Rehash: Spurs come back, almost blow it, grind past the Wizards

Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Did you know that opponents shoot 98 percent against the Spurs in the final minute? True story.

Game 49 @Washington: Spurs 125, Wizards 118 (2OT)    Rec: 36-13  1st in Southwest, 2nd in West  Streak: W-3

Tim Duncan is not of this world.

You have to understand that what we're watching right now, it's just not normal.

Hakeem Olajuwon, generally regarded as the best, most athletic big-man of the past generation, had his last good season at age 36. He hung on for three more seasons after that, all of them injury-marred, and never averaged more than 11.9 points or 7.4 rebounds.

And Olajuwon aged the most gracefully of his Hall-of-Fame peers.

Shaquille O'Neal, who was well into his Shaquille O'Whale phase of his career by age 36, was a pathetic NBA nomad by the end, roaming from team to team, stealing money and contributing little. As a 37-year-old in Cleveland, he averaged a dozen points and less than seven boards. The numbers got even worse the next year in Boston, his final stop. He managed 90 games, total, for those two teams.

Patrick Ewing shot 43.5 percent from the field as a 36-year-old and played just 38 games. He was a bit better the next year and averaged 15 and 10, but still shot just 46 percent and missed another 20 games. He fell off a cliff after that, playing out the string in Seattle and Orlando and contributing little and ballooning up considerably.

David Robinson, meanwhile, played his final season at age 37, and though he was still a good defender, he averaged just 8.5 points and 7.9 rebounds and was limited to 64 games because of a debilitating back injury. Thankfully, he had a gifted young teammate (well, three of them actually) and was able to go out on top.

Even if you want to go back to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, yeah, he was still a reliable scorer as a 40-year-old, but Kareem pretty much stopped rebounding after 35 and wasn't a defensive presence at all. He had that unstoppable sky hook of course, but remember, those Lakers teams played at a much faster pace than these Spurs do, in a much higher-scoring league where nobody played defense until the final six minutes, so it's an apples-and-oranges comparison.

Not only has Duncan outlasted them all in terms of still playing at an elite level on both ends of the floor at such an advanced age, but the really remarkable thing to me is that he's doing it at 60 percent of what he could be. I always chuckle when I hear the pundits and commentators describe Duncan's limited athleticism and leaping ability and their faulty anecdotes, as if Duncan was always this ground-bound.

People just don't remember the Duncan who terrorized the league his first two years.

Okay, so he was never Robinson or Olajuwon. He wasn't a freak in terms of athleticism. He was still well, well beyond anybody we have in today's game, outside of DeAndre Jordan or Dwight Howard, and he was obviously far less bulky and far more coordinated, more fluid than those guys. Hell, he still is. The point is that he could run and he could jump.

Then he tore a lateral meniscus in his knee during the second to last game of the 1999-2000 season.

For most bigs, the injury would've ruined them. They'd be a shell of themselves, being half the athletes they once were. For Duncan, it was just a minor inconvenience. He just refined his post moves so that he was more Kevin McHale than Olajuwon. He worked on his jumper. He learned to block shots without jumping, to box out better on the boards and to pick his spots on when to sprint down the floor.

Just understand that Duncan can't even straighten out his left leg. He's been playing with the equivalent of one high heel pump out there for the past decade, always on his tip toes, never feeling his heel hit the floor. You can see it clearly when he shoots his free throws, the disparity in his feet. His massive knee brace limits his mobility, but it's also saved him from a few potential career-ending injuries too over the years. Duncan has figured out to adjust his game around its limitations, and losing a few pounds has improved his mobility and helped limit the wear and tear as well. Pop sitting him every now and then helps. The reduced minutes help. The diet and the off-season workouts, they all help.

Still, none of it fully explains what we're seeing.

Duncan shouldn't be able to outplay Anthony Davis one night and then come back and put up a 31-11-5 on the Wizards, two nights later, abusing poor Marcin Gortat, who's not exactly a scrub. He shouldn't be the best player on the floor in a game featuring two All-Star point guards in John Wall and Tony Parker.

Speaking of which, you may have heard that Duncan wasn't named to the All-Star team. It's just as well, he could use the time off, but the idea that he's not one of the 24 best players in the world is absurd.

The story of the game was that the Spurs came back from a big halftime deficit once again to prevail, thanks to a couple of big plays late from Patty Mills, and even though they almost threw the game away at the tail end of the first overtime, they held on in the second extra period because the Wizards were just thoroughly exhausted.

What mattered to me though was Duncan, still going strong at 37, playing 40 minutes and kicking everyone's ass.

The talking heads can count out the Spurs all they want. If their key guys are healthy come the playoffs they're not going to down meekly to anybody. They just won on the road against a team that had dusted the Thunder and the Blazers in the past week and they did so without, basically, their second, third or fourth-best players. It was Duncan, Danny Green, Mills, and some defense from Tiago Splitter. If they could pull that off with just those guys, then imagine the possibilities with a healthy crew.

Not-so-standard Pop quote:

"That's one of the finest wins I've ever been associated with."

By the Numbers:

15,791: The paid attendance at the Verizon Center

14,791: Spurs fans in attendance (approx.)

16: How many consecutive times the Spurs have beaten the Wizards. The last time they lost to Washington was Nov. 12, 2005. I remember watching that game from San Diego. Gilbert Arenas went nuts. Duncan? Not so much.

46:19: Playing time for Green, who must've been quite intimate with the treadmill while he was out.

40:08: Playing time for Duncan. Nothing he does surprises me anymore, but I'll probably do a spit take if I see him out for the opening tip against Garnett tonight.

30-10-5: Duncan joined Michael Jordan and Karl Malone as the only players 37 or older to post at least 30 points, 10 rebounds and 5 assists. Ho hum.

30: Assists for the Spurs, which doesn't sound that remarkable considering that they had 20 turnovers, but nobody had more than five, so that's pretty good dispersion. The Wiz, by comparison, had 19 assists, and Wall had nine of them.

16:51: Playing time for De Colo, who's averaged 15 minutes over the last eight games. Could you have imagined such a thing happening back in December? And to think, all it took was an historic injury epidemic.

Sequence of the Game:

With the Spurs down 99-94 and just 1:32 to go in regulation, Pop subbed Mills into the game after a time out. On the inbounds play Duncan set a wide screen on Wall to free Mills, who buried a high-arcing three from 25-feet out. Then, after a rushed layup attempt from Nene off a bad angle, Green rebounded the miss and got the ball to Mills, who isn't exactly used to being the ball-handler in a critical late-game situation. Nene surprised Mills with a steal attempt, but Mills outfought him for the ball, wheeled around and found Duncan rolling down the lane for the game-tying floater.

Tweets of the Night:

If only it had ended at 8:30 with a Mills' buzzer beater in regulation.

They're just being sporting.

I can't make fun of Gortat after he says so many nice things about the Spurs.

It's like Ginobili never got hurt at all!

Bonner thinks that Anthony Davis is just a guy, but Trevor Booker? He's an unstoppable force of nature.

Kawhi, like most of America, hates watching Spurs basketball.

The Generals, right?

It's not fair! We must have dreamt that we were going to the bathroom!

Easy now. He had better games last year.

Both teams played hard.

I get that joke because I'm a nerd.

It's way less annoying when we do it.

Reminds me of that Heat game a couple weeks ago where Duncan led everyone at half with 17 points and the "analysts" spent the whole intermission showing clips of LeBron and Oden's one dunk.

He's got nothing on Neymar.

Random Observations:

I don't know what's up with Washingtonians. I'm not big on paying much attention to the crowd during ballgames, but I'm not sure if I've ever noticed as many Spurs fans in a road game in all my years watching them. I've never seen that many even at Houston or Dallas. Why DC of all places? Just bizarre.

Also, anyone who's watched ball for a bit knows that there are three or four times every game where two guys are jostling for a rebound or a loose ball and one guy makes just enough contact with the other to make the ball nudge off of him. The refs see what's happening, but they don't want to call a soft loose-ball foul, so they simply call the ball out-of-bounds on the guy who's guilty of being too physical. There was such a play in the second quarter, where the Wiz got too handsy with Splitter, who bumbled the ball out of bounds. Ref Tony Brothers, rightly, called it Spurs ball, which caused Gortat to go into histrionics, yelling, "No! It's off that guy!" while motioning to Splitter. Brothers glared at him long and hard, as if to say, "Come on, you've been in the league a while, you know how this works by now, don't embarrass me." I dunno, I got a kick out of it.

Your Three Stars:

3) Danny Green (31 pts):

Boy, Pop's really bringing along Green slowly off that injury layoff, huh? Only 46 minutes in his second game out and charged with the task of shutting down Wall for the second half. Like the Pelicans game on Monday Green was mostly awful in the first half, but his play steadily improved as the game wore on. His 16 field goal attempts was a season-high and the second-most of his career. It goes without saying that the Spurs would be 0-2 on the RRT without Green.

2. Patty Mills (24 pts):

Saved the Spurs with 11 points in the two overtimes and hit the biggest shot of the game, a rainbow three with the 1:30 to go in regulation with the Spurs down five. Mills had been sitting since the 8:02 mark and for him to come into that situation cold and to bury that shot was huge. Mills also had a couple of plays where he could've been the goat, too. Not only were there were there those inbounds plays where he didn't come to the ball -- including the one at the end of the first overtime -- but c'mon, let's be honest, Mills totally fouled Nene there to get that ball back and dishing it to Duncan for the tying floater. Definitely a break for the Spurs there.

1. Tim Duncan (102 pts):

37-years-old and still the best two-way center on the planet, no big deal.

Up Next

@Brooklyn Nets (21-25), Wednesday, Feb. 6:

Another day, another game against an Eastern Conference opponent playing their best ball of the season. The Nets may have been miserable for the first two months of campaign, but they did start 2014 10-1. Though they did lose three straight after that, the opponents were the Raptors, Thunder and Pacers and two of those defeats were by a point. They snapped their skid with a win over the Sixers on Monday, with Paul Pierce leading the way with 25, Deron Williams adding 21 and Mirza Teletovic providing 20 off the bench. They were without Joe Johnson (right knee tendinitis), Andray Blatche (sore hip) and Andrei Kirilenko (sore right hip), so who knows if those guys will suit up on Thursday. Either way, the Nets haven't played since Monday, so they should be well-rested for the Spurs. These teams did already hook up once, in San Antonio on New Year's Eve, and the Spurs beat the brakes off them, 113-92, up 23 at half and coasting the rest of the way, with Parker leading six Spurs in double figures. He'll be out for the rematch, as will Ginobili and Leonard, of course, and I'm prettttty sure Duncan will sit it out too, and since it's a TNT game I'm sure that'll piss off David Ste... eh, never mind.

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