There's a flurry of activity on the sidelines when the lights come back up after player introductions. It's a whirlwind 90 seconds as the starters toss their warm ups to trainers, coaches give last minute instructions and daps are ritualistically carried out.
In 2012 the NBA instituted the 90 second rule to quell some of the lengthy routines prior to tip-off (think LeBron James and a cloud of talcum powder). Players now have only a minute and a half to elaborately re-introduce themselves to guys they've known for years before the opening jump.
Spurs make Durant and Westbrook look human
In game 2 of the Western Conference Finals, the Spurs played so well on both sides of the ball that the Thunder's dual super stars looked like ... well, like normal NBA players.
As you would expect, this rule impacts the Spurs less than some. Sure, Patty Mills has the "gentleman's handshake" that he greets his teammates with, but those pleasantries are often completed as the starters are already on the court. There's no flash or tossing of powder. There's no team dance-offs or conga lines, but occasionally you'll see something out of the ordinary. Yet somehow it makes perfect sense.
On a chilly Sunday afternoon in early March Tim Duncan was putting the final touches on his pre-game activities before heading onto the court to hug the basketball. He'd already sky-hooked his warm-ups high into the air towards the training staff. He'd tucked, re-tucked, and tuck-checked his jersey. With only seconds to spare before the tip he reached for the bottle of roll-on talc that sits on the edge of the scorer's table next to Popovich's paper cup and Boris Diaw's lotion. He silently rubbed some into his hands and on the front of his jersey.
Popovich stood next to Duncan, studying the notes he'd scribbled on a tiny piece of paper. Without so much as a smirk, Duncan calmly started rolling the talc on Popovich. He first rolled it on his jacket, then on his shirt, and finally on his tie for good measure. With a slight grin, Popovich slapped Duncan's hand away without looking up from his notes. Neither said a word. Duncan casually set the roller on the table and walked onto the court to get his ball.
This was the first sign I'd seen this season that the silence was coming back.
Then a few weeks ago the television cameras caught a fantastic shot of Popovich "greeting" both Duncan and Parker as they headed to the bench near the end of Game 7 against the Mavericks. No words. No acknowledgement. There's no time for that now.
And now as the Spurs look toward Game
2 3 of the Western Conference Finals against the Thunder, any unnecessary chatter will become even rarer. Famous for their efficiency, the Spurs royalty waste no movement, no effort and certainly no words. There's no need to. Not this time of year.
During the regular season the ambiance inside the AT&T Center is light, almost festive. But as the Spurs advance through each round, the air -- particularly closest to the court -- gets heavier. Gone are the playful pranks from November, replaced by concentrated silence. Now is the time of year when Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili take a seat on the bench several minutes before game time and speak no words to one another.
Duncan scored 27 points in Game 1 on Monday night almost matching Kevin Durant's point total despite playing 12 fewer minutes. He dominated early and frustrated the Thunder, who were severely overmatched inside without Serge Ibaka. After the game Duncan spoke to the media from the podium because he's required to. His Q&A lasted just under four minutes and he spent the majority of his time championing the play of Parker, Ginobili, Diaw and Aron Baynes because that's what he does. That's the essence of Tim Duncan. When asked about his struggles in the 3rd quarter as opposed to the ease with which he scored in the first, he said simply, "I missed." It was, as far as insight into Tim Duncan is concerned, an interview session filled with silence.
And so the national media has descended upon San Antonio once again. It has become a common occurrence, an almost annual rite of spring. While they are here, they'll search for fresh angles to describe the Spurs, so it's inevitable that you'll see stories similar to mine. Thousands of words will be devoted to describing the silence of Tim Duncan. Screenshots of Duncan and Popovich, sitting together stoically at halftime will be broadcast nationwide. Photographers will clamor to get the perfect shot of the Big Three as they watch with faces void of expression while the 4th quarter winds down.
Just know it's not always like this. Those long moments of reflection so common now, aren't there in December. But they're aren't just present now: they are required. The silence, the concentration, the steely determination is all a slow progression for these men. They know exactly what they're doing. There's no need to discuss. And as each day passes their determination grows.
The dry erase board inside the Spurs locker room is almost completely blank today, except for one number written in the top right hand corner.
Because besides that, there's nothing left for Tim Duncan to talk about.