past is the past.improve or be replaced.thats the moral of timmy’s story.GO SPURS GO..DRIVE TO FIVE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  16. 3ptdagger says:

    It’s an odd-numbered year so that improves the Spurs’ chances of winning the title. It’s a shame all these injuries are changing the face of the playoffs. The Spurs have always been great during the regular season. It’s hard to judge their post season success against a Lakers team missing all of their star guards. I would love to see Heat vs. Spurs though- we’d finally get a chance to see the stars on both teams play each other!

    • 34yr fan says:

      …. the Spurs have had injuries alot in the past at playoff time….and now when the nba’s flashy players are injured it is a big deal???? and people are wondering how the spurs are playing so well, being so ‘old’ and all……it is just that they are healthy at the right time of the year this time …….just sayin’….now and then injuries come at the worst times……. good luck to all remaining teams….

    • paul says:

      10 yr anniversary of manu and parker getting their first

  17. kilroy says:

    5th banner for my spurs..

    GSG

  18. coachpop says:

    based timmy

  19. Arnold P says:

    Tim Duncan 2 more championships!

  20. TT says:

    Tony Parker will choke like he did in the Summer Olympics. Teams just need someone with long arms to guard him, like Thabo Sefolosha last season in the playoffs.

  21. Kris , MHS . KSA says:

    I lke d spurs So much.! Best of Luck Big 3. Go Spurs Go..!

  22. Scott Cason says:

    so, after the intense schooling by Duncan, does anyone still think Dwight Howard is “Superman”???

  23. NojEhN says:

    wITH WESTBROOK out for the season, hope my spurs could make it now to the NBA finals… We need Tim to have his 5th title, and maybe his sixth next year.. ^^

  24. manne says:

    I am very impressed with T.Duncan. Two years ago he look like he was on his way to retiring but this year he is just schooling everybody at the center position. T.Duncan even outrebounded Howard and kept D.haward from crushing the boards.
    the only question is can he stay hungry throughout the playoff.

  25. dex says:

    “Like a fine wine it gets better with age”

  26. tsiko says:

    Without Westbrook, Spurs has a really good chance against the Thunder.
    Spurs always make their fans excited every now and then. Not “just another year”

  27. GSG says:

    Just another Year for the LAKERS that is being Sweep!hahahahah!Back Off Haters!Sorry LAKERS!

  28. Henry says:

    The Spurs could go to the National title facing the Heat (most likely). With OKC’s Westbrook out of the competition, the Spurs have an opportunity to win that series if both teams make it that far. . GO SPURS GO!

  29. Just another year where they get their fans excited and then blow it later.

    • Nick_E23 says:

      These Spurs aren’t going to win the Finals, they might not even make it past the West Finals, hell, they might not make it past the semifinals… The Warriors could surprise someone, unlikely, but maybe. Any of the following could beat the Spurs in the West Finals: Memphis, Clippers, or OKC. The Spurs of late have a tendency to hipe their fans up, make a little noise about how no one recognizes them, when thats all lies as they’ve been on the radar, then throw away their chances… Last year: swept the first two rounds, fell apart against the Thunder. Two years ago: held the number one seed… Gets swept in the first round…………. AANNDD (This is now my opinion not the facts I have shared above) Tony Parker is overrated.

      • RG says:

        the Warriors are not going to upset the Spurs, especially when they won’t have David Lee. I think the Spurs have too much experience and depth for the Warriors to overcome. I think Denver would have had a better shot, but even then, I don’t think would beat the Spurs in a 7-game series either. and as much as those three teams have a chance to beat the Spurs, the Spurs have as good a chance to beat any of those teams as well in the WCF. not having Westbrook could hurt OKC, the Clippers could be beaten up again if they survive the Grizzlies, and they could flounder with Del Negro at the helm, and the Grizzlies won’t be playing the 2011 Spurs that had Richard Jefferson on the roster and Ginobili playing with a broken arm (and by the way, the Spurs didn’t get swept 2 years ago (2011 I believe you are referring to) when they had the number one seed, they lost in 6 games, you need to check your facts first). and the Spurs didn’t throw away their chances, one of the major reasons why they’ve been knocked out these past years is because they have never been healthy. last year wasn’t the case, as to why they had a deep playoff run. they just ran into a great team in OKC. now with the young guys improved (Leonard and Green for example), the bench stepping up, and the way Duncan, Ginobili, and Parker have been playing right now, they have a good shot to make it back to the Finals and there’s a slim chance they can beat the Heat. I’m not guaranteeing anything, but they do have a shot. and Parker overrated? to this day, he’s still being underrated. after all, he is one of two current PGs with a Finals MVP (Chauncey Billups being the other). overrated? I think not.

    • grm5577 says:

      Well at least they get their fans excited, we are the most consistent nba franchise out there right now! what other team has had as many wins in the past decade and a half?!? Spurs fans are lucky to have a great player in Tim Duncan that stayed with the team that he was drafted by! Thanks spurs for giving us something to cheer about deep into the playoffs every year while the rest of the nba trys to imitate us!

  30. Who did wut? says:

    I’ll just go ahead and point out that Spurs don’t have a chance against the Heat, and that’s if they can even get past the Thunders.

    • Mark says:

      Really? I think the Spurs have a chance against the Heat. It might not be a big chance, but it’s still a chance.
      And do you think the Thunder can get by the Clippers or Grizzlies without Westbrook? I wouldn’t make any guarantees yet.

    • dink says:

      yea ok buddy that’s what they said about the mavs in 2011, spurs in 6 and than eve’ryone can start talking about how big of a choker LeBron is again lol if the heat do beat the spurs it’ll be with ref help , they get help from the whistle more than any team possibly in nba history

    • coach casey says:

      The Spurs’ areas of strength, with Duncan at centre and Parker at PG, match up really well with the Heat’s defensive deficiencies. I don’t know if that will win them the whole series but in a Miami, San Antonio final, I would expect it to come down to the wire (hopefully, I think we need an exciting NBA finals after two pretty bad ones).

  31. Maria suarez says:

    So proud of my Spurs! They will go the whole stretch! Go Spurs Go!

    • but their age will show when they face the heat

      • LBJKIN6JAMES says:

        Heat vs Spurs 2013 !!!
        #GoHeat

      • Andy says:

        Wrong the spurs avg age is about 28 and heats avg age is 31-32 so don’t even use that

      • NBAfan says:

        I respect Pop, Timmy, and the whole Spurs organization, but I’m sorry, you’re just fodder for the HEAT… It’s the HEAT’s league. They even played a team under ,500 in the first round. Common now. Kobe out and the Lakers stunk anyway. Westbrook got injured, Rose won’t come back, and the Knicks just isn’t quite there yet.

        You’re being set up SPURS. This will be sold as Lebron getting revenge on sweeping him while he was with the Cavs.

        This or Durant shows he is the Larry to Lebron’s Magic…