Spurs Stand Tall Despite Sitting Duncan

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OAKLAND, Calif. — Gregg Popovich manages Tim Duncan’s minutes all season long as if he were a pastry chef baking a souffle. Too long in the oven and everything can fall flat.

“It’s what we do,” says the Spurs coach.

Except how many coaches would do it with a two-point lead in the final 4 1/2 minutes of a close-out game in a playoff series that always seemed on edge?

But there were a couple of weak jumpers that seemed to come off tired legs and then an absent-minded crosscourt pass that nearly took the bald head right off the shoulders of referee Joey Crawford and wound up in the stands.

So that’s how Duncan came to watch the final scenes of his 200th career playoff game, a 94-82 win over the Warriors that put his Spurs back into the Western Conference finals.

“I don’t think he was giving me a break,” Duncan said, ruefully smiling and shaking his head. “I think I had played three or four pretty bad minutes in a row and he decided to go with something else.

“It is what it is and we were able to finish the series. I wish I could be out there, but honestly the way we playing and the way we finished it was the right move. So I’m happy for it.”

It is what it is and the Spurs are what they are, which is a more experienced, more mature, just plain better team than the one that bolted to a 2-0 lead over Oklahoma City in the conference finals in 2012 and then was steamrolled out in four straight defeats.

They’re a team that could have Tony Parker make only 1 of his first 13 shots and survive. They’re a team that could have Manu Ginobili go 1-for-6 and still advance. They’re a team that could have their 14-time NBA All-Star Duncan get the hook in the clutch and still go into the next round against the rugged Grizzlies as the team to beat.

“Oh, it won’t be pretty,” Duncan said looking ahead to the mud-wrestling match with Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. But then again, neither was this and yet the Spurs somehow made it look like a work of art.

Maybe nobody but Popovich could have gotten away with sitting Duncan down at that critical point in the game. After Stephen Curry hit a jumper from the key to cut the Spurs’ lead to 77-75, Duncan made his wildly inaccurate pass and the Oracle crowd rose for one last deafening roar.

“I just made that choice,” Popovich said.

Probably no superstar of his stature would have accepted the seat on the bench with Duncan’s aplomb.

“Of course, as a player you want to be in there competing,” he said. “But you had other guys in there getting the job done, so it was obviously the thing to do.”

It is that union of coach and star, that steadiness that has enabled the Spurs to advance to the Conference finals for the eighth time — with four championships already — in Duncan’s career.

There was a time — just two years ago — when the Spurs were the No. 1 seed in the West and were unceremoniously run out of the playoffs by the No. 8-seeded Grizzlies. It was a series when Duncan limped in on a bad ankle, Ginobili played with what was later found to be a fractured elbow and the Spurs’ bench faltered. So Popovich chose to roll the dice with last-gasp veteran Antonio McDyess over a rookie named Tiago Splitter.

Two seasons later, Splitter was hitting 6 of 8 shots, scoring 14 points, grabbing four rebounds and holding his own on the inside of the defense while Duncan became a spectator.

Duncan and Ginobili are older now, but the Spurs are deeper with Splitter, Danny Green and the quietly deadly force of Kawhi Leonard stepping up. They’re a team that can see the in-full-bloom Parker miss 12 of his first 13 shots in the game and be confident that he’ll make the right choices and hit the big shots when needed.

Ginobili won the incredible double-overtime Game 1 of the series by hitting the game-winning shot on a night when he was 5-for-20 from the field. And even though he could hardly find the basket in Game 6, twice in the last three minutes, he drove toward the hoop, drew the defense to him and delivered perfect passes into the left corner that produced treys from Parker and Leonard.

The Spurs’ core that looked old and tired the last time they faced Memphis in the playoffs is older now, yet playing spryer because Popovich is so diligent about managing those minutes. However, there is also fresh blood running through those veins in Leonard, Green and Splitter that makes much of what’s happening this season possible.

Even stunning things like Duncan watching from the bench in the close-out stretch of a close-out game and nobody thinking twice.

It’s what they do.

43 Comments

  1. jose gonzales says:

    With all do respect I think everyone here might be wrong on the final game match I have a good feeling that indy will prove to all of us that they do have the edge.. Miami will struggle indy is no joke….As for the west looks like sas will hang in…Go Spurs Go…..

  2. Gary says:

    That larry is a dreamer, don’t get me Wrong! Mem is very good! However Sa Spurs have many more ways to beat u than Mem does, Sa has leonard, & green who cause matchup prblms for mem and are higly confident consistent as well , also our bench is much deeper & better than Mem guys like Mills, bonner, Joseph ,!diaw. we also have 7 or 8 guys who will bury the Grizz with 3″s the spurs move the ball better than anyone, and can bury the Grizz with our offense & the Spurs can match Mem”s D” WITH Great defense themselves plus the revenge factor will play a HUGE ROLE!! for Spurs They won’t let this opportunity slip away being this close again Spurs in 6 over Grizz then Spurs in 6 over Heat watch!!! You’ll see FYI THE SPURS DON’T LOSE IN THE FINALS 4-0 SOON WILL BE 5-0 OVER HEAT 4-2

  3. busa-boss says:

    spurs will shut down the grizz-lies….guaranteed!!!

  4. realist2013 says:

    The Spurs have a wide array of offebsive threats and have always been amonst the top defensive teams. They dont panic even when they are down 20 late in the game. Memphis is a monster on D but their lack of depth will hurt them vs tge likes of the spurs. I see Gasol and zbo foul trouble being an issue and that could gimp what offense they have. They need to get a couple of spot shooters as well to compliment their post up players. It will be a good series none the less.

  5. Don says:

    The versatility of spurs will be their edge against the grizzlies. Their great ball movement will be a significant factor against the defense of the Grizzlies.. Spurs in 7.

  6. Zac says:

    So the Spurs can get to the Finals playing the #7, #6 and #5 seed? Are you kidding me? How lame is that?

    Memphis plays the #4, #1 and #2 seeds….

  7. @Larry, you are so right. Mike Conley is so much better now and MUCH faster than aging Tim Duncan.

  8. john says:

    spurs grizzlies season series 2-2..there both good PG but conelly a quick step on parker no sir your on drugs. grizzlies got toughness and great players. spurs got great and smart players, ill take spurs in 7

  9. hecklerandkoch says:

    now the coming of age…

  10. Kamote says:

    Just shows how good Pop is, and that TD is a team-player. Its all about winning.

  11. duncan21 forever says:

    all i can say is “Go Spurs Go!”

  12. Willy says:

    I hope to see more of D Blair banging down low and B Diaw as well will have to help. Splitter will foul out guarding the bigs from Memphis alone and Tim D will have a battle as well keeping out of foul trouble. It might be a hack a fest down low, lots of free throws. Thats how the Spurs won the last two games, making free throws and D! Well done. I think Timmy is still pissed off but he just doesn’t say anything!

  13. Bob says:

    I’d love to see the Spurs back in the Finals and think they have a good shot against Memphis. That said, I can’t see them getting past an ubermotivated LeBron who will be out to avenge the 4-0 drubbing he and the Cadavers got in 2007.

    We Spurs fans have been blessed to have this Pop-TD tandem; once they go, and Pop has said when Timmay goes that he does too, it’s going to be a long, hard road to hoe because you won’t be talking Finals again for a while.

    • Loki says:

      That’s up to the Spurs management isn’t it? Great teams with great history attract good coaches and players. Their recovery from the TD/Pop era depends on how well the remaining guys can play, who succeeds Pop and who they can bring in. Only problem is.. Spurs arent for everyone, transitioning from a humble guy like Robinson to Duncan was pure luck for example but that’s now become the identity of the spurs. Hope they can land a humble superstar

  14. Arnold P says:

    DUNCAN is definitely TOP 5 Big man of all time!

  15. Objectivity says:

    @Larry Mike Conley most definitely does NOT have a step on Tony Parker.

  16. me says:

    That is why Pop and Timmy are considered as ones of the bests coach and player, respectively. Pop’s knack to recognize what is wrong and make a good decision and Timmy’s rare but, as far as im concern, adorable attitude of humility and respect for his teammates to let them help him win the game. Somehow that makes Duncan’s Spurs is one rare champion team of the NBA, all time.

  17. Reggie love the spurs says:

    We have just seen Pop put a masterful game plan in place to shut down two of best 3 point shooters in the league. Pop is the smartest coach on the planet and he will have a game plan for the Grizzles also. If you have a great coach with 3 hall of famers who are backed up with the multiple skills sets the of the other players on the spurs creates way to many weapons for the Grizzles. I believe! Spurs in 6.

  18. Reggie love the spurs says:

    We have just seen Pop put a masterful game plan in place to shut down two of best 3 point shooters in the league. Pop is the smartest coach on the planet and he will have a game plan for the Grizzles also. If you have a great coach with 3 hall of famers who are backed up with the multiple skills sets the of other players on the spurs creates way to many weapons for the Grizzles. I believe! Spurs in 6.

  19. raul says:

    @ larry…. dude you are delusional…. hahaha the HEAT having a slip up in the ECF???? i want some of what you are smoking homie. Miami will get past the knicks/Pacers in 6 if not 5 games, then on to defeat the Grizzlies in 6 or 5 games as well, i do not see the Spurs getting past the Grizzlies.

    • Loki says:

      Pacers and Knicks are great teams and have beaten Miami twice in the regular season. What we have here is a delusional fan that is so blinded by his love for his team he can’t accept anything that even remotely resembles competition to them.

  20. Fabio says:

    Brilliant article man! It puts an amazing perspective on this unique ball club and how deep they are. And Timmy’s response just shows this level of maturity that usually only friends over 50 can start to have. It made me think twice before counting them out as contenders.

  21. W/E says:

    The Spurs have a good chance for another championship this year, their roster is deep, they got the best coach in the league, if their starters and Ginobli remain healthy and perform they can go all the way.

  22. Jack Rail says:

    Tim Duncan must be a joy to coach. He leaves any ego at the door and comes to win. He doesn’t show people up or badmouth them. The consummate pro, and you can be Pop fully appreciates him. We fans do.

  23. Marco29 says:

    It is not only what the Spurs do, it’s what they are all about. That’s their DNA. Pop and TD have such a relationship and respect for each other that TD woud never question Pop’s choices that often pay off. It’s been a though series and an even tougher one is ahead of them. Yet I think they have enough talent, depth and discipline to overcome Memphis and its rough defense and inside duo. With their own defense and balanced offense , wise coaching and home court advantage, I see them advancing to The Finals in 6. GO SPURS CO!!

  24. Larry says:

    Looks like we will see a Memphis vs Miami final. I don’t think the Spurs can match the physical gameplay of Memphis. Mike Conley definitely has a step or two on the aging Parker and DPOY Gasol will take care of Duncan. As far as Miami, if I were them, I wouldn’t look past the Pacers or the Knicks as both teams are capable of cooling down the Heat. And with Miami winning 45 of their last 48 games, a slip up is long overdue. I think the Heat will have their mini slump of 2 or 3 games at the most inconvenient time possible, in the ECF against either the Knicks or Pacers and both those teams will make you pay dearly for any mistake you should happen to make. Go Grizzlies. :)

    • Marco29 says:

      I give a lot of credit to Memphis but The Spurs are much more balanced and deep than OKC (especially after RW’s injury). There is not only Duncan and Parker that Memphis will have to deal with but also Manu, Leonard, Green, Splitter, etc…As the article explained, Spurs can win even when Parker and Duncan are not at their best cause they are deep and well coached. Grizzlies have a great defense but Spurs have a great ball movement with more options than OKC and will not force shots like OKC did. Spurs will be a lot tougher to beat.

      • Larry says:

        you seem to forget about this guy named Tony Allen that will lock down whoever he is matched up with. and another guy named Zach Randolph. Splitter and Duncan will both be in foul trouble early trying to defend Gasol and Randolph. Gonna see alot Bonnar defending Randolph taking the fouls i bet. its gonna be a good series and i see youth and defense prevailing in this matchup. This isnt the same #8 seed Grizzlies as 2 years ago. This is a 50+ win Grizzlies with 2 of the best defensive players in the league that set a franchise record of holding 71 out of 82 oppenents to under 100 points this season. The Grizz ARE the BEST defensive team in the NBA and I actually think they will not only beat the aging Spurs, who have defied their age all season, but have what it takes to topple the Heat and win it all this year

      • Cody says:

        Respect to you, Larry. You are truly a Memphis Grizzlies fan, through and through. It might be my through-and-through Spurs fan talking here, but I still disagree with you. You forget that the Spurs are still coached by a man who held the league’s best defense for more than just a couple of years. Kawhi Leonard doesn’t have quite the defensive prowess of one Bruce Bowen, but he does have the court knowledge, tenacity, and coachability to do everything he needs to. The scoring capability is a wonderful touch too. Also, you talk a lot about Parker and Duncan being shut down, but not too much about Manu Ginobili. He might be too much of an X-factor type, but when he’s on, he’s on, and when the Grizz shove Tony Allen in his face, there’s another Tony who’ll be waiting ever so paitently to capitalize. Tiago Splitter is not the same as he was 2 years of NBA experience ago, if you can even call what he had at the time “experience.” He’s become the perfect utility center in his court vision, sneakiness, and rebounding ability. Not to mention Boris Diaw in those three categories. Danny Green has been shooting far more consistently than he ever has. Neal and Bonner may very well become foul fodder, but they will play those roles flawlessly, I promise that. The thing about the Spurs is that you can’t just count them out because of this factor or that factor. The factors change every game for them. There is always something they didn’t notice, something that is different, something that is going to come from them that you never thought they could possibly do. As Magic Johnson might put it, “It’s poetry through basketball,” and it’s not going to end anytime soon.

        It will be a phenomenal series! but I think the Spurs will take this one in 6.

    • Elijah says:

      I agree but you have to shoot good as well as be physical that was the problem with the bulls all their good shooters were out so all the had was their physical players. There has to be a balence

    • RG says:

      looks like a Grizzlies vs. Heat final? nope, i don’t see it. the Spurs have a better depth of youth and experience, and they have the best coach in the league right now. to me, it looks more like a Spurs vs. Heat final to me, but i’m not guaranteeing anything.

      Conley definitely does not have a step or two on the veteran Parker, not sure why you think he does. Parker has been playing at an MVP level this season, and while Conley is a great player, i don’t think he’ll have the same success of outplaying Parker again like he did in 2011.

      speaking of 2011, there have been people saying the Grizzlies will beat the Spurs again like they did in 2011. well, here’s the thing: this is not 2011! this will not be the same Spurs team the Grizzlies faced back then. that ’11 Spurs team had Richard Jefferson, Ginobili playing with a broken arm, Green as a benchwarmer, and Splitter finally playing in those final 3 games of that series. this time, this Spurs team has a young star in Leonard, an experienced vet in Diaw, Green and Splitter being key role players, and are a much better defensive team than they were in 2011, and they can still put up the offense when needed. not to mention, Duncan has had one of his best years in a long time (which could be Gasol’s worst nightmare trying to defend, so it won’t be easy for him, either). and while Ginobili hasn’t been too well so far, he’s still shown sparks of it.

      all in all, the Grizzlies are a great team, but i don’t think they will beat the Spurs.

      • mario garcia says:

        you are a genius. very true.

      • Larry says:

        Your right, this isn’t 2011. This is 2013 and these are a BETTER Grizzlies team than then and the Spurs are older now. As I already stated, Memphis has the size advantage and believe me, Conley is much younger than Parker and WILL expose him as an ageing point guard. Besides, Tony Allen will be the one guarding Parker. The same Tony Allen that recieved more first defensive team votes than Lebron. And Gasol is a defensive beast who WILL lock down Duncan. Who’s gonna guard Randolph? Splitter? Diaw? lol. I smell foul trouble for whoever does, and Randolph can hit his free throws too. ;)

  25. spursgermany says:

    or Westbrook!!!!

  26. Jonesy37 says:

    I keep hearing that the Spurs play ‘boring’ basketball. But if I was a Spurs fan, and this team just kept on keeping on, then I’m all for it. They are by far the most consistent team of the last 15 years. Every post season it seems everyone’s talking about this team or that team, yet the Spurs go under the radar and are a 1 or 2 seed. I hope they have one last hurrah in the Finals against Miami, although sadly I see the Heat winning in 6.

    • Marco29 says:

      Well said (apart for the Finals prediction I hope); Spurs can win a game by scoring 110+ points or limiting their oponent to 90- points. They have great ball movement and some young athletic players. There might be less highlight dunks or alley-oops than lets say the Clippers but their style has proven to be effective and winning. They can call it “boring” all they want but I don’t think you get bored of winning and being competitive.

  27. Scott Cason says:

    The Spurs Drive Fer Five rolls on!!!….. GSW made it a good series and played a clean game of ball, those kids got a future! I now have a lot of respect for Mark Jackson as one of the top coaches in the league he knows what to say to maintain the teams focus, love to see him take Pop’s place in a couple of years when he rides of into the sunset with Timmy

    • Marco29 says:

      Hats off to GSW who really fought like warriors and made it a great series despite the injuries. They have a great group and a good coach, the future looks bright for them.
      Jackson and Lee would be a good replacement for Pop and TD when the time has come but it woudl take years for them to find the same chemistry.

  28. Prithvi says:

    Great article….Timmy truly is one in a million. Go Spurs Go!!!!!!!!

  29. kilroy says:

    even with parker and ginobili having a poor shooting night, the spurs still won.
    spurs = deep bench

  30. GSG says:

    This is just one of the many things that makes the spurs a super elite team.
    Just imagine if that was KD, or james or melo perhaps. They’re reaction would be different than that of timmy d.
    The spurs may or may not beat the miami, but they will surely be back in the finals. GO SPURS GO!