MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Tim Duncan is so close to his first NBA championship in six long years that the Spurs star isn’t worried about the little issue of being rusty once the finals actually start.
“My sole focus is trying to get this done, trying to get another championship,” Duncan said. “I don’t care records; I don’t care age. I don’t care any of that stuff. I just want to do what I have to do to try to win a championship.”
San Antonio ended its six-year drought between NBA Finals by finishing a sweep of the Memphis Grizzlies 93-86 on Monday night for its fifth Western Conference title. The first sweep in a conference final since the Nets beat Detroit in 2003 also earned the Spurs a nine-day break before Game 1 of the finals June 6.
Duncan said the benefit will be the Spurs should be completely healthy with their legs underneath them.
“We’re going to be a little rusty starting the first game — it’s just how it is,” Duncan said. “We’re going to try to figure out how to practice, how to stay sharp. But bottom line, we’re going to be a little rusty. Hopefully, we can shake that off real quick and get right back to our rhythm.”
All the Spurs worked hard to be just four wins away from adding a title to those won in 1999, 2003, 2005 and 2007. Duncan was the MVP of the first three of those finals, but he’s now 37 and wrapping up his 16th season.
Tony Parker said he’s been doing his best to get Duncan back to this point for what might be the 6-foot-11 forward’s final chance at a championship. He promised Duncan they would return after blowing a 2-0 lead in the conference finals a year ago to Oklahoma City, and speculation is picking up on whether this might be Duncan’s final season in the NBA.
“I think everybody on the team, we really wanted to do it for him,” Parker said.
The Spurs now wait for Miami or Indiana to come out of the East after they swept two of their three opponents in the West. The Spurs took advantage of a three-day break in the conference finals to come into Memphis and beat a team that had lost only once on its home floor since Feb. 8.
They could use some time off between games after a physical series with the Grizzlies. The Spurs helped clamp down on Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol with Duncan, Tiago Splitter, Matt Bonner and Boris Diaw all taking turns pushing the Grizzlies away from their favorite spots on the floor in disrupting their high-low game.
It worked quite well — the Spurs outscored Memphis in the paint in the final three games. Randolph, who averaged at least 18 points in the first two playoff series, averaged only 11 against San Antonio.
“I know our bigs, they have a lot of bruises,” Parker said. “So it’s going to be great to rest. I know Timmy and Manu (Ginobili), they’re going to love the rest, and we’re going to regenerate and get ready for whoever we’re going to play.”
It won’t be easy to remain in the rhythm that the Spurs used to drive repeatedly to the basket and pick apart Memphis on the pick-and-roll. Trying to keep that rhythm and stay in shape over the next week will not be fun, Bonner said.
But this is where all the experience Duncan, Ginobili and Parker have with Spurs coach Gregg Popovich will come into play.
“I can’t say we’ve all been there before, but our three leaders have been in the finals multiple times, and they’re going to lead the way,” Bonner said.
That they have. The Spurs won the NBA title each of their previous four trips to the finals, and their win over Memphis improved them to 11-1 in closeout games since the 2007 postseason. Nobody in the NBA has been to the playoffs more than San Antonio’s current 16-year streak, and only the Detroit Red Wings in the NHL have had more consecutive postseason berths (22).
Duncan and Popovich have been together for all of those 16 years, the longest in the NBA. Nobody currently in the league has won more games than Duncan, Ginobili and Parker, and their 458 wins have them fifth all-time in the league as a trio.
Popovich said he’s proud of these players and how hard they’ve worked all year with newcomers such as Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green blending well with his veterans. He said these Spurs are a testament to sticking together.
“If you stay the course and you’ve got leaders who are quality character people, you follow them as long as you can,” Popovich said. “I’ve been hanging on Timmy’s coattails for a long time.”