|Ho-hum, just another phenomenal postseason for Spurs' Duncan|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 24 May 2007 12:56|
Duncan does a lot of things well, but an acrobatic, mid-air adjustment isn't usually among them.
Yet this time, in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals, Duncan pulled it off. He reached out his long arms to make the catch, then flicked the ball backward over his head and into the basket, all in one move.
``I was impressed with myself, honestly,'' Duncan said Thursday.
The way things have gone for Duncan this postseason, the play shouldn't have been too surprising. Everything seems to be easy for him - or, at least, he's sure able to make it look that way.
No longer bothered by the foot problem that limited him in recent years, and a bit refreshed by San Antonio's early exit last postseason, Duncan is having one of his best playoff runs.
While he's right around his career playoff averages in points and rebounds, the spectacular part is his consistency: at least 20 points and 10 rebounds in 11 straight games. It's the longest streak since Shaquille O'Neal had 13 in a row in 2004, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
``It's nothing you pay attention to,'' Duncan said. ``You're playing and the opportunities are there. As I said, I feel good right now, I feel healthy right now. On top of putting those kinds of numbers up, we're winning games and winning series and that's all that matters.''
San Antonio is 9-2 during Duncan's streak and holds a 2-0 lead over the Utah Jazz in the conference finals, with Game 3 in Salt Lake City on Saturday night. If the Spurs advance, they'll be on the brink of their fourth title in Duncan's 10 years.
Already considered among the best big men ever, Duncan still stands out among the handful of others in that group. He's as good a defender as he is a scorer, and he's an even better teammate, always preferring to be one of the guys rather than the main man.
Make no mistake: He's still clearly the team's leader and he knows it. But everything he does is with the team concept in mind, never the promotion of Tim Duncan.
``He's the kind of guy that you would really want a lot of players to be like,'' Spurs forward Bruce Bowen said. ``He's strictly business about getting the job done. And that's the focus he has. It's not about 'Oh, yeah, you see that? You see what I did? Look at this, I'm getting ready to do this commercial.' ... He's about the game and getting better during the offseason and that's something that I think young guys can learn from.''
Examples are easy to find. Consider these moments from the first two games of the Jazz series. None are significant, but each is revealing:
- In the opener, Duncan was ahead of everyone on a fast break, but was waiting for the ball. He never got it, though, because the pass was nowhere near him. He simply gestured that it was his fault for being in the wrong place, even if that hardly seemed the case.
``Not a lot of guys like that responsibility of 'I made a mistake,''' said Utah coach Jerry Sloan, who noted Duncan's unselfishness on that play after the game, juxtaposing it with the finger-pointing his players did. ``He deflects a lot of that from other people so they don't have any pressure.''
- In the locker room before Game 2, a replay of the previous game was showing. Duncan watched casually, then his eyes widened as if he'd just been called for a foul, only he was smiling, too. He hurried to the TV, grabbed the remote control and repeatedly slowed the tape for a frame-by-frame showing of backup point guard Jacque Vaughn trying in vain to box out a big man, drawing good-natured laughs all around.
- As time ran out on the third quarter of Game 2, San Antonio's Manu Ginobili made a tough 3-pointer off a nice pass from Brent Barry. Duncan was the first player off the bench to congratulate Ginobili, then worked his way back through a crowd to point at Barry, acknowledging his assist.
``Those things are very important,'' Sloan said. ``He's probably the first guy that comes in the locker room after the game shaking everybody's hand. Most guys are sitting there waiting for somebody to shake their hand.''
Another skill Duncan has shown this postseason is his passing. He's had nine assists through two games against Utah, several coming on pinpoint bounce passes from the top of the key to Fabricio Oberto as he cut to the basket from the wing.
Duncan also has been quite the obstacle in the lane on defense. He's blocked seven shots and has intimidated the Jazz so much they've gotten into the bad habit of not driving enough. This comes after he blocked nine shots in the finale against the Suns, just missing a unique triple-double.
Duncan may be putting it all together at the right time, but none of it surprises coach Gregg Popovich. He's so accustomed to seeing his superstar do it all that he admits to taking Duncan for granted.
``We reached that a long time ago,'' Popovich said. ``It's great that Timmy doesn't need a whole lot of strokes, if any. He loves playing the game, he loves his teammates and that kind of thing. ... Obviously everything begins and ends with him. So he's got a big responsibility and he enjoys it.''
Associated Press writer Elizabeth White in San Antonio contributed to this report.