Tim Duncan never said he was retiring, but the way Old Man Rivers performed in Thursday night’s 113-99 loss to Oklahoma City felt a lot like an attempt to turn back the clock -- if only for a few minutes.
Duncan stretched out his weary legs and saw those crazy ACC days at Wake Forest and the early years in San Antonio with his big brother David Robinson flash before his eyes as each minute passed on the game clock. He saw his ascension to world champion and perennial All-NBA boss and all of the magnificent teammates he shared grand stages with.
For a few stretches in OKC’s Game 6 elimination of the mighty Spurs in the Western Conference semifinals, Duncan went vintage on us and asserted himself on the court in All-Star fashion for what many speculate will be the last time.
Duncan scored 19 points in 34 minutes and he kept making buckets and trying to help the Spurs cut into a double-digit OKC lead that Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant refused to give up. It was clear Duncan didn't want the series to end yet. Maybe it was his competitive instinct that allowed him to have one last throwback performance. Or the fact that he wanted his Spurs to get a shot at knocking off the NBA's new kingpins in the Western Conference finals. Or maybe he just didn't want to go out with a loss. It's totally against everything he represents as a person, teammate and champion.
A career 20.6 point per game scorer in the playoffs, the five-time NBA champion averaged just 5.9 points per game in these playoffs and less than 3.0 points per game in this series before his Game 6 "explosion." He's never averaged less than double digits in his extensive playoff career.
This series is the one in which he finally seemed to run out of gas. With young thoroughbreds running and dunking and raining jumpers on both ends of the court, Duncan just couldn't keep up anymore. He scored eight points in Game 1 and two points in Games 2 and 3. He was held scoreless in just 12 minutes in Game 4 for the first time in 249 career playoff games. He was getting less minutes than David West down the stretch and in Game 5 he dropped a modest five points.
However, he came out in Game 6 like it was going to be his last, returning to his previous form as a top offensive option. Duncan combined with LaMarcus Aldridge for 14 of San Antonio’s first 16 points in the game. He gave it his all as the announcers continuously speculated on the retirements of Duncan and sidekicks Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker.
It started to sound like a eulogy, except for the fact that Timmy D didn't get the memo until his team was drenched in towels along the sideline with a look of dejection and he was shaking hands and giving hugs under a stream of OKC-colored confetti.
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If Duncan wasn’t planning on retiring, his recent playoff performances and the media mill has certainly suggested that he do so. That Serge Ibaka block that stunted Duncan's fairytale comeback almost demanded it. If the past 18 years are any indication, he’s probably not vain enough to play next season just to get a Kobe-like farewell tour. He would choose the quiet offseason to make the announcement and slide out of the back door.
He did leave it all on the court , that's for sure. It wasn’t a 60-point explosion, but for a guy who was on offensive life support for most of the season, it was good to see The Big Fundamental try to spark the Spurs to victory one last time.