On a night where Tony Parker remained sidelined with a sprained ankle that's kept him out of action since Mar. 1 and his healthy teammates struggled mightily on the offensive end, Duncan refused to give away a game to the 30-34 Dallas Mavericks:
Tim Duncan turns back the clock with 28 Pts, 19 Reb performance as Spurs get their 50th victory. (14th consecutive 50+ win season).— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) March 15, 2013
While Duncan's performance in this game was no doubt dominant, it was hardly unexpected. The grizzled veteran has been wreaking havoc on the smaller, quicker post players of today's NBA throughout the season.
If he hasn't been turning back the clock all year, he's at least been slowing its rotations:
The #Spurs should freeze Tim Duncan in-between games. Stretch his great career even longer. Keep this thing going— InsideHoops.com (@InsideHoops) March 15, 2013
He's not the same 20-point, 10-rebound player he was during seasons past. But his 16.9 points and 9.8 rebounds per game are his highest averages in three seasons.
Whatever he's lacking in youthful energy, he's more than making up for with veteran savvy and a thinking man's approach to the sport:
Give any coach a raw, athletic big man and they can run him through the gauntlet of post moves, shot-block timing and the finer points of the outlet pass.
But they can't coach Duncan's heart, will to win or instinctive ability to see plays before they happen.
Then again, even a coaching legend like Spurs coach Gregg Popovich can't manipulate time. He can see the mileage adding up even when the engine's still running smoothly.
That's why he's handled Duncan like a prized piece of automobile history. "Pop" doesn't have enough cars in the garage to limit him to a relaxing Sunday drive, but he's not taking any unnecessary trips.
For the third straight season he's held Duncan under the 30-minutes-per-game mark, but Parker's absence has made that an exhaustive effort. Two blowout wins (over the Sacramento Kings and Detroit Pistons) and a blowout loss (to the Portland Trail Blazers) have helped, but as the games have gotten closer Duncan's minutes have gone up.
Duncan logged 33 minutes in a closer-than-it-sounds 101-83 win over the Chicago Bulls on Mar. 6. On Thursday night he surpassed the 35-minute mark (35:50 to be exact) for just the ninth time in 55 games.
While Parker's progress reports have been promising of late (via rotoworld.com), there's still no definitive return date scheduled. After Saturday's meeting with the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Spurs play seven straight games in or near the playoff race.
Duncan may be defying logic lately, but he's not getting any younger. Players like Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard and Tiago Splitter help make San Antonio a postseason threat. But they're not likely to buy Duncan a lot of rest when the competition stiffens.
Popovich will do everything in his power to keep Duncan as fresh as a 36-year-old can be for what could be one of the big man's final chances to add to his championship resume. But how much can (or should) we expect to see out of him come playoff time?
A lot of that may come down to playoff matchups. Here's a look at how Duncan has fared over the past two seasons against the rest of the West's top six seeds this season (via NBA.com):
Duncan's got a great reputation as being one of the "good guys" in the league, but the guy appears to hold a grudge.
Duncan's highest scoring averages are against the two teams responsible for his last two playoff exits (Memphis Grizzlies in the opening round of 2011 and Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference finals in 2012). Though the points have come a bit easier against Memphis than Oklahoma City, the Spurs could really care less about meeting either club in a possible late-round matchup—they're 2-1 this season against both.
But with so much size possibly being thrown his way in the postseason, how will Duncan's aging body fare?
At this stage in his career, there's no longer a defense for counting Duncan out. The Spurs haven't raised the Larry O'Brien Trophy since sweeping LeBron James' Cleveland Cavaliers in 2006-07, but they have won five playoff series since then.
Your eyes aren't lying to you—this Spurs' core is getting older.
But they can still run with the young guns. And don't be surprised if you see Duncan out in front, leading the pack.