Even at 39, Tim Duncan Keeps Showing Why Retirement Shouldn't Be in His Plans

Kevin Ding@@KevinDingNBA Senior WriterApril 29, 2015

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Zero chance exists that anyone will look back on Tim Duncan's career and single out the image from Tuesday night, as cool as it was to see a real-life old man beating up two young studs.

Duncan's left hand was balled into a fist full of the front of DeAndre Jordan's jersey, keeping control of one athletic freak while doing even more with the other hand.

The right hand went up and denied the oncoming ball brought by Blake Griffin, who charges to the rim like no other big man in this league.

Duncan, 39, has done far too much in his career to be remembered for a play in a first-round, non-elimination playoff game on the court of the longtime loser Los Angeles Clippers.

Yet it was a more improbable fight scene than what usually comes out of Hollywood. And it has to be acknowledged that Duncan keeps doing things, and the San Antonio Spurs keep winning games…and there's just no way Duncan can retire when he is still this great.

With their 111-107 victory Tuesday, the Spurs can close out the Clippers in Game 6 in San Antonio on Thursday night and advance to face the Houston Rockets in the second round.

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 28:  Tim Duncan #21 of the San Antonio Spurs controls the ball against Blake Griffin #32 of the Los Angeles Clippers during Game Five of the Western Conference quarterfinals of the 2015 NBA Playoffs at Staples Center on April 28, 2
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

However his matchup might go against Dwight Howard in the paint, and no matter how long this postseason run goes for Duncan, he has already affirmed what we already knew from his 15th All-Star season:

No matter what you've already done, it's never too late to do more.

On the Clippers' side, you've got Spencer Hawes signing a fat free-agent contract at age 26 last summer, kicking up his feet, growing out his hair and relaxing to the point that his coach again didn't even play him Tuesday night.

Then there are Griffin and Jordan, both 26, doing so much good for their team but also killing the Clippers with costly mental mistakes. In the case of Griffin, whose Game 2 triple-double ended with a backbreaking turnover, he was the one who grew weary down the stretch after Duncan started to guard him in the third quarter.   

"Yeah, down the stretch everybody is tired, but it's a factor," Griffin told reporters after the game.

Griffin could be seen stooped over at the waist, hands on his knees, at every break in the action in the final minutes. His fatigue contributed to various other mistakes, including Duncan stealing the ball on one possession and disrupting a rebound on another. Griffin didn't even move to challenge on defense as Boris Diaw sank a key corner three-pointer (with Duncan hustling down the court and past both Griffin and Jordan for the tip-in if Diaw had missed).

Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

After the game, Duncan was feeling good enough to pull back the curtain a bit on where he stands in his career. He stopped himself before even off-handedly suggesting he could retire this summer, which served as a good sign he won't.

"I know it's coming to an end, whether… whenever that time is, so I'm enjoying myself," Duncan said.

He allowed that he does feel occasional emptiness at not getting the ball as much as earlier in his career, when his left knee could help him make plays instead of being dragged behind him the way it is now.

"There have been times where I feel I'm just kind of running around for my health, but sometimes that's my role," he said. "Sometimes it's with the ball movement, with the guys that we have, with the shooters that we have, with Tony [Parker] and Kawhi [Leonard] controlling the ball. That's kind of my role in that position sometimes. But I'm here to do whatever I have to do and be a part of whatever I have to be a part of.

"I get to my spots. And a series will change. Whether it's from game to game or from series to series, whatever it is, you have to find your spot and be as effective as you can in it."

And because the Clippers frontcourt is so powerful, this is a series for Duncan to make sure he is as close to his former dominant self as possible. In San Antonio's three victories, Duncan is averaging 17.7 points on 57.1 percent shooting, 9.7 rebounds, four assists and three steals.

The result is that he should be making people think harder about whether he merits being ranked as one of the five best players of all time.

That's what happens when you do more: You effect change, even this late in a career.

Duncan already had the most blocks in NBA playoff history, also becoming the first player ever to play 9,000 career playoff minutes, before stuffing Griffin with 1:01 left Tuesday night while holding Jordan at bay, too.

"He (Griffin) was coming dead at me, and my choice was either to go contest the shot or give up a dunk," Duncan said.

There was only one fundamentally right answer, and Duncan delivered it, as usual.

Even so, having one hand on Jordan while pushing Griffin back with the other reflected Duncan's awareness of having to cover both Clippers big men. There wasn't enough space for Griffin to lob the alley-oop pass for Jordan that time, but on many other occasions it's an almost impossible defensive rotation against the Clippers.

For example, Parker had no chance to get from the corner to Jordan on the Clippers' great chance to win Game 5 in the final seconds. But Duncan managed to be a one-man gang fighting for justice against the young ruffians again.

Duncan's head was on a swivel, keeping tabs again on Jordan but watching Leonard try to stay with Chris Paul out high—until Duncan saw Griffin break free from Boris Diaw. Before the inbounds pass even landed in Griffin's hands at the elbow, Duncan was on his way toward that spot.

The result was Griffin throwing out his left hand for fear of another Duncan block while rushing up a running shot with six seconds left in the game. It would've been easier for Griffin to send the alley-oop pass to the open Jordan, but Griffin had Duncan in his head.

Eager for his chance, Jordan touched the ball while it rolled around the rim—an offensive goaltending violation—for another crushing mistake.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has seen the savvy too many times.

Apr 28, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin (32) and San Antonio Spuris forward Tim Duncan (21) reach for the ball in game five of the first round of the NBA Playoffs at Staples Center. The Spurs defeated the Clippers 11
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Duncan and Popovich have now worked together for 59 more playoff games than did Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson, second on that list. Timmy and Pop have gone through 87 more playoff games than Karl Malone and Jerry Sloan did together.

"His timing is just impeccable," Popovich said of Duncan. "He has a hard time jumping over the proverbial piece of paper, but he gets in position."

It's no breaking news story for a veteran to use fundamentals to beat someone less experienced. It's far more provocative to talk about Duncan retiring so that the Spurs might sign LaMarcus Aldridge, 10 years younger, to replace him.

Here's hoping Duncan was just practicing his two-against-one move Tuesday night…and come offseason is going to stiff-arm Aldridge and reject Father Time simultaneously and keep it going.

There'll be even younger studs in the league for Duncan to school next season.

Kevin Ding covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @KevinDing.