SAN ANTONIO — The last time an NBA team played back-to-back triple-overtime games in 1951, the United States and Cuba also had official diplomatic relations.
The last time an NBA team played back-to-back triple-overtime games, the shot clock had not yet been invented.
The last time an NBA team played back-to-back triple-overtime games, Tim Duncan had only been in the league for a dozen or so years.
OK, I made the last one up.
But you’ll have to excuse the 38-year-old Duncan if he stays in bed rather than makes it out for opening tip Saturday night in Dallas. Or the entire Spurs roster just pulls the covers over their heads.
In the space of three nights, the Spurs played the equivalent of more than 2½ games, lost them both and also found out that Kawhi Leonard is on the shelf for a couple more with torn ligaments in his right hand. Roughest stretch since those final 28 seconds in Game 6 of the 2013 Finals.
For the short-handed Blazers, playing without injured starters Robin Lopez and Nicolas Batum, the 129-119 decision was a testament to their resolve and sheer grit after falling behind by six in each of the first two overtimes and added another chapter to the growing legend of Damian Lillard ( 43 points).
“It turned into one of those games where players have to play and I thought our team did a great job in the first two overtimes of just overcoming the bad starts,” Lillard said. “We saw how they were guarding L.A. (LaMarcus Aldridge) on the block, really trying to give him a hard time, sending a lot of guys at him. I knew I was the next guy in line to start attacking. I got a few shots to go, got in a rhythm and I just decided to keep attacking.”
For the Spurs, who are always trying to balance rest for a veteran core with the need to compete in the rugged Western Conference, it was a physical blow that they just didn’t need. San Antonio has lost six of its last 11 games, is battling to hang onto the No. 7 spot in the West and now has run up big minutes on two key players. Duncan has played 91 minutes in the two interminable losses to Memphis and Portland and Manu Ginobili has played 71. The Spurs were without Tony Parker (hamstring) and Leonard.
“It’s a different group every night,” said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. “It would almost be better if you had two guys injured and you knew it for three months. It is different every night and it keeps them out of rhythm. We are wearing some guys down. Timmy is a big worry in that respect and so is Manu.”
Duncan scored 23 points and had 16 rebounds in the loss to the Grizzlies came back with 32 and 10 against the Blazers and was still active at both ends, blocking shots deep into the overtimes.
“Unheard of,” Duncan said. “I didn’t think obviously it would get to this point. … We expended a lot of energy. We put everything into it and we played hard.
“In that situation I am not drained. I am running on adrenaline and I am ready to go. I know I will feel it tomorrow.”