SAN ANTONIO – Tim Duncan has never won back-to-back titles or even played in consecutive NBA Finals. They are the only items missing on his vast resume and won’t exactly keep him out of the Hall of Fame or prevent him from being named one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History, whenever they decide to re-vote on the league’s ultimate fantasy team.
Duncan’s place in history is secure, even if the Spurs don’t win this championship series against the Heat. With four rings and two regular-season MVP awards, he’s either a first-team, all-time forward, along with Larry Bird, or he’s a second-teamer, if you want to put LeBron James on the starting five right now because he already has doubled Duncan’s MVP total.
This is the series where James could make that move and blow right past Duncan, as some of the Heat has been doing against the Spurs’ 37-year old center. They were tied at 2-2 going into Sunday night’s game in the Spurs’ AT&T Center, with this probably marking Duncan’s last home game in a Finals series.
With a loss, Duncan would leave the arena trailing in the Finals for the first time in his career. Against the Knicks, Nets, Pistons and Cavs, in his previous trips to the championship, he was never worse than tied.
Typically, he was in no mood to turn nostalgic, even when Miami came up in conversation. When asked if he remembered what he was thinking three summers ago when he heard that the Heat had assembled its own star-studded Big Three, with James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, Duncan said, “No.’’ He was in no mood to entertain a follow-up question.
He doesn’t look back at all the what if’s, and there are plenty for this all-time great, even if he already has won a trip to the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame and will eventually displace someone like Dolph Schayes on the next 50 Greatest Players team.
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Back-to-back championships are the only thing missing from Duncan’s brilliant resume.
Schayes has been one of the few players who starred before the Celtics’ great dynasty of the 1960’s who always makes the team. But the old NYU scoring star can’t match Duncan’s resume.
It hasn’t been all wins and titles for the greatest of all Spurs.
Duncan can look back at his career and see some missed opportunities. They’ve always happened on the even years of his career, especially when the Spurs were at the height of their powers in the last decade.
In 2002, Duncan’s first of two straight MVP seasons, the Spurs couldn’t get past the Lakers, who were completing their first three-peat with Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant. In 2004, Duncanwas dethroned by the Lakers, with Derek Fisher’s legendary “point-four shot’’ proving to be his undoing.
In 2006, again trying to get back to the Finals and post back-to-back titles for the first time, the Spurs were denied in losing a crushing seven-game series in the second round to Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavs.
After winning their fourth title in 2007, Duncan made it back as far as the West Finals only once, in 2008, until last spring.
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LeBron James and Tim Duncan lead their respective teams in the NBA Finals.
Then there was more heartbreak when the Spurs went up 2-0, only to lose the next four games to the Thunder.
Duncan does acknowledge the few holes in his NBA portfolio.
“When I see how Michael won two three-peats, it’s an amazing accomplishment,’’ he said about Michael Jordan back at the All-Star Game in Houston. “I realize how hard that is because I’ve never won two in a row. I’ve never been to two Finals in a row. When you win one title, you have to play all of the next season with a target on your back. I know what that is like, night in and night out, with everyone gunning for you.’’
In this series, Duncan is the one gunning for James, not the easiest thing in the world to do against the best player on the planet. Not when you’ve been in the league for 16 seasons, when Manu Ginobili is struggling to find any open shot and when Tony Parker is trying to dribble to the basket on a bum right hamstring.
But there are no excuses from Duncan. No complaints. He’s ecstatic to get back to this point, at this late stage of his career, but he didn’t come here satisfied to just be here. He came to win.
Duncan probably won’t ever win back-to-back titles. It’s too late in the game for that. But to win this series, against James, it wouldn’t be anything to sneeze at, either. When you look at everything he’s done, to this point, it might even be Tim Duncan’s crowning achievement.