Spurs' Tim Duncan bids for title No 5
Not seen in NBA Finals for six years, San Antonio stalwart, 37, shows he's still reliable
For all the play-off slugfests he has endured over the years, for all the elbows to the ribs he has taken in the post, for all the post-season runs between this NBA Finals and his last one, little has changed for Tim Duncan.
His expressive face looks remarkably similar in 2013 to the one that helped the San Antonio Spurs to their first championship in 1999. His game is still built on fundamentals and smarts more than athleticism and speed. And he still plays for the same coach, in the same system and with the same two stars by his side that brought three titles to the River Walk in five years.
You see Duncan in Game 1 against Miami, controlling the paint, finding the open man and cleaning up the boards like he has always done. And then you realise he's 37 years old, and his last trip to the NBA Finals was six years ago.
That may not seem so far back to most players. To Duncan, it felt like an eternity. And now that he's finally here, with a chance for title No 5, he's playing with the urgency of a man that doesn't know how many more chances he's going to get.
"It felt like a long time," Duncan said, one day after posting 20 points, 14 rebounds, four blocks and three assists in San Antonio's 92-88 win over Miami. "I definitely appreciate being back out here, to see the finals banners all around and to see the patch on the jersey and all those little things, the last couple of days it's really been sinking in. I think I really do appreciate it more now, having been gone so long."
That Duncan, the most understated of stars, is focusing on little details that he never did before should come as no surprise. He has never been one for the pyrotechnic pre-game introductions; never craved the spotlight that comes with playing for the championship.
What he has stood for more than anything over the years is dependability. That has earned him an unparalleled level of respect within the league.
"The way he's played his whole career, he's continued to play that way," Heat guard Ray Allen said. "In this world we live in, consistency is all we ask. You get paid a lot of money and you get respect by doing it."
Now in his 16th season in the league and producing like he's fresh out of college, Duncan is reluctantly being thrust into the spotlight once more in these finals. He averaged 17.8 points, 9.9 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game in the regular season, becoming the second oldest player to earn All-NBA first team honours. And he has built off that with a stirring post-season run.