San Antonio Spurs: 10 Best Moments of Tim Duncan's Legendary Career

Stephen Babb@@StephenBabbFeatured ColumnistFebruary 17, 2012

San Antonio Spurs: 10 Best Moments of Tim Duncan's Legendary Career

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    As Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs look for their fifth NBA Championship, it's worth pausing to reflect on the greatest moments of his first 14 seasons. 

    Often regarded as the greatest power forward in NBA history, Duncan's achievements speak for themselves.

    Duncan transformed a small-market team once labeled "soft" into a franchise with four championships and a series of postseason runs that rank among history's most winning organizations in any of the major professional sports.

    He's done so with class, humility and loyalty that are unrivaled among his peers.

    Attempting to condense his accomplished years into a handful of defining moments is an impossible task, but here are 10 scenes from Tim Duncan's career that we shouldn't forget. 

Duncan Wins Finals MVP and Spurs Get First Championship: 1999

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    After putting the Spurs up 3-1 against the Knicks with 28 points and 18 rebounds in Game 4, Duncan scored another 31 to put New York away for good in Game 5.

    Facing the strong defense of Kurt Thomas and Marcus Camby, Duncan showcased his ability to hit a range of turnarounds and difficult baskets, including a number of his patented bank shots. He demonstrated an intelligence in the post that cemented his reputation as the "Big Fundamental." 

    In only his second season in the NBA (a seasoned shortened by lockout), Duncan led the Spurs to a Championship while losing only two games in the postseason: one in the first round against Minnesota and one in the Finals to New York.

    San Antonio established itself as one of the league's elite teams, sweeping both the Trail Blazers and Lakers during their impressive run. 

    For his part, Duncan averaged 23.2 points, 11.5 rebounds and 2.7 blocks in the 1999 Playoffs, ensuring that David Robinson would win his first of two rings in a long and storied career with the Spurs.

Duncan Scores Career-High 53 Points Against Dallas Mavericks: 2001

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    While Duncan's Spurs eventually lost to the Mavericks in overtime (on a last-second three-pointer by Steve Nash), he single-handedly carried the load for San Antonio throughout the game. His heroics in the fourth quarter and overtime consistently kept the Spurs in a game they looked destined to lose.

    The young Duncan was coming into his prime in his fifth season and put on an absolutely dominant offensive show. He hit 19-of-28 field goals and all 15 of his free throws, several coming on unreal "and ones." 

    Spurs' fans never enjoy watching their team lose to the rival Mavericks, but they could take some solace in watching Duncan thoroughly embarrass Dirk Nowitzki, who looked helpless on the defensive end.

    Duncan's first two baskets came on dunks, and he mixed up his game to include a range of drives, post-ups and mid-range shots.

    While Duncan will always be known for his complete game and sound defense, this was Timmy at his finest as an offensive game changer. He would go on to average 25.5 points for the season (his first season over 25) and come into his own as one the league's most productive scorers.

Duncan Wins His First MVP Award: 2002

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    One season after finishing second in MVP voting to Allen Iverson, Duncan won his first MVP award for a truly exceptional 2001-2002 season.

    He finished averaging 25.5 points, 12.7 rebounds, 3.7 assists, and 2.5 blocks in over 40 minutes a game.

    He was the NBA's fifth-leading scorer and ranked second in rebounds and fourth in blocks, becoming only the fifth player in history to rank in the top five of each category.

    He led the league with 67 double-doubles and solidified his status as one of the game's finest forward/centers ever to play the game.

    While many continued to insist that Shaquille O'Neal was the game's most dominant big man, it had become nearly impossible to deny that Duncan was its most talented.

    Having been groomed by David Robinson in his early years, Duncan came into his own this season as the aging Robinson took a distant back seat.

    The Spurs eventually fell to the Lakers 4-1 in the Western Conference Semi-Finals, highlighting the need for a new supporting cast to surround Duncan.

    San Antonio wasn't the NBA's best team this season, but Tim Duncan was definitely its best player.

Duncan Ends the Lakers' Run of Three Straight Titles: 2003

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    From 2000 to 2002, the Los Angeles Lakers were the most dominating team in the NBA. Yes, the Lakers benefited from an injured meniscus holding Duncan out of the postseason in 2000, but Los Angeles knocked San Antonio out of the playoffs in both 2001 and 2002.

    Duncan had his revenge and sent the Lakers packing in 2003 with a 37-point, 16-rebound outburst in Game 6 of the Western Conference Semi-Finals. He started the game with 15 points, making seven of his eight field goals in the first quarter, and the Lakers lost 110-82.

    The game epitomized Duncan's 2003 postseason, which was perhaps his finest. In 24 games, Duncan averaged 24.7 points, 15.4 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 3.3 blocks in a playoff run that saw the full range of his skills on display.

Duncan Gets Second Ring, Clinching Finals with Near Quadruple-Double: 2003

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    Tim Duncan was awarded his second consecutive MVP award in 2003, but his performance in the NBA Finals defined his legacy as one of the most complete and fundamentally sound players in NBA history.

    In six games against the New Jersey Nets, Duncan recorded an NBA Finals-record 31 blocks and averaged 24.2 points, 17.0 rebounds, 5.3 blocks, and 5.3 assists (a team-best in each category).

    In the decisive Game 6 against New Jersey, Duncan had 21 points, 20 rebounds, 10 assists and eight blocks, becoming the first player in 10 years to achieve a triple-double in the Finals.

    Duncan's willingness to do needed dirty work against the Nets (i.e. rebounding and playing world-class defense) was surpassed only by his ability to defer and set his teammates up for open jumpers.

    David Robinson had announced going into the 2002-2003 season that it would be his last. Duncan responded by collecting his second Finals MVP trophy and sending the iconic Robinson into history with his second ring.

Duncan Gets His Third Finals MVP and Beats Pistons in Game 7 of Finals: 2005

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    Duncan willed San Antonio to its third championship against a stout Pistons' defense that was fresh off of beating the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2004 NBA Finals.

    Despite facing Ben Wallace and a flurry of double-teams for much of the series, Duncan averaged 20.6 points, 14.1 rebounds, 2.1 blocks during the seven-game grind.

    The performance earned Timmy his third Finals MVP award as he anchored a remarkable team effort by San Antonio.

    In a contest between two defensive juggernauts, Duncan's Spurs held the Pistons under 80 points in three of their four wins.

    Though Duncan's own scoring was at times held in check, he scored several key buckets down the stretch of Game 7's third quarter that gave San Antonio the edge in a closely contested winner-take-all.

Duncan Brings Spurs Back from 3-1 Hole to Almost Beat Mavs in Semi-Finals: 2006

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    Despite winning a franchise-record 63 games in the 2005-2006 season, San Antonio came up ever so short against the Dallas Mavericks in the postseason.

    Tim Duncan's 32.2 points a game in the 2006 Western Conference Semi-Finals weren't enough to edge the Mavs, but it wasn't for lack of trying.

    The Mavericks rushed out to a 3-1 lead in the series, but it twice took them overtime victories to finally overcome the Spurs, including a 119-111 win in Game 7.

    While the Spurs didn't play the championship defense they needed against Dallas, Duncan was unstoppable at times.

    He posted over 30 points four times in the series, including a playoff career-high 41 in the Game 7 loss. San Antonio had trailed by 20 earlier in the game, and Duncan almost single-handedly brought his team back, only to run out of gas and miss six of his seven field goal attempts in overtime.

    Two games earlier, Duncan scored 36, including a Spurs' playoff-record 21 points in the second period.

    Despite the anticlimactic finish, the series was a reminder that Tim Duncan was still one of the best.

    Many Spurs fans will rank the missed opportunity at another ring as an all-time franchise low, but Duncan's determination to keep his team alive makes it a noteworthy moment nonetheless.

Duncan Slows Down High-Octane Phoenix Suns on Way to Fourth Ring: 2007

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    Though Tony Parker would eventually be awarded the 2007 Finals MVP, Duncan's performance against the Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference Semi-Finals was worthy of just as much recognition.

    After all, in a season where the Suns excited and dominated the NBA, many thought this series was the "real NBA Finals."

    Duncan totaled 33 points and 16 rebounds in Game 1 to steal home-court advantage from the Suns and then scored another 33 to go along with 19 rebounds in a Game 3 victory to put San Antonio up 2-1 in the series.

    He capped his dominant series off with 24 points, 13 rebounds and nine blocks (a playoff career high) to put Steve Nash's Suns away in Game 6.

    Prior to this series, the Suns had made it to the Western Conference Finals two years running, and Mike D'Antoni's lethal offense appeared poised to outpace a Spurs' squad that traditionally succeeded thanks to its defensive intensity.

    Once again, however, Duncan restored the Spurs as the West's preeminent franchise and paved the way for Tony Parker to lead San Antonio to a sweep of Cleveland in the Finals.

Duncan Has 40 and 15 in Double-Overtime Classic Against Suns: 2008

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    Tim Duncan put together a masterpiece in Game 1 of San Antonio's 2008 first-round series against a Phoenix Suns team eager to avenge its loss at the hands of the Spurs in the 2007 Semi-Finals.

    Duncan tallied 40 points, 15 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 blocks while playing a career playoff-high 50:41 minutes in the double-overtime classic.

    Not bad for the then 32-year-old Duncan. Perhaps more than any other, this game established Duncan as arguably the greatest player of the decade.

    While Timmy dominated the first game of the heated series, his contemporary Shaquille O'Neal lumbered down the court as his career faded with the Suns.

    Duncan hit one of his many clutch career shots (this time a three-pointer) in the waning seconds of overtime to send the game to a second overtime. San Antonio went on to win the instant classic and make short work of the Suns in a five-game series.

    Duncan would go on to average 20.2 points, 14.5 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 2.1 blocks in a strong 2008 playoff run that ended in disappointing fashion to the Lakers in the Conference Finals.

    Duncan missed out on getting his fifth ring but proved to the league that he was still in his prime.

Duncan Starts in His 12th Consecutive All-Star Game: 2011

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    Duncan joined Bob Cousy as only the second player in NBA history to start in 12 consecutive All-Star games. Selected to the game in a largely symbolic gesture, Duncan spent much of the 2011-2012 season writing himself into the history books.

    On Dec. 10, he became the first San Antonio Spur to play in 1,000 games. Through Duncan's first 1,000 games, San Antonio won 707 contests while losing only 293 (a record bested only by Scottie Pippen in his first 1000 games with Chicago).

    A month later, Duncan became San Antonio's all-time leading scorer, proving to the sports almanac what the rest of us already knew: Tim Duncan is the greatest Spur in history.

    Duncan went on to suffer a sprained ankle late in the season and teamed with a beat-up Manu Ginobili to fall short in the first round against the Memphis Grizzlies.

    During the regular season, however, Duncan once again led the Spurs to an exceptional campaign. While his production was limited by his closely-watched minutes, Duncan continued to play basketball that was both efficient and effective.

    Sharing more of the load with Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, the reinvented Duncan helped the Spurs to an impressive 61-21 record.