MIAMI – Tuesday night had turned to Wednesday morning. This was after the Miami Heat won Game 6 of the NBA Finals, or, depending on how you saw it, the San Antonio Spurs had lost Game 6 of the NBA Finals. Either way, this was after Tim Duncan trudged off the floor, head hanging down in fury, and after he addressed the media wearing a look of shock where his usually impenetrable calm lives.
This was the first moments of the Spurs star – and the Spurs themselves – moving past the nightmare of a game gone and starting to focus on the possibilities of the one to come: Game 7, Thursday, NBA title still on the line.
Rather than beeline to the waiting bus to lick his wounds and mourn his loss, Duncan hobbled his in-need-of-ice knees back into the arena, where he soon greeted four friends with whom he'd left guest passes. The hope was they'd be there for the party. Instead, they found a Duncan who offered hugs, looked through pictures on their phones and even managed a few laughs as they shared jokes and old tales.
Duncan was Duncan, carefree and casual, moving on because there was no other choice and he's too old to not know better. He wasn't brooding over his fate. He wasn't cursing what had been lost. He wasn't feeling sorry for himself. What's won was won. What's done was done. He was already talking about how any player would take a one-game shot at the title, no matter how twisting the journey was.
Duncan being Duncan, there is no questioning how much he wanted to win Tuesday. And Duncan being Duncan, there is also no question that he'll come prepared – mentally, physically, emotionally – for another crack at a fifth crown, one that at age 37, he knows, is likely his last realistic chance.
"I prepare for every game exactly the same," Duncan said. "That's why I feel every game is exactly the same. Obviously the pressure is there, the stage is there, the energy is there. But preparation doesn't change."
The Spurs chose to eat as a team after Game 6. As the early morning hours kicked on, they gathered and shared old battle wounds from games lost in the past – be it together (was this worse than Derek Fisher's shot with 0.4 seconds remaining?) or across their long and global careers ("the European championship," Tony Parker lamented of his French national team, "we were up seven and lost in 35 seconds").
Eventually, players said there was laughter and ease and a shared reminder that this is what the game sometimes offers. This, too, is simply what must be overcome. They'd all lost before.
"It helped," Duncan said. "The other option is a bunch of us go back to our rooms and sit there by ourselves and beat yourself up. So it's always good to be around teammates and kind of get some of that stuff out in the open."
Finally, after the team bus pulled up to American Airlines Arena on Wednesday for practice, coach Gregg Popovich ordered everyone off except himself and the players. Then for five minutes Pop lectured them about forgetting what happened and focusing on the opportunity at hand.
That was that, the Spurs said. Game 6 is done. The opportunity of Game 7 has arrived.
"We'll be ready to rock," Duncan said.
We'll see Thursday if the talk matches the recovery, but if there was ever a team, and if there was ever a leader that can shake off a calamity like the final stretch of Game 6, it is Tim Duncan's Spurs.
"I'd be hard-pressed to think of one," Miami's Shane Battier said. "Stoic is probably the best way to describe him. Their team in general. If this was another team, you would think [Tuesday] would have more affect. But they're pretty stoic. They don't get too high or too low. Really the only one who shows outward emotions is Pop, and that's mostly at the referees."
Duncan, for one, looked like same old guy by Wednesday. He was back to looking reporters in the eye, back to talking about the process of building a champion, even acknowledging that no matter how level he likes to maintain consistency, the feel of a big game is impossible to ignore.
"You'd be dead if you didn't," he said. "Some people use it the right way. Some people are hurt by it. I don't feel I'm affected by it. I use it however I can and love the environment."
Thursday will be Duncan's 211th career playoff game, almost three full years of play just in the postseason. He's seen it all over the past 16 years, which is why so little bothers him.
There have been Finals where the Spurs swept (2007). There have been Finals where they lost Game 6 and had to dust themselves off and win the title anyway (2005). This will be the Duncan's seventh game in his career where a victory means the trophy. He's 4-2 so far. He knows the drill.
It's what made his first half Tuesday so impressive. Here, with a chance at a fifth ring, a game he might have imagined would never occur, he came out and delivered one of the finest halves of his career, hanging up 25 points on the Heat. He finished with 30 and 17. Had the final score been different, it would've been a performance to bookend his legacy. Instead, it could wind up mostly forgotten.
Whatever, he shrugged. He isn't into that kind of stuff. "We just want to get to the game," he said.
After all these years and all these moments – good and glorious, failed and frustrating – Tim Duncan still has one more chance. A decade and a half as the sport's consistent presence, sportsman, champion, and just like always, all he wants is that opportunity to win another championship.
Tuesday was heartbreak, but no one bounced back quicker than the team's old star in the middle. First some laughs with friends, then some more laughs with teammates. Gallows humor and old defeats turning into fish tales … we blew a lead this big.
Who cares how the Spurs got here, he said. We're here.
"You know what," Duncan said, "it's all about just winning the title. It's not about the situation or what led up to it. We're here for one reason. One reason only. It's to try to win this game tomorrow."
Yeah, Tim Duncan is coming to play. Again.
"We obviously feel like we like our chances."
Now and forever.
NBA Finals coverage on Yahoo! Sports:
• Watch: LeBron James blocks Tim Duncan at the rim
• Ray Allen nails huge 3-pointer to send Game 6 to overtime
• Slideshow: Every NBA Finals Game 7
• Y! Sports Fan Shop: Buy 2013 NBA Finals merchandise