San Antonio Spurs 118, Golden State Warriors 98: Who is Tim Duncan? Human after all
If the San Antonio Spurs’ season narrative has beenÂ about the transition of the team from Tim Duncanâ€™s steady brilliance towards the speed and creativity of Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, last night Tim Duncan interjected with a reminder his presence can still carry a couple chapters.
During the Spurs 118-98 win over the Golden State Warriors Duncan found the fountain of youth — the Warriors defense — and rode it all the way back to 2003, recording his first regular season triple-double sinceÂ March of that year.
While still struggling to find a rhythm with his shot (6-15, 15 points), there was Duncan grabbing 18 rebounds, blocking two shots, diving to the floor, dunking, and even attempting (and, in a sign ofÂ the times, missing) an alley-oop. And with the 11 assists, Duncan displayed his wonderful basketball IQ, still showcasing a game built off fundamentals, angles, and symmetry.
Symmetry is an important concept to remember. In FreeDarko Presents: The Macrophenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac, Tim Duncan’s career numbers are compared to the Fibonacci sequence. But his career also fits symmetrically with another set of numbers, these forever tying him to another Spurs legend — David Robinson.
Drafted 10 years apart, Duncan now finds himself in a similar transition to the one once undertaken by his retired fellow twin tower. Still the anchor of a defense for an elite team, Duncan’s role in the offense has increasingly diminished. Now, looking back 10 years, his numbers are eerily similar to Robinson’s at the same point in their careers (Duncan 2010-2011, Robinson 2000-2001):
For David Robinson, it was the middle of a steady descent into retirement, the last of his All-NBA (third team that year) honors, and final All-Star appearance. Two years later, the Admiral put up eight points and eight rebounds a night through back problems on aÂ farewell tour that culminated in an NBA championship.
Duncan has vowed to keep playing until the wheels fall off, but reasonably a similar 2-3 year window is fair enough to expect with this season being the most important year of what’s left. This fact is not meant to temper the enthusiasm of a great start, but as a reminder to enjoy this while we can — though no one is rushing him into retirement any time soon.
Interestingly, it is in these fleeting moments that we might come to know Tim Duncan best. That the Spurs longtime franchise player finally becomes relatable and personally interesting.
Though many of us have grown up alongsideÂ the Duncan era, how much do we know about him beyond the efficiency in which he puts up double-doubles?
Like Robinson, he’s aÂ husband and father, but how manyÂ people think of him in those terms?Â Â Allegedly, he’s witty with a wicked dry sense of humor, but how much of that has been caught on camera?
Because of this, Duncan has often been compared to a machine, or robot; an emotionless vessel put on Earth to put up 20 points and 10 rebounds a night with no delight or regard for anything else.
But Duncan is not a machine, his parts cannot be replaced.
If the above numbers can be used as a road map to the end, it’s not a far drive. But in theseÂ instances of greatness despite obvious signs of mortality, we can start to see a glimpse of Duncan’s personality.
Because at this point there is nothing left to prove. Duncan could retire today and would still be considered one of the top 10 or 15 all-time greats and perhaps theÂ best player of his generation.
There were moments at the end of last year where retirement did not seem too far off. Watching him walk from the floor to the bench, and from the bench to the locker room, at times it was a wonder howÂ he wasÂ able to run up and down the floorÂ at the pace of some of these younger athletes, let aloneÂ making a double-double seemÂ effortless.
Yet after a disappointing playoff exit Duncan spent the summer retooling his body in the hopes of squeezing another full season of peak performance out of it. So that despite lacking a logical need to do so, he could log a team-high 33 minutes against a thoroughly mediocre Warriors team on the front end of a meaningless back-to-back that will be forgotten in a month.
Fighting age and time is something we can all relate to, and to watch Duncan hold off its effects while still being visibly affected by it, to reenter a game that had so little at stake, it’s a remarkable display of an indomitable competitive spirit.
To see a night of greatness, despite increasing flaws in what once were flawless displays, shows a completely new side of Tim Duncan — one that is interestingly human.