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Fran Blinebury

Tim Duncan had 26 points and 10 rebounds in the Spurs' series-opening win over the Clippers on Tuesday.
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images

Vintage Duncan spells trouble for Clippers in opener

Posted May 16 2012 8:41PM

SAN ANTONIO -- Tim Duncan doesn't bother to fantasize about ever jumping over a Kia like Blake Griffin. Not when he can simply climb behind the wheel of a DeLorean.

It was more than back to work for the Spurs after eight days off between playoff series. It was another night of back to the future for Duncan, who did everything but duck walk like Chuck Berry and ride his hoverboard through the town square like Marty McFly.

If he shows up with a new flux capacitor for Game 2, the Clippers are really in trouble.

It is more than just piling up 26 points on an assortment of swooping, spinning moves around the basket. It is more than merely pulling down 10 rebounds against a Clippers front line that wanted to leave a few bruises along with a first impression. It was even more than falling to the floor on one possession, latching onto a loose ball and standing back up to flip one into the hoop almost with his back turned to the basket.

Any old geezer can reach back into the storehouse and pull out a shiny object just on muscle memory. But this is more than one game or one week or a couple of months.

"He's played like that all year long," said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. "He's not going to do anything that's going to be on a highlight film for TV, but a highlight film for coaches possibly. Just being solid, making a great pass, playing the defense that he did; he's the anchor."

The thing is that Duncan has been doing it for so long that you tend to forget how difficult it is to do it for so long. When you see him whirl around Clippers jumping jack DeAndre Jordan for a layup, you forget that he recently turned 36 years old. When you see him go bump-for-bump, jolt-for-jolt, bang-for-bang inside with Griffin, you forget that this is his 15th NBA season and that he won his first championship back when the world was just starting to fret about the potential Y2K disaster at the turn of the new millennium and a 10-year-old Bad Blake was maybe learning to leap over Tonka trucks.

In about the umpteenth season when everyone on the outside figured he would be running out of gas, Popovich closely monitored Duncan's minutes all through the grueling, condensed, post-lockout regular season and got him ready to rev his engine in these playoffs.

While this has been a season where point guard Tony Parker has shined like a beacon and taken over the mantle of leadership on the floor and Manu Ginobili is still expected to be the spicy salsa in the playoff lineup, the fact remains that the Spurs are not a true championship contender without Duncan's standing tall in the middle.

It's so much easier for Parker to make those hell-bent drives into the paint when Duncan is there to take drop-off passes and drop them into the bucket. It's less daring for Ginobili or Danny Green or Kawhi Leonard to pull up and take a stab at one of those franchise playoff record-tying 13 3-pointers when the they know that if things get really tight, they can get it to Duncan and let him go to work.

"Nothing changes about the Spurs," said Clippers veteran forward Kenyon Martin. "They just keep doing what they do and Duncan does what he does."

K-Mart would know. Duncan was doing it to him as far back as the 2003 NBA Finals when he was dancing on the heads of the New Jersey Nets on the way to the second of his four titles.

What Duncan is doing is not just impressive, but historic. If the Spurs were to go on and hang their fifth banner from the rafters of the ATT&T Center, it would be a 13-year gap since his first in 1999. Only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar -- 1971 Bucks to 1988 Lakers -- and Robert Parish -- 1981 Celtics to 1997 bulls -- had a longer gap between titles. And Duncan's championship era would have all been with the same team. Michael Jordan's reign spanned seven years, Magic Johnson eight and even Bill Russell 12.

What's more, this would be the third different title incarnation of the Spurs during Duncan's career. The team was retooled around him after the 2003 championship and the retirement of David Robinson. Since San Antonio's most recent title in 2007, the roster has been remade again with only Parker and Ginobili still beside him.

Griffin throws down a handful of dunks and gets the requisite jaws to drop. Duncan does all of the earthbound things right and makes the wizened heads nod.

"It's not something that just happened today," said Ginobili.

Durability and stamina and longevity are all characteristics of excellence that Tim Duncan keeps reminding every time he goes back to the future.

Fran Blinebury has covered the NBA since 1977. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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