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A Spurs fan dealing with denial

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Dealing with grief has several steps, getting stuck in denial isn't unusual.

Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

I'm not good with goodbyes or whatever this is.

It was hard for me to say goodbye to my elementary school after six years, so on the first day of middle school, my mom literally walked me to my first class because I had crippling anxiety and couldn't do it alone. It was hard to say goodbye to my favorite television show ever, Breaking Bad, so I watched the season finale five times to pretend it wasn't really over. Even if it's trivial, and it usually is, I struggle to cope with change and everything that comes with it. Frankly, I don't like change because it's scary.

Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs are among the few constants in my life (also, hi mom, you're the best). I never had to worry about that changing -- until this season. The first time I realized this could be the end of Tim Duncan's fantastic career was when the Golden State Warriors made him look his age -- and, actually, much older -- by throwing him in pick-and-roll after pick-and-roll, moving the ball from side-to-side with pinpoint precision and Duncan, one of the greatest defenders in NBA history, couldn't keep up with the whirring movement of the Warriors death machine. Pop only played him 19 minutes in the game and it was clear then, as it is now, that the seemingly immortal Tim Duncan was nearing his natural end.

But I was still in denial. I didn't want to believe that my childhood hero would ever call it quits. He's defied Father Time for this long, so why wouldn't he keep fending him off for the rest of eternity?

Duncan wasn't needed much to dispatch the Grizzlies in the first-round, so I chalked up his meager numbers (5.8 points, 6.3 rebounds) to playing a glorified D-League team, bereft of their best players due to injury. Then as the Oklahoma City series played out, the noise was deafening. It was obvious. Tim Duncan, at 40 years old, was struggling to hang with the youthful big bodies of the Thunder (namely Steven Adams and his mustache) and totaled six points in the first three games of the series. He didn't even attempt a shot in the Game 3 victory, something he's never done in his entire career. For the first time, Duncan wasn't a large part of the Spurs success. Pop still used him, and the Spurs outscored OKC with Duncan on the floor, but the venerable Tim Duncan was now reduced to making inbound passes (and he made a big one to seal Game 3), rebounding and being totally absent in an offense that he once thrived in.

I wasn't in denial much longer. Each game passed and as the Spurs season was teetering on the brink in Game 6, I thought to myself: I'm okay if Tim Duncan retires now. That was because Tim Duncan was still fighting like hell as the Spurs faced a double-digit deficit at halftime, then still kept fighting like hell in the second half even though he's 40 years old, has won so many basketball games and had every reason to be content with his career. 

This was no farewell tour. There was no fanfare, no public announcements, no jersey signings, this was just Tim Duncan being Tim Duncan, Tim Duncan not willing to give up on a season, Tim Duncan trying to bring his teammates together for one last hurrah. It didn't happen, of course, but sometimes we get caught up too much with the pageantry of the sport. We like things to end nice and neat, even when life is rarely that concrete or perfect. Peyton Manning went out with a Super Bowl in his last game and David Robinson retired with his second championship. Derek Jeter hit a walk-off in his last at-bat. Kobe scored 61 in his last game. We wanted Duncan to leave on top because that made sense to us. Duncan's 19 points and 5 rebound performance in the season finale in the second round against Oklahoma City will hardly stand the test of time, but Old Man Riverwalk's legacy will last in perpetuity.

A fairtytale ending to Duncan's career would have been a sixth title, passing Kobe and tying Michael Jordan, and I spent the last few months desperately hoping my dreams would come to fruition. No, this wasn't a perfect ending after all, but it was raw, real and still meaningful because it was the epitome of Tim Duncan.

I was finally okay with Duncan leaving the sport that I love because he would be leaving as the fiery competitor that never quits and the dude you can always trust in a crisis. That's the Tim Duncan I knew and still love and will always love even when my future grandchildren will undoubtedly hate me for waxing poetically over a basketball player. That's the Tim Duncan that I wrote about every year, regardless of the topic or subject, from third grade to 11th grade for the annual English TAKS essay. That's what I always wanted from the man who taught me to love basketball and the man I looked up to for his poise and intensity. He delivered -- like he did in the past -- on everything, even if he didn't grab another NBA championship in the process.

If this is truly goodbye, or even if it's not, I'll always cherish the Tim Duncan Era for being the best basketball era of my young life. You've left gigantic shoes to fill in San Antonio.

Thanks for all the memories, Timmy.

Game ball

Tim Duncan: 19 points on 7-of-14 shooting, 5-of-6 from the free throw line, 5 rebounds.

Enough said.

Quote of the night

"I'll get to that after I get out of here and figure life out."

- Tim Duncan on his potential retirement

By the numbers

  • If last night was the last game of Tim Duncan's basketball career, he will retire with five titles, three Finals MVPs, two MVPs, 15 All-Star appearances, 15 All-NBA selections, 14 All-Defensive team selections, 1,158 wins (2nd all-time), 15,091 rebounds (6th all-time) and 3,020 blocks (5th all-time).
  • +18: OKC's margin of victory in the second quarter, which gave them enough cushion to withstand one final Spurs push in the fourth quarter.
  • 37: Points for Kevin Durant, who outplayed Kawhi in the series. I wanted more from Kawhi with the season on the line and he wasn't able to elevate his game to match Durant.
  • 73: wins for the Spurs this year, including the playoffs. It's a shame we couldn't get a Spurs-Warriors playoff series.

#analysis

  • Tim Duncan is the current talk of conversation, but Manu Ginobili could also be calling it quits after this season. He's a baaaaaaaad dude that Kobe, a borderline psychopath when it comes to winning, complimented and revered for his endless competitive fire.
  • Where do the Spurs go next this offseason? Obviously, the offseason plans will be contingent on what happens with Duncan and Ginobili, who both have player options for the upcoming season. David West also has a player option, Boban Marjanovic could be a restricted free agent, while Matt Bonner and Rasual Butler will be unrestricted free agents. Another big offseason could be in the cards for an organization typically quiet in July.
  • Some Spurs offseason targets that I've seen people float around, in no particular order: Mike Conley, Kevin Durant, Pau Gasol, Al Horford.
  • For the next season, I want to see Kawhi take another leap in his offensive game. His facilitating stands to improve (averaged just 2.8 assists per 36 minutes for his career) and he can be more assertive to get the looks he deserves. Sometimes Kawhi vanishes offensively even though he's the best player in the system and should demand constant attention like LeBron, Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook and other superstars. I wouldn't mind Kawhi working outside the context of the Spurs vaunted system occasionally to make things happen. He does that in spurts and it's awesome. Let's see that for the entire game and now we're talking.
  • Worth nothing: Kawhi is only 24 years old.
  • And, lastly, thanks to the fans and the excellent Pounding the Rock community for supporting the staff and being an endless source of entertainment. Seriously, I habitually read the comment section because ya'll are wonderful people that make writing about the Spurs fun. Keep doing your thing guys and gals.

Twitter highlights

Taco Bell menu item of the game

*Disclaimer: This section is not sponsored by Taco Bell. I'm just a huge fan. It's in my Twitter bio (@quixem), after all. Direct any "Taco Bell is terrible how could you like this toxic sludge" comments below. It's cool. I don't mind.

It's gotta be the Taco Bell crunchy taco, a timeless classic and a staple of the Taco Bell menu. Much like Tim Duncan for the Spurs.

And that's a wrap. Until next season ...