Remember the 2011 first round match-up between San Antonio and Memphis? Zach Randolph thoroughly outplayed Tim Duncan to the point that we all wondered if Timmy’s days as an elite level player might be behind him and if that meant that the Spurs’ title window had officially shut (this is despite San Antonio winning more games than any other WC team that year – yeah we were a little quick on the trigger back then).
Duncan has flipped the script in this series in a big way. To be clear, Tim’s not having a great series statistically. Far from it. He’s actually been worse this year than he was in ’11. HOWEVER, this time around he’s helped to hold ZBo to even lower efficiency and production than himself in a head-to-head matchup that the Grizzlies desperately need to win since they don’t have the same level of supporting offense to step in when their lead big man is under-producing.
And more to the point, Tim had one of those clutch Tim Duncan performances in the OT last night, scoring 6 of the Spurs’ 8 points in the extra period and showing the value of having an old hand at the wheel when the going gets tough. There’s no panic in the Spurs as a team, and that starts at the top. In Duncan’s minutes last night, the Spurs were +22. They only won by 6 points (the number he scored in overtime).
I’m reminded of so many Spurs moments in the past when their 7 foot tall center-forward has found ways to bring home wins in late game situations (Ground Hog Day), and it’s incredible just how long he’s been among the best players in this league. Since his rookie year in 1998, 16 years ago, he’s been one of the best. Coach Popavich deserves a lot of credit for keeping the minutes and workload low, so that Duncan hasn’t burnt out the way other bigs do. And the conditioning and commitment to staying trim have certainly helped. And luck is always a factor because in basketball injuries happen to the most devoted of fitness fanatics. But to sustain this level of excellence over such a long time is a testament to the value of professionalism and never, ever wearing neck ties.