SALT LAKE CITY, April 13 (Ticker) --
Even the return of Tim Duncan
requires an adjustment period.
Duncan was effective in limited minutes but was on the bench
down the stretch as the Spurs had their three-game winning
streak snapped with a 93-91 loss to the Utah Jazz.
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Widely considered the best player in the NBA, Duncan had missed
the last 12 games with a severely sprained ankle suffered March
20 at Detroit. The Spurs lost their first two games without
their superstar but regrouped to win eight of 10, clinching the
Southwest Division title and staying in the hunt for the best
record in the NBA.
Duncan was not expected to return until this weekend. But after
a few strong workouts, the team activated him from the injured
list Wednesday afternoon. He was in the starting lineup for the
first time in nearly a month.
"He felt great. We weren't planning on using him at all until
possibly this weekend, but his workout have been going well, and
he felt really good this morning," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich
said. "About halfway through his workout, we felt that maybe it
was time to get him a little run so he could get his rhythm,
because it doesn't happen instantaneously."
The Spurs found that out early on as Duncan played seven minutes
of an awful first quarter that saw San Antonio fall behind,
"We started to play pretty well here lately without Tim, and we
figured it out without him," Popovich said. "But at this point,
we've got to figure out a different way, because that's the
best for us. It'll be a little slow in the beginning, and it
obviously was in the first half."
"These guys have been playing great over the last few games,"
Duncan said. "To be added back into that, it sounds funny, but I
just didn't want to mess anything up. These guys were playing
so well and in such a rhythm."
While his teammates had to get re-acclimated with his presence
on the floor, Duncan found a rhythm in the second quarter,
scoring six straight points. In all, he had 17 points and seven
rebounds in just 20 minutes, making 6-of-7 shots and 5-of-8
While his playing time was limited, Duncan said the ankle didn't
bother him too much.
"I feel pretty good right now. Once I got warmed up, it felt
pretty good," Duncan said. "It was just kinda weird being
around bodies and watching where you land and all that good
stuff. But after a little while, I got used to the game and it
all kind of went away. It was just fun to be out there."
"I thought he was fantastic," Popovich said. "He really had a
lot of poise on the floor. He had his touch and ran the floor
pretty well, and he had good wind, which is what I was really
impressed with. What he can't do yet is move laterally really
well, start and stop; that's going to take a little more time.
But his timing and his passing overall were pretty good
considering how long it's been since he's played."
San Antonio battled back, scoring the first six points of the
fourth quarter to take a 71-68 lead before Duncan sat down for
good with 9:26 left. The Jazz immediately responded with an
11-3 surge, thanks to five points from Mehmet Okur
Utah still held an 87-84 lead before Manu Ginobili
sank two free
throws and Tony Parker
hit a jumper to give San Antonio an
88-87 edge with 1:19 remaining.
Okur answered with a jumper and Parker missed a pair of
shots before two free throws by Matt Harpring
made it 91-88 with
14 seconds to go.
On the other end, Ginobili drew a foul and made the first free
throw before missing the second. Nazr Mohammed
's follow shot
his only basket of the game tied with 7.5 seconds to play.
had his driving layup blocked by Robert Horry
However, Okur put home the rebound with 2.4 seconds to go.
"I was there at the right time and the right place. I just took
the ball and put it in," Okur said. "I just try to do my best
out there, try to win the game and take some energy from my
The Jazz avoided overtime as Ginobili missed an open runner at
Okur scored 25 points and Harpring added 17 for the Jazz, who
have won two of three from the Spurs after losing the previous
Ginobili scored 21 points and Parker added 17 for the Spurs
(58-21), who dropped two games in the loss column behind Phoenix
(59-19) in the race for the NBA's best record.