King Kaufman’s Sports Daily

Tim Duncan, superstar. He won't act like it and sometimes doesn't play like it, but he decides how far the Spurs go. In a fierce Game 7 against the Pistons, he decided they'd win the NBA title.


There’s a guy in the NBA who can stop Tim Duncan. His name is Tim Duncan. When he’s passive, waiting for the ball to come to him, fading away from the basket, he’s just another player. A great one, but just another one.

That Tim Duncan, who shows up a lot and is good enough to lead the Spurs to a win over most teams most nights, showed up for Game 6 Tuesday night and the Spurs lost to the Pistons.

But when Duncan decides to play ball, to really play, he’s a nuclear weapon. In the third quarter of Game 7 Thursday, Duncan decided it was time to play ball, and the Spurs are champions of the NBA, 81-74 winners of a Game 7 that was like a heavyweight title fight held in a phone booth.

“Tim came out huge today,” said San Antonio point guard Tony Parker. “He was very focused this morning and he came out and he played like an MVP. He carried us in the third quarter when we were struggling and he made his free throws tonight. That was huge.”

Teamwork over superstardom is all the rage in American sports now. Last year’s Pistons, the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots and the World Series champion Boston Red Sox have all won with an all for one and one for all vibe, no one bigger than the team, no need for a guy who can sell a trillion pairs of sneakers.

It’s a wonderful trend and at first glance, with their humility and teamwork, the Spurs seem to fit right in. But make no mistake, as exciting as Manu Ginobili is and as much as he can take over a game at times, the Spurs are Tim Duncan’s team.

Quiet, gracious and thoroughly admirable, Duncan will never act the part of the big stud. Unfortunately, this positive civilian trait becomes a problem on the court. The idea that this athlete or that one is “too nice,” lacking the requisite killer instinct — a charge leveled for years at another great Spur, David Robinson, who ended up with two championships once Duncan came along — is usually a lot of hooey.

But with Duncan there’s something to it. It’s not that he’s too nice, but that he’s too passive. He often seems content to let the game flow to him, to not force things, which is fine if you’re a small forward of modest talents, let’s say, and it’s usually good enough when you’re one of the greatest players to ever lace up sneakers, which Duncan is.

But it’s not good enough when the other team is the defending champion, probably better this year than last year, and not going to go down without a bitter fight.

The Spurs are a team all right, but they’re a team that goes exactly as far as Tim Duncan decides he wants to take them.

And Thursday night, unlike Tuesday, he decided he wanted to take them to the championship.

Duncan showed some fire in the first quarter, leading a 10-0 charge that erased a 12-6 Pistons lead. He played fiercely on both ends, but even during that run he beat Ben Wallace with a spin move on the baseline and, instead of going strong to the rim, went up soft. Wallace swatted the ball away from behind.

You Might Also Like

By the second quarter Duncan had settled into the amiable excellence of Game 6, which wasn’t enough for the Spurs to win Tuesday and wouldn’t be enough Thursday. The Spurs kept getting the ball to him in the post, and he kept missing fadeaways and that bank shot of his from the wing.

From the middle of the second period to the middle of the third he went 0-for-8 in a 14-minute stretch, including two minutes he spent on the bench. The Pistons built a nine-point lead. It wasn’t a coincidence.

Early in the run Detroit didn’t dominate. The Spurs were getting shots, from Duncan and others, but they were tough shots, all the Pistons would allow, and they weren’t falling.

Then the Spurs started looking lost. A frustrated Ginobili drove into a double team and made a bad pass. Parker, who made one bad decision after another on offense all night, dribbled around aimlessly for an entire shot clock before launching a desperate runner from the baseline that missed badly.

Antonio McDyess had an easy layup for Detroit, even after picking up his dribble, because of a defensive breakdown. Parker finally stopped the bleeding with a little jumper in the lane.

The Spurs were down 48-41 and looking like they were in danger of getting blown out when the unstoppable Tim Duncan emerged.

After Game 5 hero Robert Horry stole an ill-advised long pass by Chauncey Billups, Duncan took an entry pass from the right corner, backed in on Wallace, spun to his right and went up for another soft shot against a Wallace-McDyess double-team, a left-handed baby hook. It was no good, but he beat McDyess to the rebound and put it back. Foul on McDyess. Three-point play.

The Pistons still led by four, but that was the turning point of the game.

The Spurs began feeding Duncan every time down the floor. He was fouled to prevent a dunk and he made both free throws. He was fouled on a made bank shot and hit the free throw. He faced up for a jumper. The crowd was beside itself. He sealed off Wallace to give Ginobili a lane for a dunk. He took an inbounds pass and hit a bank shot to beat the 24-second clock.

The quarter ended at 57-57. Duncan had 12 points and six rebounds in the period after having collected eight points and three rebounds in the first half. The Spurs, who had been down by one at the half, only outscored Detroit 19-18 in the period, but they’d overcome a bad start and a nine-point deficit and had the Pistons on their heels.

And they’d also clamped down on defense. The Pistons struggled to find open shots. Billups and Rip Hamilton managed only two shots each in the third quarter, with one of Hamilton’s going in. They combined for eight points. During one stretch that straddled the third-quarter break the Pistons were so out of whack they made Lindsey Hunter the focal point of their offense.

A rule of thumb in the NBA is that if Lindsey Hunter is the focal point of your offense for more than one trip down the floor in a given week, you’re in trouble.

On the Spurs’ second possession of the fourth quarter, Duncan sealed off Wallace again, took a feed from Brent Barry in the corner and dunked. The Pistons began double-teaming Duncan and he started kicking the ball out to his teammates. Horry hit a three. Bruce Bowen hit a three. Ginobili hit a three. The Spurs led by seven.

The Pistons hung around. Rasheed Wallace, who scored the Pistons’ first basket and then didn’t score again until the fourth quarter, kept them close, coming alive to score nine points in the period. They closed to within four a few times, but were hurt badly by ill-chosen three-point attempts by Rasheed Wallace, who missed badly, and Billups, whose shot was blocked and stolen by Bowen.

They were also hurt by a couple of tough foul calls in the last two minutes, a charge on Hamilton that should have been a block on Horry, and a hack on Rasheed Wallace when it appeared he’d cleanly knocked the ball away from Duncan, who was crossing the lane.

But foul calls weren’t the difference. Tim Duncan was the difference. His ability in the last 18 minutes to score and to absorb a double-team and find the open shooter were the difference, and so was his increased intensity on the other end of the floor, which led to the entire team ratcheting up its defensive effort.

“They played great,” Pistons coach Larry Brown said. “The better team won.”

That was true for Game 7 and probably true for the series overall, if just barely. The Spurs, coached by Brown protégé Gregg Popovich, are every bit the all-for-one bunch the Pistons are. Duncan talked about that when he accepted the NBA Finals MVP trophy from commissioner David Stern.

“This trophy’s definitely an honor, but this team has so many MVPs,” he said. “These guys just laid it on the line every night, and we couldn’t have made it this far without any one of them, so every one of them’s an MVP.”

A nice sentiment, the kind of thing you like to hear big-time athletes saying, mostly because they so rarely say things like that. But if everyone on the Spurs is an MVP, there’s one Spur who’s just a little more V than the rest. A lot more, in fact.

When he wants to be.

Previous column: Real-life sports movie quotes

- – - – - – - – - – - -

  • Bookmark to get the new Kaufman column every day.
  • Discuss this column and the sports news of the day in Table Talk.
  • Send an e-mail to King Kaufman.
  • To receive the Sports Daily Newsletter, send an e-mail to

  • More Related Stories

    Featured Slide Shows

    • Share on Twitter
    • Share on Facebook
    • 1 of 11
    • Close
    • Fullscreen
    • Thumbnails
      Martyna Blaszczyk/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

      National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

      Slide 1

      Pond de l'Archeveche - hundreds thousands of padlocks locked to a bridge by random couples, as a symbol of their eternal love. After another iconic Pont des Arts bridge was cleared of the padlocks in 2010 (as a safety measure), people started to place their love symbols on this one. Today both of the bridges are full of love locks again.

      Anders Andersson/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

      National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

      Slide 2

      A bird's view of tulip fields near Voorhout in the Netherlands, photographed with a drone in April 2015.

      Aashit Desai/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

      National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

      Slide 3

      Angalamman Festival is celebrated every year in a small town called Kaveripattinam in Tamil Nadu. Devotees, numbering in tens of thousands, converge in this town the day after Maha Shivratri to worship the deity Angalamman, meaning 'The Guardian God'. During the festival some of the worshippers paint their faces that personifies Goddess Kali. Other indulge in the ritual of piercing iron rods throughout their cheeks.

      Allan Gichigi/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

      National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

      Slide 4

      Kit Mikai is a natural rock formation about 40m high found in Western Kenya. She goes up the rocks regularly to meditate. Kit Mikai, Kenya

      Chris Ludlow/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

      National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

      Slide 5

      On a weekend trip to buffalo from Toronto we made a pit stop at Niagara Falls on the Canadian side. I took this shot with my nexus 5 smartphone. I was randomly shooting the falls themselves from different viewpoints when I happened to get a pretty lucky and interesting shot of this lone seagull on patrol over the falls. I didn't even realize I had captured it in the shot until I went back through the photos a few days later

      Jassen T./National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

      National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

      Slide 6

      Incredibly beautiful and extremely remote. Koehn Lake, Mojave Desert, California. Aerial Image.

      Howard Singleton/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

      National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

      Slide 7

      Lucky timing! The oxpecker was originally sitting on hippo's head. I could see the hippo was going into a huge yawn (threat display?) and the oxpecker had to vacate it's perch. When I snapped the pic, the oxpecker appeared on the verge of being inhaled and was perfectly positioned between the massive gaping jaws of the hippo. The oxpecker also appears to be screeching in terror and back-pedaling to avoid being a snack!

      Abrar Mohsin/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

      National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

      Slide 8

      The Yetis of Nepal - The Aghoris as they are called are marked by colorful body paint and clothes

      Madeline Crowley/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

      National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

      Slide 9

      Taken from a zodiac raft on a painfully cold, rainy day

      Ian Bird/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

      National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

      Slide 10

      This wave is situated right near the CBD of Sydney. Some describe it as the most dangerous wave in Australia, due to it breaking on barnacle covered rocks only a few feet deep and only ten metres from the cliff face. If you fall off you could find yourself in a life and death situation. This photo was taken 300 feet directly above the wave from a helicopter, just as the surfer is pulling into the lip of the barrel.

    • Recent Slide Shows



    Comment Preview

    Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

    You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>