SAN ANTONIO – The San Antonio Spurs have seen just about everything in their run as one of the most unique and outstanding franchises in modern sports history.
From various playoff disappointment and glory to four NBA championships to last season's collapse in Game 6 of the NBA Finals, nothing fazes these Spurs.
They remain unchanged and undaunted, neither hiding from last season's bitter loss to the Miami Heat nor expressing any unnatural urgency over the opportunity Sunday to win the franchise's fifth NBA title.
With a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series, and a calm, confident demeanor that borders on nonchalance, there appears to be only one way to get a rise out of them: mention their age.
"We've been on our last run for the last five or six years from how everyone wants to put it," Tim Duncan said Saturday. "We show up every year, and we try to put together the best teams and the best runs possible because what people say doesn't matter to us."
When the 38-year-old Duncan specifically addressed his future, he was even more blunt, if not especially enlightening.
"I don't have any plans on doing anything," Duncan said. "I'm going to figure it out when it comes. I'm not saying I'm retiring. I'm not saying I'm not retiring. I'm not saying anything. I'm going to figure it out as it goes. I've always said if I feel like I'm effective, if I feel like I can contribute, I'll continue to play. Right now I feel that way, so we'll see what happens."
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has long said that when Duncan is done with the game, he'll also walk away. But the man who has coached the team since 1996 now sounds like he isn’t so sure.
"I don't feel tired [of coaching]," Popovich said. "I mean, I'm tired today, but I mean in general. I'd like to continue to coach [beyond this year]."
While Tony Parker pretended to sympathize with the fascination with the team's future – "I totally understand; we're getting older every year, but we always come back and just keep pushing the limits, I guess" – Manu Ginobili wasn't having it.
"You have no data to support that [speculation that Duncan, Popovich or even Ginobili might retire]," Ginobili, 36, said. "You haven't talked to any of us to support that. It's just irrelevant at this point. We are focused on the next game."
Ah, yes. Among the questions of career and dominance and lifetime achievement, there was the little matter of a basketball game against a desperate club. With Game 6 shifting back to Miami, the Spurs would like nothing more than to finish the series at home in Game 5, but that's often easier said than done.
"We know that they're back-to-back champs and they've been in this situation before and they have all the confidence in the world that they can win these games," Duncan said. "So we have to do just the same. Come out there and say, 'Hey, we're going to take it little by little, quarter by quarter, and see what happens.' "
But that doesn't answer the questions of last season, of being up five points with 28 seconds to play, of being so close to a title-clinching victory, questions that even a 3-1 series lead can't fully bury.
"I think we go back to last year and we learn from that," Duncan said. "We're 30 seconds away. We feel that we have it in the bag and it slips out of our fingers. So I think we learn from that, and we draw on that. Our goal right now is to just win one more game. We'd love to do it tomorrow. We'd love to do it in one game. But luckily we've put ourselves in a situation where we have a couple opportunities and we're going to take whatever it takes."
This is San Antonio's sixth trip to the NBA Finals, so the experience, pomp and obligations are nothing new to them. But it is their first after such immense heartbreak at the hands of the Heat.
And because they are the Spurs, the NBA's granite in an often salary-cap-shuffled league, they remain unmoved and focused on the task at hand.
"It's the NBA Finals," Matt Bonner said. "Last year we were super-excited and on edge trying to win it all [same as this year]."
It could be the same next year as well.
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