Duncan turns back the clock to stop Knicks

Jan. 21, 2011

Let’s be clear about what Tim Duncan is not at age 34.

He is not the player who carried the Spurs on his back night-in, night-out for over a decade nor is he the guy who offered a guaranteed 20-12 every time he stepped foot on a basketball court. In sum, he is not the player who won the Spurs four titles and who is regarded as the greatest power forward of all time.

None of this stems from sandbagging on the part of Gregg Popovich to save the old Duncan for the playoffs. No, the simple truth is that 14 seasons of regular season, playoff and international basketball takes a toll on anyone, even one of the ten best players to ever lace ’em up.

Here’s what Duncan still can do, though. Even with all that mileage, he is capable of walking in on a given night and throwing down a dominant game by virtue of his immeasurable talent, experience and guile.

That was the case on Friday, as Duncan turned in a throwback performance to pace the Spurs to a 101-92 victory over the New York Knicks.

In fairness, it wouldn’t take Red Auerbach to notice that the 6’11” future Hall of Famer predominantly being guarded by 6’8″ Wilson Chandler presented a serious advantage for the Spurs, but it’s one thing to see a mismatch and another entirely to exploit it.

Duncan did that and then some. He gave the Knicks a little bit of everything, from bullying his way into the post to force an and-one in the first quarter to hitting a turnaround fadeaway from the elbow on Ronny Turiaf during a break for Chandler to throwing down a breakaway dunk in the fourth. If those moments were the bricks, then Duncan’s midrange jumper was the mortar as he was all-too-willing to make the Knicks pay whenever they left him open from 15 feet.

Add in eight assists, one better than Tony Parker’s season average, and for at least one night, Duncan was a focal point in the offense once more.

Defensively, Duncan remains at or near the top of his game, ranking in the top-10 in both blocks and rebounds while protecting the post as San Antonio’s defensive anchor. Friday served as the latest demonstration, as he led the charge to help shackle Amar’e Stoudemire into a brutal 8-of-25 night from the field.

Nowhere was that better demonstrated than an early third-quarter stretch in which Stoudemire was denied three straight times around the rim, with Duncan between the explosive forward and the rim on each attempt. Stoudemire wound up with a respectable 18 but the effort Duncan — and to his credit, DeJuan Blair — put on allowed those missed shots to be converted to plenty of Spurs possessions on the other end.

Overall, a look at Duncan’s box score line says it all: 8-for-15 shooting; 21 points; 16 rebounds; eight assists; five blocks.

In a word, dominant.

Of course, Duncan hardly lacked for help on the evening.

Parker, the current focal point of the offense, had 21 of his own along with 13 assists.

Blair, meanwhile, did the yeoman’s work of shoehorning Stoudemire into early foul trouble and then keeping him contained on the low block before battering the undersized Knicks frontline on the other end for 18 points. On a different night it would be his stat-sheet stuffing that would draw everyone’s attention, as he tacked on 13 rebounds, four steals and three blocks to tally his third double-double of the past four games.