Thunder road still goes through Duncan

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com


VIDEO: Tim Duncan weighs in on the Spurs’ Game 1 victory

SAN ANTONIO — Gregg Popovich knows how it will end for Tim Duncan.

“One of these days, it will be like the middle of the third quarter or something like that, and I’ll see him walking toward the exit,” said the Spurs coach. “It will be like it just hit him, like, ‘I’m done.’ As soon as he does that, I’ll be 10 steps behind. Because I’m not stupid.”

Popovich is also not in a hurry, because Duncan is not heading for the exit ramp just yet. Not when he can walk through the door in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals and look, at times, like the best player on the court.

Rolling to the basket to take feeds from Tony Parker that could be converted into easy buckets, catching in the clear and burying 18-foot jumpers, working his way around all the other wide bodies to consistently make plays that would be impressive if they came from a player a decade younger.

The Spurs went repeatedly and effectively to Duncan for play after play and score after score throughout their 122-105 win for the same reason the man climbs the proverbial mountain: because it was there.

“I felt good,” Duncan said the day after he led the Spurs with 27 points. “Honestly, I was basically feeding off what my teammates were setting up for me. The game, in that respect, came easy in that part. I was playing off the game plan and getting to the spots I needed to get to and lucky enough to make some shots.”

It is, of course, more than lucky when the results have been the same and at such a high level for 17 NBA seasons, when there are times when it hardly seems possible that Duncan entered the league in the previous millennium.

Duncan is certainly not the first player of his advanced playing age to fill up the hoop. Michael Jordan once scored 51 points as a 38-year-old. In the last five games of the 1985 NBA Finals, 38-year-old Kareem Abdul-Jabbar scored 30, 26, 21, 36 and 29 in leading the Lakers to the championship over Boston. Abdul-Jabbar went on to play four more seasons before finally retiring at 42.

While it is hard to imagine the earthbound Duncan, effectively playing on one good leg, still going to battle against the likes of lottery prizes Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker or Joel Embiid in 2018, it is just as difficult to envision the Spurs one day without him.

After all these years, what does it take to still have the focus to take on so much responsibility?

“I don’t assume anything, but I always show up and assume the game depends on me,” Duncan said. “I know it does a lot less in these years and this season. But I still show up and I feel responsible for what happens out there so I try to play as well as I can.”

For all the talk about the Spurs’ Big Three, he is always has been the sun in the center of their solar system. David Robinson saw that right away and accommodated him just as Manu Ginobili and Parker understand that now.

“When you see one of your main guys starting so well and scoring 20 in a half against a team that we always struggle to score against, really, it helps everything go smoother,” Ginobili said.

“When he plays like that, everybody feels confident,” said Parker. “Timmy makes things easier.”

Because there are never histrionics, because his expression rarely changes, sometimes Duncan makes it look too easy for his reputation.

“That’s just his personality,” Popovich said. “I don’t know what to tell you. Some guys are a little more high key. Sometimes people don’t understand how competitive he is. They see his demeanor, and I’m not sure people understand how hard he competes. He wants to win, very very much. He doesn’t show it in an outward manner, like other people do. He internalizes. That’s fine. It kind of suits our style a little bit better.”

If the Thunder continue to come up on Parker in the pick-and-roll, Duncan will take advantage of Serge Ibaka’s absence and the open shots and continue to pile up the points. If OKC changes the defensive approach, he’ll move the ball, find the open man, take what comes.

Just because Popovich monitors his minutes so closely during the regular season and watches over him as if he’s delicate antique porcelain doesn’t mean Duncan can’t still be dominant. In Game 7 of The Finals last June, when the Spurs where desperately trying to get back the all-but-clinched title that slipped through their grasp as he watched from the bench in the last 28 seconds of Game 6, Duncan played 44 1/2 minutes and scored 30 points. He is hardly a relic, but a force that Miami or Indiana — and right now OKC — must deal with.

Yes, he averaged a career-low 15.1 points, but also played just 29.2 minutes per game this season. Until now when the stakes and the playing time rise.

“I’m still here doing it,” Duncan said. “Obviously, I’m not as effective as I used to be and my legs aren’t what they used to be. But I’m finding different ways of doing things and adjusted my game and just happy to be out there and I feel healthy when I’m out there, so that’s good.”

We can all keep asking how Duncan does it? For the Thunder, it’s a much more urgent question.

26 Comments

  1. nbafaninsc says:

    Besides everything else that is said about Tim Duncan that I agree with, I’m in awe that he sometimes puts up numbers close to Lebron in these playoffs except for those 49 points because no one else was doing anything, and Tim is suppose to be an old man who doesn’t have an app to show what he eats for breakfast or in a dentist’s chair.

  2. Joey says:

    Very well said KC…Tim is the best!

  3. Sam says:

    2 years ago Spurs up 2-0. Lots of loudmouth spurs fans crowing. Anybody remember who won the next 4? Thunder!

    • Jack says:

      Anybody remember that these aren’t the same two teams from 2012?

    • Kalbo!! says:

      That’s it? Aside from it’s irrelevance to the article, doesn’t totally disproves the Spurs. Can you honestly tell me that because of that, the Spurs are a worthless team? Fans are supposed to respond that way. What do you expect? Why do you seem so itching to retaliate? It’s just like how you respond right now for your OKC. Next time, be more educated with your comments.

    • timmied says:

      And who was the anchor on those games…. no anchor this year and no harden…..okc done…This year is the spurs chance to make up for the last 2…… okc and miami are both in trouble….

  4. Sarge says:

    By the way, he actually did average less points in the ’10-’11 season. Everyone thought he was washed up then. Amazing how he’s managed to keep on truckin’. Take a look at his per-36 numbers, they’re right in line with his career averages, even though he’s had to reinvent his game as he’s aged. Truly a legend on the court.

  5. JumpmasterZ says:

    Its like I tell young teens, If you wanna watch a team play basketball, watch the Spurs. If you wanna see abunch of one or two plater teams, watch any other team in the league. Spurs with Pop, Timmy, Manu and Tony, give clinics year after year with Fundamental Basketball. GO SPURS GO!!!!

  6. rafael says:

    duncan best nba player at this days and people doesn’t know that or doesn’t want to know that

  7. JM says:

    Timmy, you bring tears to my eyes for two reasons, for having the privilege to watch you play all these years and for having to someday watch you hang it up and call it quits. If ever you get bored from retirement, please coach. Please. :(

  8. T says:

    Kawhi Leonard is the future of the NBA…. takes pride in his defense, low-key but highly competitve and an ever evolving offensive arsenal can’t wait actually for the Spurs Big Three to be done if only so that Leonard can step up and show off a little :)

  9. Kalbo!! says:

    I know the article is just about Duncan. He’s a legend & he’s one of few players that comes close to MJ in terms of leadership, Unlike the ball-hog bryant with demeanor issues. But let me just say these:

    At first, I was wondering why the Thunder is not admitting that the absence of Ibaka really is punishing them at the point on both ends. I was like “what’s wrong with admitting that? it’s pretty obvious.”

    I later realized that it’s because they knew they weren’t supposed to be in the WCF in the first place with all those controversial sequences on Memphis and Clippers. Let alone the loss of Z-Bo in Game 7. OKC is one of the few teams that has 8 players on the court (haha just funny to say it). So using Ibaka’s loss would just rather be even more pathetic.

    So I’d never want to see anyone use that excuse. And if you’re a true OKC fan with an intellectual sense of reasoning, speak for your team and not only for yourself.

  10. MR210 says:

    Duncan – the ageless wonder. Still getting it done at age of 38, on pretty much one good leg.
    The ultimate teammate.

    It’s not always about making the Highlight Reel, or Showmanship.

    Basketball is a team sport. Duncan embodies the word team.

    It’s been a pleasure watching him throughout his career. Not sure when he’ll be ready to hang it up. Perhaps after his 5th Ring?

    Whatever happens – he’s had the type of career that any player would envy. 4-Time Champion, 3-Time Finals MVP, 2-Time Regular Season MVP, Multiple All-Star…and more.

    It will be a sad day when he finally calls it quits – so we need to enjoy the time we have left with Timmy and appreciate what he’s done and what he’s brought to basketball.

    For those that truly love the game of basketball (not about the chest-thumping, or selfish one-on-one basketball) – this is the kind of guy you want to win.

    GO SPURS GO – DRIVE FOR FIVE!

  11. Raul Membreve says:

    Tim duncan needs one more ring before retiring. What a rhyme. Yeah!

  12. Robert says:

    Ibaka is chicken barbeque to Tim Duncan…

  13. theholyspectator says:

    if okc dont win this game tonight, its a wrap!

  14. Mike says:

    What I like about Tim Duncan: he transcends any ‘best player’ conversation. Even Michael Jordan’s title as G.O.A.T is debatable, but Tim Duncan is without a doubt the best team mate of all time. I think that is more important than scoring the most points, having the most MVPs or having the most rings.

  15. Venkat says:

    I started watching NBA basketball in the late 1990s. Ever since Michael Jordan left Chicago, my favorite player has been Tim Duncan. Very low key. But very good.

  16. jake s. says:

    I guess my other comment was screened. I’m not surprised. I will say it again feebly… Ibaka is out, so this article is just obvious.

    • Kalbo!! says:

      Your comment was posted after I submitted mine which is still under moderation. I said there that i don’t wanna see anyone using ibaka’s loss as an excuse given that the thunder is not doing so because they knew they weren’t supposed to be there in the WCF in the first place.

      But Wow! Really! WOW! If you’re saying that Duncan played great only because Ibaka was out, then WOW! You don’t even know a thing about the silent Legend. I guess this is what they get for being this low-profiled. But I’d suggest you do a little reading. Just a very little reading about Tim and you would probably realize how stu**d you looked like with your comment. No wonder why you’re first one was screened.

  17. Patrick says:

    One more ring :)

  18. KC says:

    So happy for Timmy that he’s still able to go out there and do what he loves to do: compete. I’ve always thought Tim Duncan wasn’t just a hall of fame player, but also a role model for kids, an example of how you don’t have to beat your chest or wave your arms to get respect. I’ve always found his focus, his consistency, his determination, and his quality as a person to be far more impressive than that of his peers around the league. Tim, when you finally hang up those shoes you will be missed.

    • lino says:

      well said. he truly has been a blessing to watch all these years. knowing he will soon be gone brings on a bit of nostalgia. it’s not difficult in seeing him do a david robinson, stopping the clock with a trophy in his hands. looking on the bright side, we’ve got kawhi leonard, another thinking man with immense talent and few words. leave the chest thumping to the glorified superstars, i’ll always be fine with the quiet giants.

      • Jenny says:

        I am proud to be a lifelong Spurs fan because of men like Tim Duncan. People do forget that basketball is a TEAM sport and one chest pounding player does not a team make.

        This is our year. GO SPURS GO!

      • FUTURECELTIC says:

        Tim Duncan is awesome!!!!!!

    • 36yrfan says:

      …well said, KC,…..well said