At this point all you can do is laugh.
Laugh and reflect at how ridiculously lucky this franchise has been. David Robinson, the pillar of the team, happens to get hurt seriously the one year there's once-in-a-generation big man coming out of the draft. The Spurs happen to get the right combination of lottery balls to bounce their way. If it happens two years earlier, they get Joe Smith. If it happens a year later, it's Michael Olowokandi.
Gregg Popovich is a terrific coach, one of the best in NBA history if not the best. He's not winning a damn thing with Michael Olowokandi except a bus ticket back to Pomona-Pitzer, and he'll be the first one to tell you that.
The luck extends beyond Duncan, of course. 1999 they took a flier with the 57th pick on some no-name reed thin Argentine with a funny name. He wound up being the best player in his draft class and a lock Hall-of-Famer. In 2001 they took a French teenager with the 28th pick. He wound up being the second best player in his draft class and a lock Hall-of-Famer. No one had any clue Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker would be half as good as they wound up being. Certainly not Popovich or R.C. Buford or anyone with the Spurs. Certainly not Ginobili or Parker themselves. No one. Just for good measure, after four Larry O'Briens already in the trophy case, the Spurs shipped George Hill, a decent player but hardly a difference-maker to Indiana for Kawhi Leonard, the 15th pick of the 2011 draft. Wouldn't you know it, he's turning out to be the best player in his class too. He was supposed to play a little defense, maybe help out on the boards some. Instead, we've got a Finals MVP.
"We have done a great job of feeling guys out, finding players that play the way we want to play, and have that fiber we are looking for," Pop said the other day when asked about his team's roster building, adding, "If there was a formula, everyone would have it. The subjectivity of it makes it more of an art."
The truly astounding, amazing, insane part of all this is that as far as Ginobili, Parker and Leonard have exceeded everyone's expectations, Duncan has topped them all and then some, and that's with the understanding that he was projected to be a franchise-altering no-doubt Hall-of-Famer from Day 1. I guarantee you that when Pop met him in St. Croix back in the summer of 1997, he didn't think he'd still be carrying the team and dominating 18 years later.
What Duncan's been able to do, at 38, is unheard of in NBA history. Yes, Karl Malone could still score, but his rebounds dropped to fewer than nine per game and he was never the defensive hub of the Jazz. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had little defensive responsibility on the Showtime Lakers and averaged fewer than seven boards after 38. Duncan's in a league of his own.
He was literally involved in something historic Friday night at the AT&T Center, as the Spurs dropped their second consecutive triple-overtime game and third straight overall, in losing to a never-say-die Portland squad 129-119. Two nights after playing 48 minutes against Memphis, with all of us wondering if he would even suit up tonight against the Blazers, Duncan logged another 43:02 and scored 32 on 12-of-24 from the field, a season-high for both him and the Spurs. That's 91 minutes total with one day of rest in between.
And I swear to God he strode briskly out of the locker room without so much as a slight hitch in his gait, looking fresh as a daisy.
"In that situation I am not drained," he explained, matter-of-factly. "I'm running on adrenaline and I'm ready to go. I know I'll feel it tomorrow."
You almost wonder if he will.
Neither Duncan, nor Cory Joseph, nor Danny Green, or surprisingly even Popovich looked too drained or deflated by the loss. Hey, it happens, even if this was the first time since the 1951 Baltimore Bullets a team had to play consecutive triple-overtime games. The last time the Spurs had one before Wednesday was in 1984 against Atlanta. The Blazers just refused to go away, no matter how many times the Spurs asked.
"I thought Damian (Lillard) was unbelievable," Popovich said. "He was unguardable down the stretch. He took it upon himself to singlehandedly do us in. He was amazing."
Indeed the Blazers' sparkplug scored a career-high 43 points, 16 of them coming in the overtime periods. He drove for the tying layup in regulation after Danny Green's sixth three of the night had given the Spurs a brief 97-95 lead with five seconds to go (he had a season-high 27, two nights after scoring 25 against the Grizzlies). Then, after the Spurs scored the first six points of overtime --and nearly nine, but another three from Green came a fraction after the shot clock expired-- another layup by Lillard and then a three tied it up once more. Again the Spurs scored the first six of the second overtime, but an emphatic driving slam by Lillard ignited an 8-0 Blazers run, shocking everyone in attendance. In retrospect, you have to wonder why the Spurs chose to go for the tying two with Joseph late over a win-or-lose three. They had absolutely nothing in the tank left for the third overtime and Lillard went unconscious there, with nine points, including a dagger three from the corner with Green all over him.
"I'm proud of the whole team and what they have done," said an upbeat Popovich afterward. "It's a different group every night. It would almost be better if you had two guys injured, and you knew it (would be) for three months. It is different every night, and it keeps them out of rhythm. We are wearing some guys down though, Timmy is a big worry in that respect and so is Manu."
Pop has tried everything to preserve the remaining Spurs energy, even resorting to hockey-style mass substitutions tonight, with five fresh bodies coming in at once, but they have definitely felt the absences of Kawhi Leonard, who confirmed to Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News that he does indeed have a torn ligament in his shooting hand, and Tony Parker, who's missed seven of eight games with a strained hamstring. It's definitely taken the biggest toll on Ginobili who looks completely worn out and reed thin, skinnier than ever and operates on fumes after the 25-minute mark of late. It's one thing to ask the 37-year-old to play extra minutes, but when those extra minutes come with the added responsibility of having to be the team's point guard and main shot creator, it's bad news and you reach a point of diminishing returns.
It was dispiriting but entirely predictable to see a certain segment of Twitter lash out at Ginobili for his poor play in the fourth quarter and overtimes, but perhaps it's Popovich who's at fault, throwing him out there when he's clearly toast. Fans are going to have a recency bias and a "what have you done for me lately?" mentality, but I would hope the majority here will be sensible and have the proper perspective.
Yeah, the Spurs have gotten a few unlucky, unbelievable bounces go against them the last couple of weeks. People are making crazy shots against them when it matters most. However, they can lose then next 40 games in triple overtime and still be on the right side of the ledger when it comes to luck.
They've got Tim Duncan and nobody else does.
Your Three Stars:
3. Tiago Splitter (1 pt)
2. Danny Green (28 pts)
1. Tim Duncan (48 pts)