Sporting greats on the imminent brink of retirement tend to paint something of a solemn picture: once-devastating moves now made gingerly and judiciously, a blundering bowing out to the kingdom’s usurper.
Tallying 27 points and seven rebounds on 12-of-20 shooting in your 212th NBA playoff game—as Tim Duncan did in the San Antonio Spurs’ 90-85 Game 1 win over the Dallas Mavericks Sunday afternoon—doesn’t exactly fit that description.
That is why, after a season of speculation over whether this might, in fact, be Duncan’s last pro go-around, we were so happy to hear the Big Fundamental drop this happy postgame hint to ESPN’s Marc Stein:
Reassuring to hear Tim Duncan say he has only "a couple more" playoff runs in him. Would seemingly suggest this is not his last then. Right?— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) April 20, 2014
“A couple,” of course, implies more than one. Furthermore, we can safely assume that by “runs,” Duncan doesn’t mean individual playoff series, but rather full postseason campaigns.
Let’s be real for a second: Tim Duncan will never really retire; it’ll just be one big optical illusion. The atoms that make up Tim Duncan will be hitting lefty leaners in the Finals a billion years after the sun explodes.
While Duncan’s productivity took a bit of a hit in this, his 17th NBA season, his per-36 numbers were all but on par with those of recent years.
|Season||Points per 36||Rebounds per 36||TS%||PER|
Note that, while Duncan’s minutes were down somewhat over last season, he still played more—both per game and in the aggregate—than both the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons.
Owing to a skill set sharpened more by guile than sheer athletic dominance, Duncan’s physical capabilities have hardly atrophied at all.
Indeed, as Bleacher Report’s Ric Bucher details in his fantastic piece on Duncan’s ageless grace, it might be that the criminally quiet pivot simply wants to be remembered in the best, most glorious light:
Whether it’s on or off the court, it’s as if Duncan sneaked in a quick jab on Father Time. The question, of course, is why? The flip answer is to win another championship, but that doesn’t take into account the grind of playing against the Anthony Davises and Kevin Loves and Serge Ibakas with a left knee encased in a metal brace. Or the challenge of being a devoted single dad to two kids under 10. Or the Sisyphean anguish after coming so close to hoisting the fifth trophy he still covets.
That last factor cannot be discounted. Duncan and the Spurs have played this season with a singular mission in mind: to avenge last year’s heartbreaking seven-game Finals loss to the Miami Heat—a series in which San Antonio was one rebound away from capturing its fifth championship since 1999.
With over 51,000 minutes on the odometer, Duncan’s days as a basketball player are bound to end sooner than later. But so long as Sunday’s performance remains the hyper-efficient norm, this won’t be the last summer that ends with No. 21 flinging open the locker door one more time.