Posted Apr 22 2010 8:39AM
DALLAS -- An old dog, some old tricks. When the Spurs needed it Wednesday night with perhaps their playoff stay at stake, they pumped a well that hasn't run dry for 13 years.
Meet Tim Duncan. Again.
Duncan won't take credit for the 102-88 punch to the Mavericks' gut Wednesday night just as he didn't blame many of his teammates for the Game 1 setback. That San Antonio is in position to take control of this first-round series with two at the AT&T Center doesn't land fully on No. 21's wide shoulders.
Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker didn't disappoint for the second straight game. Neither did Gregg Popovich's dog pound, starting with Richard Jefferson. But when Dallas sliced an 18-point lead to five with nearly seven minutes left, the ball found its way into Duncan's hands time and again.
"We've always trusted him," Ginobili said.
Duncan's roll call of signature moments following the Mavericks' run justify that decade-plus of trust. Five-foot jump hook. Ten-foot jumper. Driving 9-footer. Defensive rebound. Jumper from 11 feet. Suddenly, the Spurs were back up 13 points with 3 1/2 minutes left in an enemy building drained dry.
"I just got some shots to go," Duncan said after authoring a vintage 25-point, 17-rebound outing. "I don't know any other way to put it."
Duncan and all those foes he said earlier in the day that have hated San Antonio for years had seen it before. Those rumors of his demise, being a step slower and easier to contain, might not be entirely untrue. He averaged fewer points (17.9) and fewer rebounds (10.1) this past season than any other in his Hall-of-Fame career.
He also played fewer minutes (31.3) and his shooting percentage (51.8) was his third-best ever. The argument could be made, though few might buy it, that Duncan was more efficient this year than the past several.
"The numbers slipped a little bit," said Ginobili, an eight-year teammate. "Instead of 22 and 12, he went 18 and 10. I mean if you're going to slip like that, I'll take it."
Duncan was happy to take Popovich's forced one-game respite to finish out the regular season and the other breaks over the course of the 82-game grind. He said any day off helps his soon-to-be 34-year-old body, noting that the playoffs don't include back-to-backs.
"I'm feeling pretty energized," said Duncan, whose birthday coincides with Sunday's Game 4.
Still, he's piled up more than 42,000 regular-season and playoff minutes. His left knee often aches and it'll be burdened with a brace as long as he plays. Any slip in athleticism for someone who's never played above the rim, is countered by some physical attributes that haven't been touched by time.
"He's long, he's skilled. He'll never lose his skill set," Dirk Nowitzki said. "You've got to honor his bank shot there. If you push up on him, he can still drive and finish with both hands around the rim. He's still tough on the glass because he's so bottom heavy you can't push out , he gets [missed shots] and puts them right back in.
"We knew he's a handful and he really made some great plays down the stretch."
The Mavericks refused to double Duncan much Sunday, electing to guard him straight up with Erick Dampier for most of the night. Duncan would score 27 in the opener, a total he matched or exceeded only twice since Jan. 10. Dallas lived with it, along with Ginobili's 26 and Tony Parker's 18, because the rest of the Spurs, well, dogged it.
Duncan's 25 points carried more weight in Game 2, considering what was on the line and the frantic final push by Dallas. Brendan Haywood, not Dampier, was given the near-impossible job of containing the only Spur who's been part of all four championships. Duncan scored 10 in the fourth quarter, eight in that near three-minute span that turned near disaster into a road spit and homecourt advantage.
"We went to Tim just about every other time down the stretch, and he came through by scoring and rebounding at the other end," Popovich said. "And he's always that guy that gets taken for granted because he's been doing that for so many years just being an anchor for us."
Some might forget. The Spurs can't.
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