After putting the finishing touches on the San Antonio Spurs third consecutive victory in the Western Conference Finals, effectively clinching a Finals berth in the process, Tim Duncan waltzed in to the training room. He looked relaxed.
Duncan, seven of his 24 points coming in the pivotal overtime period, looked calm, cool and collective.
One more victory. It was a bit premature to celebrate, since the Grizzlies haven't exactly laid down and accepted their fate, but Duncan had plenty reasons to savor the moment.
For starters, Duncan hasn't played in the NBA Finals in six years -- he tallied 12 points and 15 rebounds in his last appearance. A fifth title would tie him with Kobe Bryant. Legacy isn't a big deal for the understated Duncan, but it still matters.
He's also getting old. At 37-years-old, and a year remaining on his contract, there will be few chances for Duncan to claim another championship. It's now or never.
Never will have to wait for a little while. Duncan logged 44 minutes and seven seconds in Game 3, his highest minutes total since playing 50 minutes in a double-overtime victory against Dallas on December 12, 2008. The Spurs needed a throwback Duncan and he delivered.
He shouldered the bulk of the offensive load, along with Tony Parker (26 points) and Manu Ginobili (19 points). The supporting cast wilted under the pressure again, so Duncan compensated and created offense himself, adding five assists to his box score. A complete Duncan performance, replete with scoring touch, passing acumen and timely rim protection.
With little space for their bevy of shooters to breathe, San Antonio beat Memphis at their own game -- in the paint, where the gritty and bruising Grizzlies hold a commanding advantage. Duncan can't handle this type of work anymore, and instead prefers to get his points elsewhere, but he can still excel in an old-school, grind-it-out defensive game. The Spurs attempted 46 shots in the paint, converting on 29 of them. Their 58 points represented a season-high against a Memphis defense that typically prevents these high-value shots.
Duncan picked up five fouls tussling with both Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol in the post. Randolph and Gasol worked very hard for their points, scoring 30 points on 32 shots. The Spurs defense didn't give them easy points nor did they concede easy post position. Duncan, of course, played a key role in stifling arguably the league's best frontcourt tandem.
But, really, what did you expect? Duncan always delivers. It's his job.
And now the Spurs are only one game away from the NBA Finals. They'll need Duncan to ward off Father Time -- at least for a few more weeks.