The play they’re going to show forever came with around three minutes to go Thursday night.
Tim Duncan uncoiled his 40-year-old body to power in a layup, and Oklahoma City’s Serge Ibaka sprang and blocked him to the floor. With Duncan watching from his rump, the Thunder’s Russell Westbrook picked up the basketball and dashed up the floor to feed Kevin Durant for a slam dunk.
This was that iconic photo moment. This was Mike Tyson, his reign of invincibility over, flat on his back against Buster Douglas. This was Y.A. Tittle on his knees with blood trickling down his face. This was an aging Willie Mays on his knees, pleading with the umpire in the 1973 World Series.
Maybe it was the final NBA game of Duncan’s remarkable career with the San Antonio Spurs. If Manu Ginobili, 39, joins him in retirement, maybe the Spurs’ magical run is done.
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But I tend to doubt it’s the end of the Spurs. No NBA team has a better coach than Gregg Popovich who, like Duncan, has been there for all five titles. No franchise has a better idea of who fits and where.
67 San Antonio victories during regular season
Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge should allow the Spurs a relatively smooth transition.
San Antonio won 67 games during the regular season, but there may be a message in the Western Conference finals’ pairing. A Spurs-Warriors conference final would have been a clash of wills. Thunder-Warriors will be a laser show.
Duncan reportedly has earned nearly $235 million in salary over his 19-year NBA career. It’s hard to imagine that his $5.5-million option is enough to lure him back.
"I’ll get to that when I get out of here and I figure life out," Duncan told the media after Thursday’s defeat.
The four cornerstones of the San Antonio titles – Duncan, Ginobili, Tony Parker and David Robinson – all came from the draft.
Duncan would be missed. But I have a hunch that Popovich already has a plan.