San Antonio Spurs 117, Milwaukee Bucks 110: Glad to take Tim Duncan for granted again
A cold but otherwise non-descript January night in Milwaukee is not the setting a performance like Tim Duncan’s deserved, but is perhaps the one that is most appropriate.
Come April and May, few will remember the night a 36-year old Duncan led his San Antonio Spurs to a 117-110 win over the Milwaukee Bucks with 28 points, 13 rebounds, six assists, and three blocks. Cold nights in Milwaukee are quickly forgotten.
But there was a time not too long ago tonight would have stopped and given everyone pause.
A few years removed from Duncan’s prime, the basketball world began to wax nostalgic on how under-appreciated and taken for granted performances like these were. Each 20-point, 10-rebound game glorified as a throwback night, and each loss under such conditions considered a wasted Duncan game of which only a limited supply remained.
There have been enough throwback games this season that people stopped referring to them as such. Perhaps the biggest compliment paid to Duncan is such performances are somehow being taken for granted once again; even if supplies still remain more limited than he’s lead us to believe this season.
Duncan began the first quarter innocently enough, perched at the elbows he’s made his home this season, connecting on two midrange jumpers the Milwaukee Bucks willingly conceded.
The defense, and perhaps his aging legs, loosened a little bit, Duncan began to exploit the youthful Bucks frontline, cutting through gaps in the defense for easy layups and even making his way into the post to dust off a few up and under moves for good measure.
He had help of course.
Tony Parker gashed the Bucks defense, getting into the middle of the paint both on pick-and-rolls and curling around off-the-ball screens near the elbows. Once there, Parker never hurried but was quick with the ball, pulling up for his patented floater or finding open 3-point shooters along the perimeter.
In many ways the age and experience of Parker and Duncan served as examples for the Milwaukee Bucks’ in-a-perfect-world developmental paths.
The San Antonio Spurs and Milwaukee Bucks both boast top-rated defenses. Each designed to concede the inefficient midrange jumper while cutting off 3-pointers and layups.
The difference between the two teams remains the Spurs patience in attacking such defenses. Duncan and Parker will take enough of the conceded midrange shots to keep a defense honest, but rarely do they attempt to make a living off them.
The Spurs grind and work for better shots.
Grind is a word that generally hasn’t been associated with the Spurs offense since they used to dump it into Duncan nearly every possession. But the screens, ball and player movement, and discipline require work. If it were easy, every team would do it.
These Bucks rarely do. Few question the talents of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis, two lightning-quick guards that can get their shots off whenever they please, but too often they settle for the first shot, the easy one.
Duncan works, even at his advanced age. He works smarter these days, sometimes in less obvious ways — setting a hundred different screens and making a hundred different cuts to provide himself a staple of easy layups while opening the floor for the Spurs shooters.
Tonight he had to work longer than expected with Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich going too deep into his bench too soon. Duncan of course helped stabilize things in the fourth quarter to prevent the Spurs from wasting a performance he suddenly has an abundance of.
Thursday night the San Antonio Spurs will play the New York Knicks, and most of tonight’s events will have been long forgotten by then. As much as we should appreciate a moment like this, perhaps it’s better that we don’t.
There will be time to celebrate how taken for granted Tim Duncan was. Tonight is further proof that time can wait.