NBA Playoffs 2011: Tonight a Chance for Fans to Bid Tim Duncan, Spurs Farewell

Robert Kleeman@@RobertKleemanSenior Analyst IApril 27, 2011

MEMPHIS, TN - APRIL 23:  Zach Randolph #50 of the Memphis Grizzlies shoots the ball while defended by Tim Duncan #21 of the San Antonio Spurs  in Game three of the Western Conference Quarterfinals in the 2011 NBA Playoffs at FedExForum on April 23, 2011 in Memphis, Tennessee. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

I'll remember Tony Parker abusing the daylights out of the Phoenix Suns in a trio of playoff series.

I'll remember Manu Ginobili blocking a Kobe Bryant breakway lay-up. That play, in his rookie campaign, announced he would make a significant NBA impact. The Hall of Fame awaits five years after he retires.

I'll remember Tim Duncan's three-pointer against those same Suns. Who could forget his second round-winning shot versus the now defunct Seattle Sonics?

I'll remember the roar of Game Seven in 2005, riverwalk parades, downtown fiestas and former PA announcer Stan Kelly's signature take on common sports phrases. I always knew, then, when the Spurs had the ball and if two minutes remained in a quarter.

What memories will you honor when these Spurs take the AT&T Center court tonight, perhaps for the final time with Duncan?

The pessimist in me fears a pending work stoppage will sabotage, maybe cancel, what would have been No. 21's 14th season. His contract expires in 2012, and he may decide his decorated career should do the same.

That is one reason to treat a Game Five against the eighth seeded Memphis Grizzlies as the end.

Bryant, in his 14th NBA sojourn, is luckier. He can flex his bravado while playing on a sprained ankle. Duncan also did not enter the association with jaw-dropping athleticism. His decline, when it did arrive, was going to be much steeper because of that.

"I lead the league in flat-footed blocks," he cracked in December. There was some truth to that joke.

The eradication of hand checking made life much easier on perimeter stars, and with the right medical staff and God-given gifts, they can outlast big fellas with massive frames. Bryant could play five more seasons, most of those at his current MVP-worthy level.

Duncan nurtured and tended to his body as much as Bryant ever did, but the latter gets more credit because he demanded that cameras capture his legendary offseason workout regimen. The Spurs' franchise pillar rolled tractor tires up and down a headlong hill without the fanfare.

This isn't a referendum on the Lakers' all-time great. Instead, consider this a reminder of Duncan's 6'11" misfortune. I still contend he could survive five to six more years in a Kareem-like, limited role. He will not stick around for that.

So, Spurs fans, cheer tonight as if you will never see Duncan, Ginobili and Parker on the same postseason stage again. Memphis will eliminate San Antonio this week, and labor unrest might, in turn, exterminate the little time Duncan has left as a starting-caliber power forward.

The Western Conference's top seed drew an unfortunate matchup. The Grizzlies have beaten a Gregg Popovich gameplan 28 other coaches would have endorsed. They defied the scouting report and a futile playoff history.

The Spurs won the rebounding skirmish decisively in the first three contests and kept the points-in-the-paint battle close. Antonio McDyess has attached himself to Zach Randolph and forced some wild shots.

San Antonio wanted a dismal jumpshooting outfit to attempt a lot of jumpshots. Popovich's squad lost when those low-percentage looks began to fall.

Stat of the series: The Grizzlies have connected on 38 percent of their treys. The Spurs have rifled in a paltry 30.1 percent of their long-distance heaves. Memphis ranked 27th this season in three-point accuracy. San Antonio was first.

The opponent's best player, Randolph, is undersized, unathletic and slower than a tricycle on a motor speedway. Yet, he dominates with his sheer bulk and a touch around the rim that would make Dr. J proud.

Tony Allen embraces his lunacy. He shaved the Grizzlies' logo into the back of his head and accused Ginobili of faking his right elbow injury. His power defense and marvelous anticipation have mattered, too.

Marc Gasol brings size and a desire to eclipse, or at least equal, his brother Pau in a postseason scrum.

Mike Conley has outplayed Parker most of the way. He, at least, now looks like he belongs on this level.

Shane Battier, just the veteran the Spurs might covet this summer, added poise, leadership and sensibility to a zany locker room. He revels in this approaching blitzkrieg as much as any Memphis employee.

That makes tonight matter like a Game Seven. San Antonio might not host another of those for a long, long time.

Don't sit and roll your eyes at tipoff, as if Duncan and his comrades will stand at that mid-court logo 1,000 more times. Don't sit at all. Don't save your voice.

Show the Grizzlies which fanbase has been there from the beginning. Monday's thrashing, after all, was just the sixth sellout at FedEx Forum.

A more important gesture: show the Spurs you appreciated more than a decade of championship contention, brutish yet beautiful performances and humility. Thank Duncan, Parker and Ginobili for memories that will outlive the sting of a first-round exit.

Understand that supporters in a double-figure number of NBA markets have never even tasted the NBA Finals. Duncan's Spurs did it four times and won all of those series.

The Lakers will find a way to stay in the hunt after Bryant calls it quits, because Hollywood's darlings have the resources, the reach and the reputation to do it. Will the Spurs get lucky enough to draft another Duncan or David Robinson?

L.A. disappeared in the 1990s because a rare cost-conscious mandate after a brief ownership change handcuffed the front office. Jerry Buss will keep spending, despite his surface protestations, because he can.

Peter Holt's decision to exceed the luxury tax threshold in a bustling 2009 offseason was an anomaly in the Duncan era.

GM R.C. Buford and Popovich have collected some terrific pieces that will help the Spurs compete when the Big Three disbands. Tiago Splitter, James Anderson, George Hill, Gary Neal and maybe Dejuan Blair will comprise the future core.

That new edition, though, will compete like the 43-win Houston Rockets, not the two-time defending champion Lakers.

Instead of banking on another miracle, see tonight as a way to commemorate one of the greatest runs in sports history. Bring the roar back. Make that hot dog run at another AT&T Center event.

There will be many more of those. There won't be another Duncan. San Antonio may never again lay claim to a trio of this caliber.

If the worst happens this summer, Duncan, Ginobili and Parker might not appear on a big stage again until the first is inducted into the Hall of Fame. Jersey retirement ceremonies could happen sooner than that.

Arrive tonight with that in mind.

Cheer a brain trust that did everything possible to extended Duncan's title window. Cheer McDyess, a championship-level role player, who will never get the ring he craves.

If the improbable rally materializes, you will have led the charge. If the season ends this week, the Spurs will know, once more, how much you cared.

I'll remember a lot of things and events involving this franchise during Duncan's tenure. I plan to make tonight one of those.

You should do the same.

Before the funeral, let's throw a party. A loud one. If the casket must open after the final buzzer, we'll know we had a good time.

The Spurs will provide the soundtrack and the proverbial disco ball. You bring the cake.


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