Duncan closed the book on one of the league’s greatest careers, compiling a quiet 56,738 minutes — including an NBA-record 9,370 in the playoffs — over 1,643 games that, when viewed collectively, spoke louder than any other power forward in history. So, the mission to whittle a career’s worth of 26,496 points, 15,091 rebounds, 4,225 assists and 3,020 blocks down to eight games was not an easy one.
But we did it anyway. So, without further ado, Tim Duncan’s eight most memorable NBA games …
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June 25, 1999: San Antonio Spurs 78, New York Knicks 77
In just his second NBA season, Duncan capped the run to San Antonio’s first championship with 31 points and nine rebounds over 46 minutes of a clinching Game 5 victory in Madison Square Garden. He also anchored the defensive effort that came to define a Spurs team that slowed games to a grind.
These were not David Robinson’s Spurs. These were Tim Duncan’s Spurs, and he had the Finals MVP trophy to prove it after a series in which he averaged 27.4 points, 14 boards, 2.4 assists and 2.2 blocks.
“I think it’s going to be very hard for me to explain to you guys how great this feels and how important it was not only to win it, but to win it for people that have worked so hard like Dave and [Avery Johnson] and Sean [Elliott],” Duncan told Yahoo Sports Editor-in-Chief Johnny Ludden, then the Spurs beat reporter for the San Antonio Express-News. “People that have been right there, right on the brink of winning it and haven’t been able to get over that edge.
“I feel so happy for them. It’s just an incredible feeling.”
Dec. 26, 2001: Dallas Mavericks 126, San Antonio Spurs 123 (OT)
In a career defined more by fundamentals than points, Duncan proved he could score with anyone, dropping a career-high 53 points on 28 shots (19-28 FG, 15-15 FT) to go along with 11 rebounds, four assists and three blocks opposite fellow legend Dirk Nowitzki on the day after Christmas in 2001.
Duncan’s Spurs became synonymous with winning, so it’s strange to feature a game they lost in overtime — albeit one he played 50 wildly impactful minutes — as one of his greatest ever played, but this one was a classic as much for his career-high scoring total as it was for his postgame quote:
“I wish I’d have missed all my shots the way this turned out.”
May 15, 2003: San Antonio Spurs 110, Los Angeles Lakers 82
In the years after the Spurs won their first title, the Lakers won three consecutive titles with Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles, and it appeared they were destined for several more. So, Duncan simply elevated his game to the next level, disposing of L.A. in the 2003 Western Conference semifinals with a 37-point, 16-rebound performance during a Game 6 blowout at the Staples Center.
His effort overshadowed Shaq’s 30 and 10 night and affirmed Duncan’s second straight MVP honor.
“We’ve been put down by these guys the last couple of years,” Duncan told reporters afterwards. “More than ending their reign, that felt a lot better — ending their season and going on.”
June 15, 2003: San Antonio Spurs 88, New Jersey Nets 77
The 2003 NBA Finals were the height of “the Spurs are boring” discussion. After eliminating the Lakers and Mavericks out West, they played the equally dull East champion Nets in a series that saw scores mired in the 80s. But Duncan’s output in a clinching Game 6 win proved methodical can be cool, too.
In 46 minutes, he nearly recorded a quadruple-double, collecting game highs of 21 points, 20 rebounds, 10 assists and a then-finals-record eight blocks. The Spurs scored 34 field goals in the game, and he either scored or assisted 19 of them. He also blocked eight of New Jersey’s 87 shots.
It was a singular effort few could ever even dream of — a line nobody has logged in Basketball Reference archives that go back to 1983-84 — and he did it in the deciding game of the NBA Finals.
“I’m sure he had absolutely no clue what his stats were, what was going on statistically,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said in the game’s aftermath. “He just knows what’s going on in the game and what needs to be done.”
June 23, 2005: San Antonio Spurs 81, Detroit Pistons 74
If you weren’t bored by the Spurs already, this NBA Finals series didn’t help matters. The Pistons were another defensive force coming off the 2014 title and pushing San Antonio to a Game 7 in 2005. It wasn’t pretty, but Duncan amassed game highs of 25 points and 11 rebounds, as a dynasty was born.
In 42 minutes of a slugfest, Duncan added three assists and a pair of blocks. He scored a dozen of his 25 points in the third quarter, and his shot clock-beating jumper in the final minutes was a dagger. The performance was enough to earn his third Finals MVP honor, matching his Larry O’Brien trophies.
“We only go as far as Tim takes us,” Spurs teammate Robert Horry told Yahoo’s own Johnny Ludden, still holding it down at the Express-News then. “And today he took us to the top.”
April 15, 2007: Dallas Mavericks 91, San Antonio Spurs 86
“Why does this guy keep bringing up every time the Mavs beat the Spurs?” you ask. Well, perhaps you remember this game more for the time longtime NBA ref Joey Crawford ejected Duncan for laughing.
That’s right. Laughing. He could not stop chuckling on the end of San Antonio’s bench at the official’s performance, and Crawford grew so enraged that he allegedly asked Duncan, “Do you want to fight?” It was as bizarre as it sounds, with an official challenging one of the game’s likable players to a duel.
Crawford earned a season-long suspension and Duncan drew a $25,000 fine before leading the Spurs to their fourth title. Crawford, who also retired after this season, later expressed regret to ESPN.
“I would just say to him, if we got down to it, the nitty gritty, we are sitting there having a couple of beers, I would say, ‘Hey, I made a mistake,'” he said. “But you know what, in reality, I can’t go anywhere without somebody asking me about Tim Duncan. He is known for his great stellar career. I don’t know what I am known for. I guess it’s throwing out Tim Duncan.”
April 19, 2008: San Antonio Spurs 117, Phoenix Suns 115 (2OT)
The Spurs-Suns rivalry of the late 2000s was an awfully fun one, pitting the seven-seconds-or-less theory in Phoenix opposite a traditionally plodding San Antonio squad, and Game 1 of their first-round series in 2008 was the apex. The Suns threw everything they had at Duncan, including an aging Shaq and an emerging Amar’e Stoudemire, but The Big Fundamental countered every punch.
He finished with 40 points, 15 boards, five assists and three blocks, but it was a 3-pointer — his only one that season — that tied the game at 104 in the final seconds of overtime and forced a second OT. In typical Duncan fashion, his response afterward was as delightfully uninspiring as you’d imagine.
“I got a wide-open shot. Wound it up. Threw it up there and hoped for the best.”
June 5, 2014: San Antonio Spurs 110, Miami Heat 95
Miami had ended San Antonio’s 2013 season in devastating fashion, with Ray Allen’s Game 6 winner and the first win-or-go-home loss of Duncan’s career in Game 7. It was redemption time in 2014.
With Duncan now 38 years old and running out of chances to win one for the thumb, he set the tone for a surprisingly lopsided series with a vintage performance against the Heat, in the heat, as it were.
This was the night the air conditioning malfunctioned at AT&T Center, forcing LeBron James out of Game 1 with leg cramps. All the while, an aging Duncan was turning back the clock, scoring 21 points on 9-of-10 shooting to go along with 10 rebounds and three assists, foreshadowing that fifth ring.
“It was definitely a factor,” Duncan said in Duncanian fashion. “I think all of us were dehydrated. It was a significant test. We played through it and found a way to win.”
That last quote has everything. Tim Duncan faced adversity, rose above and won. That’s all there is.
He played 1,643 games and won 70 percent of them. These were just eight of them, so surely there were more gems in the mix. And I bet you can probably come up with one that belongs on this list.
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