SAN ANTONIO -- Until the cornerstone of your franchise crumbles to the floor grasping his braced knee, you don't know the definition of silence.
The San Antonio Spurs nearly blew a 51-26 halftime lead to the Washington Wizards, hanging on for the 96-86 victory at the AT&T Center on Saturday night. It was their tenth consecutive victory, their eighteenth in a row at home. But the narrative of the game itself ends there and picks up around the four-minute mark of the second quarter, when Martell Webster crashed into Tim Duncan's left knee and sent the 36-year-old crashing to the floor around the free-throw line of his own basket.
The arena became deafeningly quiet before Tim was helped up to a thunderous, relieved applause.
Initial reports from the Spurs are that Duncan suffered a left knee and right ankle sprain, but until further testing is done the prognosis is not official. Players in the San Antonio locker room said Tim seemed upbeat after the game, adding that he left under his own power. While that doesn't necessarily mean much, it's certainly not a bad sign.
"I don't think I've ever seen Timmy like that. I've seen him get hurt before ... he usually gets right back up," Danny Green said after the game. "He seemed OK (after the game). Timmy's always optimistic. He's one of the greatest to ever play this game because he's a pretty tough guy. He's probably not going to show you that he's hurt like that, even if it was serious. But I think he should be OK."
The injury occurred as Kawhi Leonard blocked Webster's driving attempt from behind, and some contact on the play caused Webster to hit the deck and roll into Tim. The paint was congested, and the collision with Duncan was reminiscent of something you'd see around the line of scrimmage in a football game. It looked scary as the newly named All-Star big man hit the ground and immediately clutched his knee, but preliminary reports from team doctors indicate reason for optimism.
"Those are always the ones you don't want to see when a guy falls into you while your feet are planted on the ground," Wizards coach Randy Wittman said. "I just talked to (Spurs) doctors and they said he is going to be fine. That was not a pretty thing to see."
There was certainly a different feel in the arena after the best player in the franchise's history collapsed before halftime. San Antonio was cruising in Duncan's return to the court after a four-game absence, holding an overmatched Wizards team to 26 points on 26 percent shooting in the first half. Washington had almost as many turnovers (9) as it did field goals (11) before the break.
But the mood changed, and alongside it the play on the court.
The Wizards scored 60 points in the second half on 54 percent shooting, and even managed to cut the lead to six with a little more than eight minutes remaining. But the combination of Tony Parker and Tiago Splitter carried the Spurs down the stretch and secured the win and a 38-11 record heading into the Rodeo Road Trip.
"To have our best player go down like that with his knee and his ankle is pretty frustrating, but we had a game to play," Stephen Jackson said. "We don't know how long he's going to be out, but we still have to get the job done regardless of who's out there.
"We've been able to do that for the most part. We've had guys in and out. We have got to continue to be ... playing with a sense of urgency no matter what team we're playing," he continued. "We have got to play 110 percent the whole game with no let-ups."
Parker had 19 points and 12 assists while Tiago filled in for Duncan admirably once again, putting up 12 points and seven boards. Green had 15 points on 6-for-9 shooting and Leonard posted a double-double with 10 points and a career-high 11 rebounds.
For the Spurs, the win is good, but the news they await will cause sleepless nights for the players, coaches and team officials alike. Obviously the impact of a significant Duncan injury would be devastating to the Spurs' title chances. And if this injury turns out to be the worst, one can't help but wonder about his future.
For now, let's trust the doctors know what they're talking about.