San Antonio Spurs’ Crushing Defeat Should Open Door for Tim Duncan’s Retirement

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Derek Fisher knew just where to stick that knife, and Kevin Durant made sure the Spurs bled out before they could steal Wednesday’s game and force a winner-take-all affair.

Heartbroken, crestfallen San Antonio fans have every right to loathe Fisher and cry about a stunning collapse that hurts as much as any finish ever could. If they crave a scapegoat other than the players outclassed when it counted by their Thunder counterparts, they can blame the Red Auerbach Trophy.

That bleeping Coach of the Year award is cursed. The last sideline chief hoops writers selected for the honor who also won a title that year was Gregg Popovich in 2003.

He demanded “some nasty” during a Game 1 huddle. The mere sight of that paperweight commendation might be nasty enough now to provoke projectile vomiting.

The Spurs exuded class after blowing an 18-point lead at Chesapeake Energy Arena and surrendering the Western Conference to the volcanic Thunder in a 107-99 defeat.

Popovich spent much of his time at the podium congratulating Oklahoma City and its raucous fanbase. In case Craig Sager was wondering, the coach offered more than four words in his remarks, which was an accomplishment, given that there are no words for such a gut-wrenching exit.

His Spurs delivered a ball movement master class in the first half and appeared poised to push the Thunder to a Game 7.

 

 

Stephen Jackson was both valorous and astonishing, drilling six of his seven three-point attempts en route to 23 points.

Tony Parker did not bow in another cataclysm without first brandishing some boxing gloves and finding his backbone. He never quite mastered Thabo Sefolosha’s long-armed defense, but his 29-point, 12-assist eruption prevented another resume blemish from becoming a permanent stain.

Just when San Antonio thought it had done enough to extend its season, Fisher, James Harden and Durant reached for the chest, and Indiana Jones Temple of Doom style, ripped out the Spurs’ ticker in ruthless fashion.

If city officials managed to drain the Riverwalk in the next few hours, San Antonio residents would fill it with tears in a matter of minutes.

Those in the Alamo City who did not hyperventilate in the final period ended Wednesday evening by drowning themselves in a pool of melancholy.

There are no words, and that’s why Charles Barkley, for once, made some sense on TNT’s postgame show.

No one was more heroic than 36-year-old Tim Duncan. His 23-point, 14-rebound magnum opus reminded of the dominant, immovable force he once was.

 

 

The ultimate show of respect by the triumphant Thunder: Scott Brooks even sent a double-team Duncan’s way. That it now happens a few times a series instead of every possession says as much about how much opponents respect San Antonio’s perimeter weapons as his age.

 

On the most important night of a most improbable 50-win campaign, he never looked washed up or old.

He led his teammates with a championship effort, and now comes the hard part. His contract expires in July.

For 50 consecutive days, the Spurs seemed invincible. They did not lose a game and a mojo had them looking like title favorites. Then, in a flash, they lost it all.

The Thunder refused to wait its turn and brushed aside a 2-0 deficit to reach its first-ever NBA Finals.

The celebratory music will blare in OKC as long as the beloved home squad stays alive in its virgin championship chase.

The funeral in San Antonio could begin this summer. Cue the maudlin organ music.

 

Duncan will listen to his knees before deciding whether to ink another contract. There’s no indication, as of now, that he wants to retire. Rivals can forget about him ever wearing anything other than silver and black.

 

He performed at a level this season that suggests he could continue racking up double-doubles for at least two more years.

 

His body responded well to the rigors of a truncated, 66-game slate. Popovich managed his minutes and kept him fresh enough to become a playoff difference maker.

 

Not one to make rash decisions, Duncan will think long and hard about hanging up his sneakers before he ever files retirement papers.

When he leaves, he’ll be gone for good.

Given that the Spurs—no matter what the front office might pull off next—may never get this close again, he should consider making his latest age-defying performance his last.

Duncan would depart the NBA with a list of individual and team accomplishments filling a CV that belongs in the same folder with other all-time greats.

If San Antonio could not close the deal after winning 20 straight, how can it expect to do better with this current group?

 

The Spurs fought with the dogmatism of a squad balanced and hungry enough to hoist a fifth Larry O’Brien trophy. The Thunder extinguished all hope with an incomprehensible poise.

 

This has become a theme since the 2008 Western Conference finals.

In that series, a hobbled Manu Ginobili struggled to the point that some suggested Sasha Vujacic had become a lockdown defender.

 

The next year, Brandon Bass and J.J. Barea helped the Mavericks bounce the Ginobili-less Spurs in the first round. Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry were ordinary in three of the five contests. San Antonio lacked both the firepower and the versatility to keep up with Dallas’ enigmatic supporting cast.

 

GM R.C. Buford answered the humiliation of a first-round ouster by trading Kurt Thomas, Bruce Bowen and Fabricio Oberto to the Milwaukee Bucks for Richard Jefferson’s albatross contract. Buford and Popovich wooed esteemed, physical veteran Antonio McDyess.

The Spurs eliminated the Mavs in April 2010 as a seventh seed, but for the first time in the Duncan era, they lost to a Suns team with Steve Nash on it. That sweep revealed a lot.

Goran Dragic obliterated San Antonio for 23 fourth-quarter points in the Game 3 victory that all but sealed the series for Phoenix. The Slovenian still owns the record for points scored by an opposing player in a final period at the AT&T Center.

 

That distinction does not belong to other more obvious candidates like Kobe Bryant, LeBron James or even Durant.

 

Does Duncan want to keep living these nightmares?

Ginobili hyperextended his left elbow in the last game of the 2010-2011 campaign, and the Spurs drew the worst possible opening-round matchup hours later. A cruel termination punctuated a hellacious clash with the Memphis Grizzlies.

 

San Antonio became just the second No. 1 seed dispatched by an eighth-seed in the best-of-seven format.

This season will not end as it did for the other team to achieve that dubious distinction.

The Mavs were lucky to catch Durant when stymieing him in the clutch was still possible. They rolled to a first-ever title.

 

The Spurs won’t get Duncan a fifth.

Laud San Antonio for making it this far with Danny Green and rookie Kawhi Leonard logging major minutes. The prevalence of youth on the Spurs’ roster might entice Duncan to stay a bit longer.

 

Popovich danced around Father Time and dodged bullet after bullet by beefing up the roll call surrounding his Springfield-bound trio.

Ginobili missed 30 games, but overcoming his absence was not enough to curry the basketball gods’ favor.

 

Backup point guard Eric Maynor suffered the Thunder’s lone significant injury. Championships are predicated on luck as much as anything players, coaches and executives can control.

Duncan should consider retirement because enough luck to almost beat Oklahoma City isn’t enough luck to win it all.

 

The Spurs needed Durant, Russell Westbrook, Harden and Fisher to keep missing. Other challengers would have fallen apart against sturdy, courageous San Antonio.

That the Thunder shrugged and rallied says it all.

The Big Fundamental craved another shot with Parker, Ginobili and Popovich. This was it.

 

Duncan has nothing left to prove. He bowed Wednesday as he often has, with grace, humility and monster numbers that make the idea of retirement seem outrageous.

 

He served as quite the model for Durant, albeit with inferior hops and no mother to sit courtside. She succumbed to breast cancer one day before his 14th birthday.

He can leave now with no regrets, as the greatest to ever play his position. The historical pecking order at power forward does not figure to change anytime soon.

So much went right. The Spurs swept their first two series before dropping this one.

 

Too much went wrong. Serge Ibaka’s absurd 11-of-11 night was one of many unwelcome developments that sunk San Antonio.

For the second consecutive postseason, the vanquishers went from last in a category to first.

 

The Grizzlies morphed from the least accurate three-point shooting team to the unit with the second highest long-distance percentage through the conference semifinals. The Spurs, the regular-season leaders in makes beyond the arc, became frigid and inept.

This year, the Thunder switched from a turnover-prone squad to careful, ball-handling masterminds, forcing one of the league’s best at taking care of the rock into uncharacteristic miscues.

Where it all went wrong is a discussion for another column and day.

 

 

San Antonio’s offseason begins and ends with Duncan’s difficult decision.

He should listen to his knees. They will tell him what to do.

Oklahoma City and Fisher foiled his last gasp—his probable last shot.

It hurts now, and there are no words that can express just how much it does.

Duncan cannot retire the way David Robinson did—with a fifth confetti bath and champagne shower.

He might see enough potential in the youngsters to want to stick around and play two more years, as his Wednesday performance suggests he can.

The way the Thunder put the Spurs title hopes on ice, though, should give him pause.

San Antonio said goodbye until this fall. Maybe, this is when Duncan says it for good.

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