Merlin shows off his tricks
AT&T CENTER — Tim Duncan and DeAndre Jordan got situated at the center circle and Bill Kennedy, one of the game’s officials, tossed the ball in the air. Duncan tapped the ball to a teammate without much pressure from Jordan. And for good reason, Jordan had his head turned. Kennedy called the play back and the tip was replayed.
The opening tip went up again and Duncan won the tap easily, directing the ball back to a teammate before Jordan even made an attempt to win the tap. It was just another veteran trick that Duncan employed on Jordan in a long night of them. Jordan’s Clippers, however, got the last laugh in a 92-87 victory over the Spurs.
Jordan has been one of several positive stories coming from Clipper camp this season, entering last night’s game averaging 10.2 points and 7.1 rebounds per contest. At 6’11” with something like a 7’6″ wingspan, the more he figures things out skill wise, the more dangerous a player he’ll become.
“Obviously he has already the physical and athletic skills,” Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich said, “but he’s combined a little bit more of the mental game with it and it’s helped [the Clippers] be a pretty imposing team.”
Duncan is on the opposite end of the spectrum. Never freakish in terms of size or athleticism, Duncan sustains a high level of play through impecable fundamentals and the polish that comes from tens of thousands of reps over a long career.
“He’s never been a leaper, so to speak, but he’s always been a really fundamentally sound individual,” Coach Pop said. “He’s expanded his game — kind of like Michael [Jordan] learned to shoot more instead of dunking everything — Timmy’s learning to knock down the jumpers on the elbows and on the wings because he’s not going to go down in the post and amaze people every time anymore.”
Over three quarters of action, Duncan put the old man moves on Jordan and showed why the Big Fundamental is still one of the best. Duncan finished the game with 20 points, 14 rebounds and two blocked shots to Jordan’s 13 points and five boards.
Duncan bested Jordan with an array of moves that can drive a young player crazy, moves that can negate a the athletic advantage the Clippers center has over Duncan. On one play in the first quarter, Duncan gave a picture perfect up-fake that sent Jordan sky-high. Duncan calmly waited for Jordan to return to Earth and put the ball in off the glass as Jordan’s feet hit the ground.
Later in the game, Duncan jab-stepped and drove left on Jordan, putting his shoulder directly into Jordan’s sternum and making it hard for Jordan to get off the ground when his momentum was suddenly going in another direction. Duncan hit a soft runner off the glass following the contact.
Rebounding is where one would think Jordan’s physical advantage would play out more in the Clipper big man’s favor. Duncan, though, made use of the positioning and lower body strength he’s honed over the years. When Duncan got position and Jordan tried to reach over and tip the ball back, Duncan would pin the rebound against the glass and pull it down to himself.
Jordan did have his moments for the Clippers, though. When he kept it simple, Jordan’s length and athleticism caused problems for Duncan. In the third quarter, Jordan got good post position on Duncan and was able to turn over his right shoulder and smoothly sink a hook shot that Duncan had no chance in hell of altering. When stayed within himself and focused on positioning, Jordan’s size became too much for Duncan to overcome.
“He’s making better decisions, playing with his teammates, understands his role, those things help you produce better at both ends of the court,” Pop said.
In the fourth quarter, Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro decided to go away from Jordan, deploying a lineup featuring Blake Griffin at center and Matt Barnes at power forward. Jordan logged only 25 seconds in the fourth quarter, when the game was essentially decided and the Clippers focused mainly on securing the defensive rebounds.
While he played almost seven minutes in the fourth quarter, Duncan’s box score contributions were almost as anonymous. Duncan logged two points on free throws and not a single rebound in the final period, when the Spurs needed a defensive rebound the most.
On a night where the hyper athleticism of the Clippers got the best of San Antonio, Tim Duncan displayed the craft and skill that give people impressions of an ageless wonder. He won’t be able to play forever, but the skillset Duncan developed, and the tricks he’s learned along the way, are keeping Tim Duncan one step ahead of the new breed of big man.