Tag Archives: Tim Duncan

LION FACE/LEMON FACE 6/21/13: GAME 7

Good things come to those who wait. From October through June we collectively watched 1,314 games of NBA basketball this year. Some were good, and some were bad. Some were awful, and some were downright legendary.  All of it culminated last night in Game 7 of the NBA Finals. It’s the game that every kid in their backyard dreams of playing in growing up, and we got to witness it in all of its sweet, sweet glory last night. This is the hardest Lion Face, Lemon Face column I have ever had to write not just because it’s the last one of the year, but because if I had my pick, both teams would have won last night. The fact that there was a winner and loser, heroes and goats, lion faces and lemon faces absolutely kills me. But what has to be done has to be done, so let’s get to it.

Lion Face: LeBron James

Big time players make big time plays in big time games. In the NBA, there is no bigger game than Game 7, and in today’s NBA, there is no bigger player than LeBron James. LeBron was absolutely sensational tonight delivering a Game 7 performance that will, or at least should, put together the debate on whether or not he’s “clutch” or not. In between Games 5 and 6, parody site Sports Pickle re-ran a post that they had previously developed titled “Pocket Guide For Criticizing LeBron James in Any Situation”. It poked fun at the numerous lines that fans and media alike could use in order to create a no win scenario for LeBron that was designed to be used no matter what kind of performance he turned in during the course of a game. The second statement on that list read “If LeBron has a big 4th quarter and leads his team to victory…say ‘Big deal. It’s only the regular season. Let’s see him do it in Game 7 of the NBA Finals.’” LeBron’s line in the fourth quarter alone last night? Just your casual 9-5-2-2 line including an absolute dagger 19 footer with 27 seconds remaining to push the lead to 92-88 and finally ice the series for Miami. Mission: Accomplished. He ended the game with 37 points and 12 rebounds; the 37 points are the most points ever scored in a Game 7 Finals win tying Boston’s Tommy Heinsohn in 1957 so you can go ahead and give LeBron both a championship ring and a Tommy Point for last night’s effort.

Lemon Face: Manu Ginobili

It’s never a good sign when you get a text in the fourth quarter of Game 7 of the NBA Finals from a friend asking you what the record is for turnovers in a seven game series. While Ginobili, 22 turnovers through the seven games, didn’t come close to matching Charles Barkley’s in the 1986 Eastern Conference Semifinals v. Milwaukee (37 turnovers!), it sure felt like the ones he did make came at the most inopportune times in the ball game. Last night, he turned the ball over four times, all of them occurring in the final period of play, including a brutal attempted jump pass on the baseline with San Antonio trailing by 4 with 23 seconds remaining which once and for all finally extinguished any hope that the Spurs had of making a miracle comeback of their own.  While it would have been a fairy tale ending for Manu’s career to go out with a title, instead he is left wondering just what went wrong in his final games.

Lion Face: Kawhi Leonard

In a game featuring at least 6 future Hall of Fame inductees, it was Kawhi Leonard (and as I am contractually obligated to mention, his catcher mitt sized hands) who stole the show for San Antonio last night. Any lesser player would have crumbled after missing a critical free throw late in the potential championship winning Game 6 but the 21 year old Leonard responded with a monster 19 points and 16 rebounds in Game 7. As Duncan, Ginobili, and Parker fade into the twilight of their careers, the future in San Antonio continues to appear bright with Leonard leading the way.

Lemon Face: Chris Bosh

I know he played solid defense. I know he came up with seven rebounds including corralling Duncan’s missed tip-in that would have tied the game, but to put up a goose egg in the points column in Game 7 of the NBA Finals? That’s true Lemon Face material. God help him if Miami would have lost that game because I don’t see any possible way he would be on the Heat roster next year if San Antonio won and shut him down like that. Miami still faces a decision this offseason on whether or not to trade Bosh, but it will be excruciatingly difficult to break up a team that has reeled off two consecutive titles.

Lion Face: Shane Battier

We may never see the adage that role players tend to play great at home and are dicey on the road more than this series. After earning a couple of DNP’s in the Indiana series, Battier turned in scoring lines of 0, 3, 0, 2, 7, and 9 points through the first six games of the series. Coming into last night, he has hardly thought of as an X Factor. But fittingly, in a series that proved to be as difficult to predict from game to game as any other we’ve ever seen, Battier responded with an NBA Jam style hot hand shooting display knocking down six threes in eight attempts on his way to the biggest 18 point game of his life. For the second straight year, the Heat rode to a title in a championship clinching game thanks to one of their shooters going unconscious from beyond the arc. Last year it was Mike Miller’s 7-8 from long distance, 23 point game that proved to be the difference in Game 5 against Oklahoma City. It one of those nights where you in the first half he was going to have a Lion Face game, and he didn’t disappoint. Between his insane three point shooting and cerebral interviews, who could have guessed that a guy from the most hated college in America playing on the most hated NBA team could be, dare I say, likeable?

Lemon Face: Danny Green

For as good as Shane Battier was as a role player, Danny Green was equally as bad for San Antonio. For a stretch during the first five games, it appeared that we were headed for one of the most unlikely Finals MVPs of all time as Green was turning three point attempts seemingly into layups by breaking the record for triples in an NBA Finals just five games into the series. At this point in the series, Cavs fans and other NBA fans alike were quick to criticize the Cleveland organization wondering how they could possibly let a player like this slip through their grasp. Well, now we know. Unfortunately for Green and the Spurs, the clock struck midnight on his Cinderella story sometime between the end of Game 5 and beginning of Game 6 as he would go on to shoot a ghastly 10.5% from the field (18% from 3) over the course of Games 6 and 7 in Miami. Even despite how cringe worthy poor he was last night, he nearly changed the complexion of the game just over midway through the fourth quarter. Following a Manu Ginobili three pointer that cut Miami’s lead to 85-82 with 4:20 to go in the game, Green stole Dwyane Wade’s entry pass and launched a 3. A make would have tied the game as part of an 8-2 run in the course of 45 seconds and conceivably could have changed the complexion of the game. Alas, it was not to be as the shot missed, and the next score came a couple of possessions later from Shane Battier who knocked down a 3 and pushed the lead to six. We’ll always have Games 1-5 Danny Green. We’ll always have Games 1-5.

Lion Face: Mario Chalmers Shot

The Spurs were set to head into the fourth quarter with the lead. They would have been 12 minutes away from only having to match the Heat point for point in order to win the title. And then Mario Chalmers happened. It gave the Heat the lead and the momentum heading into what proved to be the final period of the NBA season. In a game where we got the entire Wario AND Mario Chalmers experience, this was one of the biggest shots of Chalmers’ career.

Lemon Face: Tim Duncan’s Shot

GIF via @SBNationGIF

Tim Duncan could retire right now with four championship rings, $200+ million in salary earned throughout his career, and the title of Greatest Power Forward Ever to Play the Game, but you can bet that he is going to be rehashing that missed tip shot in his nightmares for the conceivable future. With a chance to tie the game at 90 with under one minute to go in Game 7 of the NBA Finals, Duncan missed both a hook shot and the subsequent tip in. Eons from now when people are browsing Wikipedia version 1239.1 on their super computers, they are going to see on the surface that this turned out to be an eight point game and, without reading a game story, not fully recognize that we were that close to having a tie game in Game 7 with each team having only a couple of possessions remaining to decide a champion.

Lion Face: NBA Fans

If someone had told you that this Finals would produce four games decided by double digits, including a 36 point blowout in one of those games, and yet it would still prove to be one of the best and most memorable Finals we have ever seen, how confused would you be? Your allowable answers are A) Very B) Really and C) Extremely. Luckily, that’s exactly what we got over the course of the past couple of weeks:  two teams that threw absolute haymakers at one another for seven straight games. For the rest of our lives, we’ll remember these Finals for Tony Parker’s incredible shot to put away Game 1, Danny Green going absolutely bananas in San Antonio, Ray Allen’s shot from the corner and Miami incredible comeback in Game 6, and LeBron James’ ultimate Game 7, but the chess match that was engineered on a game to game basis between these two teams was just as exciting. The constant adjustments needed on both ends to even get a result where no team through six games had won consecutive contests was incredible to watch. It was an honor and a privilege to watch that basketball series for seven games, and I think we all, Miami fans excluded, wish that it could have gone at least seven more.

From the bottom of my heart and on behalf of all NBA fans, thank you to the Heat, Spurs, and NBA for giving us this series. It was, as Zach Harper and Tim Bontemps described on their Eye on Basketball podcast earlier this week, the equivalent of basketball porn. And thank you all for your constant support of us here at Hardwood Paroxysm throughout the season. It seems like just yesterday I was sitting in a Panera Bread at lunch putting the finishing touches on my 15 Footer game preview for October 30, the opening night of the year. Time flies when you’re having fun, and we had a whole lot of fun here over the past eight months. Can’t wait to do it again next year.

History in a Bottle

In which Jared and I try to comprehend Game 6. 

Jordan: Jared. Help me put into words what I saw Tuesday night. I’ve seen some pretty good games over the years. I was at the Chesapeake Arena when Kevin Durant and Kevin Love dueled into double overtime, each one answering the other’s three-pointer as if they were the easiest shots in the world.

As the lone Kansan at the University of Connecticut in 2008, I cried out in agony and later victory after KU improbably came back and won the National Championship (the same game, by the way, that injected now-Heat point guard Mario Chalmers with his inextinguishable confidence). I’ve watched Boston ride Ubuntu back from 24 points down, and I’ve seen the Mavericks ride Dirk Nowitzki’s flowing, golden luscious locks and his one-footed turnaround to a championship.
But Tuesday night…it almost defies explanation, or reason. You may think this to simply be me at my hyperbolic best, but I assure you, I am still mesmerized by game 6. So please. Tell me. What did I see?

Jared: WAIT. Were you AT all of those games? If you were, that’s pretty unbelievable. If you weren’t, well you just misled me you sunuvabitch.

Anyway, I honestly don’t know what we saw on Tuesday. It was mesmerizing. It was beautiful. It was just basketball, man. I can’t even pick out a “best” thing about the game. There’s just too much. Duncan’s first half. LeBron’s fourth quarter. Ray’s three. Parker’s three. The whole headband thing. Bosh’s block(s). For fuck’s sake I almost forgot about Kawhi’s dunk on Mike Miller in all the ridiculousness of the second half, and that literally made me jump off my seat when it happened.

It’s weird to know you’re watching history as it happens. Once the Heat started coming back and eventually tied the game and took the lead, the feeling that rushed over me was surreal. I knew I was watching the end of one of, if not the best game of my lifetime. I’m still not sure how to reconcile it. It seems to reactive to give it the top spot the day after, but I don’t know how else to convey the sheer awesomeness of what we watched. I actually don’t even know if watched is the best word for it; we – all of us watching – experienced it, together.

I said last night on Twitter I want to figure out a way to bottle the game up and distill it so I can get drunk off it the rest of my life, and I don’t at all feel like that’s a crazy thing to say. I want to bring a recording of that game with me wherever I go, so I can flick on the last 15 minutes at any point I want. Of all the games I’ve watched, this is one of the very few my favorite team hasn’t been a part of that gave me a feeling like that.

I guess that’s all a long-winded way of saying what you saw was a brilliant game of basketball between two ultra-talented teams that no one who watched it – whether in the arena or in the comfort of their home – will ever forget. Honestly, that’s part of why I wanted to do this. I want to get thoughts down on paper so when I go senile in 50-60 years, I have recorded proof that I definitely watched Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals.

Jordan: It’s not a crazy thing to say at all. But it’s not just the game that I want to bottle. As you said, this was something we experienced, not just watched. Try as we might, we can’t recreate that experience, which is just about the only bittersweet aspect of the entire game.

Tuesday’s game, to me, was a microcosm of the entire series. All along, these teams seemed to be so evenly matched. Even the blowouts never really felt like blowouts. Or, rather, they did, but it wasn’t one good team dominating another. Think about the major themes of this series so far, and how present they were in Game 6
Adjustments
It’s been a bonafide chess match (hi there, sports cliché!) between Erik Spoelstra and Gregg Popovich, two of the best tacticians in the game. Last night, in the first half, Duncan was terrorizing Miami’s defense, particularly Chris Bosh. Spoelstra adjusted, and Duncan’s brilliance faded. Likewise, the Heat tried some new misdirection plays, and the Spurs switched defensive tactics accordingly.
By that same token, however, we also saw adjustments that went wrong, the most glaring of which has to be Spoelstra re-inserting Wade when Miami’s offense was humming like a fine-tuned tank without him (I’m sure you have a few things to say on the subject). Then, there was Gregg Popovich maybe outthinking himself by taking out Duncan for the possession that led to Ray Allen’s game-tying three pointer.
Stars
Tim Duncan’s first half was a moment of brilliance. Methodical, calculated, dull brilliance. Duncan’s never been a flashy player, which I surmise may play a part in his longevity, but the lack of flash doesn’t make it any less of basketball artistry.
LeBron James’ fourth quarter was thrilling, captivating, and maybe even a little terrifying. He wasn’t cold and distant like game six against Boston last year. There was fire, no there was a fucking inferno roaring within James.
Manu and Wade have had one good game apiece in this series, and last night’s game showed us those good performances were the outliers.
NARRATIVES (proven, disproven and created)
Narrative: LeBron can’t do this on his own, he needs to give the ball to Wade.
Narrative: LeBron is a choker (this, for some reason, still persists)
Narrative: The Spurs are boring
Narrative: The Spurs don’t get enough attention or praise
Narrative: If Miami loses, this “experiment” was a failure
Narrative: This could be one of the best series of all time
I’m sure I’m missing quite a few themes, but these were the ones that stuck out the most. Maybe that’s why it’s still so hard to process this game. It was so packed from all angles – tactics, narratives, history and so forth – that we’re not even done fully experiencing it.

Jared:  I want to start with the Duncan/Bosh match-up, because the 180 from first half to second half was really amazing. Duncan played one of the great halves in basketball history in the first half of Game 6. It was truly spectacular – a throwback treat that, like most of the rest of the game, I will never forget. Duncan had largely had his way with Bosh in the post for most of the series (I’m pretty sure ESPN Stats & Information tweeted out at halftime that Duncan was shooting 62% against Bosh to that point in the series), but the first half was the first time he just eviscerated the guy. Bosh looked utterly helpless.

And then the second half started and somehow everything flipped. Bosh was everywhere. He was fronting the post with such tenacity, rotating like a mad man, blocking shots, snagging boards, playing passing lanes, darting out at pick and rolls, just doing it all. It was a marvel. One of the most dramatic half-to-half shifts in performance I’ve ever seen.

Speaking of dramatic shifts… let’s take a look at some numbers I tweeted last night courtesy of NBA.com/stats

1. LeBron was 5-17 [in Game 6] with Wade on the floor. 6-9 with Wade off the floor. -19 in 33 mins with Wade. +18 in 16 mins w/o Wade.

2. 7 restricted area shots in 16 w/o Wade minutes for LeBron. 3 in 33 minutes with Wade.

3. Heat O-Rtg [in Game 6] with LeBron + Wade on court: 92.0. Heat O-Rtg with LeBron + no Wade: 143.3

4. Oh and Heat D-Rtg [in Game 6] with LeBron + Wade on court: 112.2. Heat D-Rtg with LeBron + no Wade: 72.7

5. Let’s go for the full series now. O-Rtg/D-Rtg with LBJ/Wade: 100.8/112.7 … O-Rtg/D-Rtg with LBJ/NO Wade: 131.7/89.5

6. Full series LeBron with Wade: 35-90 (38.9%), 17-32 in RA. Without Wade: 20-37 (54.1%), 13-14 in RA. 194 min w/ Wade, -56. 62 min w/o, +48.

Yeah… D-Wade, not so much with the helping the team while sharing the court with LeBron. Look, obviously Spo is not just going to bench Wade for the entire game, nor should he. But the dude needs his minutes cut dramatically. The Spurs are ignoring him on the perimeter like he’s Tony Allen or Chris Duhon, for crying out loud. And the whole thing where the Heat run out of timeout plays for him has got to stop. No. Just no. I mean, I want the Spurs to win because Pat Riley is the antichrist, but for the sake of basketball, Spo needs to chill with that shit.

The LeBron-Miller-Allen trio with take your pick of Cole/Chalmers and Bosh/Birdman lineups need to get on the floor more. The spacing is worlds better, and in small samples, the defense is too. It’s just time. It’s not an indictment of Wade’s career that he isn’t the Wade he used to be. He’s clearly hurt. The Spurs clearly don’t respect his outside shot. His defense is hit-or-miss at best. It’s time for a change in tactics.

The tiny adjustments made by both coaches throughout the series have been fascinating. Miami abandoning traditional lineups to go small-ball full time resulted in the Spurs mostly doing the same, depending on how you categorize Boris Diaw. After a conference finals that included big-all-the-time teams in Memphis and Indiana, it’s interesting that the Finals have shifted back to wide open small ball. I love it. The “death of the center” stuff is overblown – they really just have different responsibilities now than they used to, both as a function of rule changes and style of play, but seeing both teams play perimeter oriented attacks for the back half of this series has been pretty awesome.

Speaking of, man did the Heat shut down San Antonio’s three point game last night, huh? Chris Bosh wasn’t lying when he said Danny Green wouldn’t be open. Green’s 1-7 performance and general disappearing act for much of the game may have permanently knocked him out of Finals MVP contention if the Spurs eventually win, which is crazy after the shooting display he put on in Games 1 thru 5.

As to your NARRATIVE NARRATIVE NARRTIVE BLAH BLAH BLAH point: I’m so happy that the game was so amazing that it knocked all the narrative bullshit on its ass. No one’s talking about who was clutch, who choked, any of that garbage. All everyone cares about was how freaking good the game was. I actually stopped taking notes at midway through the fourth quarter because I didn’t want to miss anything. Good lord it was fun.

 

Jordan: My point wasn’t that the narratives weren’t discussed, more that they were present. Narrative is good, it’s important. It creates intrigue and drama, taking the game above just a pure X’s and O’s analysis. Of course, not all narratives are created equal, nor do each of them hold equal weight. We saw as much last night.

The more concrete angles, such as this possibly being one of the best series of all time, were mostly proven right, while the other, tired and outright wrong ones, such as LeBron’s penchant to choke, were swiftly, as you so eloquently put it, knocked on their asses. What was so great about last night, and you touched on it, was that the story didn’t dominate the action. The game itself was theater enough, and all of those aforementioned sub-plots played out as the game wore on without us needing to continuously bring them up. So captivating was the game that the discussion rarely deviated from the action at hand.
Oh, and it wasn’t just San Antonio’s three point game Miami shut down last night. Tony Parker, in both the 4th quarter and overtime, was 2-of-8. Granted, those two makes were the two most important ones, but Parker was downright EXHAUSTED heading into the extra frame, (he missed all four of his attempts), and there’s little doubt that’s due to James’ physical play.
Another performance unfortunately overshadowed by both the loss and a missed free-throw: Kawhi Leonard. He has been phenomenal in the playoffs, on both ends of the floor. He struggled last night against James on defense, especially when the Heat went with their shooting line up, because he didn’t have any help when LeBron went down low. But he was the second best player on the Spurs last night, and maybe the third, at worst fourth, best player overall. He is the embodiment of the Spurs system and process, and yet another microcosm of a larger theme of this series.
One other thing I can’t believe we haven’t mentioned: Doris Burke has mastered the Pop interview.
Jared: So many people were talking about how LeBron would get tired guarding Parker that they overlooked how exhausting it is to be guarded by LeBron. TP looked like he was about to keel over by the end of the game. Being hounded into a 6-for-23 by the best player on the planet will do that to you.

And Kawhi, man. I don’t think enough can be said about how good that dude is. He’s just a Spur. That’s the best way to put it.
Re: Doris, she’s the best, isn’t she? She knows how to ask questions, which is more than you can say for a lot of the people “asking” “questions” in the post game pressers. And Pop always seems to actually give her answers, which is nice of him. How does she get so lucky?
Jordan: It’s because she knows the game, and I think Pop has a certain, yet still grudging, respect for those who know the game.

But back to basketball. Game 7 now looms large on the horizon. Will it live up to the drama of Game 6, or will it be more like Miami’s Game 5 victory in the finals last year, where the came was over after the first half. In a series that has given us everything from blow outs to nail biters, it’s impossible to know what to expect, much less what will happen. All we know is that, by the end of the night, we’ll have a new NBA champion crowned.
Regardless of what happens, we should consider ourselves lucky. Perfect moments, and in this case, perfect games, are rare in life. We got one on Tuesday night.
Photo by tom.keil via Flickr

The Headband, and Other Stories

I’m still trying to process the nirvana we all witnessed last night. For now, here are just a few thoughts. 

Tim Duncan, long-overdue for even a good game after an overall disappointing series, was superb in the first half, shooting 11-of-13, including a perfect 6-of-6 in the first quarter. He didn’t so much turn back the clock as he did perform his greatest hits: a bank shot just below the elbow, a turnaround hook, even an opportunistic dunk after Tony Parker sucked in three defenders at the rim. However, it was not to last. Bosh, the most frequent student of Duncan’s harsh tutelage, played terrific defense on Duncan in the second half, both fronting him and playing him extremely well in one-on-one situations.

When a star turns in such a performance in a loss, there’s a tendency to cry that the team wasted that player’s effort. Maybe, sometimes, that holds true, if that player was the only one on the team producing anything of substance. This was not the case here, as Kawhi Leonard, with his 22 points and 11 rebounds, and Tony Parker (also mostly ineffective after the first half, save for the last twenty or so seconds of the game), also put up valiant efforts. It’s a shame San Antonio couldn’t capitalize on one of Duncan’s finest finals performances, especially when the game seemed to be firmly in their grasp, but it’s a stretch to say it was a wasted effort.

The last minute or so of the game was one of the most exciting periods of basketball of the entire season. Threes abound, from LeBron’s second-chance, to Tony Parker’s prayer answered and Ray Allen’s we-should-have-expected-that-but-it-was-still-incredible shot.

Poor Kawhi Leonard.

Spoelstra opted to re-insert Dwyane Wade, despite the overwhelming success of the Wade-less lineup that instantly improved the spacing and was critical to the Heat’s comeback. And while Wade’s defense disrupted San Antonio’s offense, heading off cutters and denying passing lanes, his offense disrupted that of his own team. Spoelstra, in all likelihood, is well aware of Dwyane Wade’s on/off numbers. Obsessed with the minutiae and details, Spoelstra knows that, for the series, with LeBron and Wade on the court together, the Heat’s offensive and defensive rating  is 100.8 and 112.7. He likewise knows that with LeBron on the court and Wade off, the offensive rating shoots to 131.7 while the defensive rating plummets to 89.5. Yet that knowledge does not eradicate all emotions. We praised Popovich for having the necessary detachment to leave Duncan on the bench in a crucial moment against the Warriors, but I don’t think we fully understand just how tough it is to do that to not only a star, but a star whom a coach has grown with, just as Spoelstra has grown with Wade. The numbers may have said to leave Wade on the bench, and it was likely the best strategy. But numbers, for better or for worse, don’t always guide decisions.

This was the second game six in which LeBron dazzled and destroyed, each performance defined by a single word. In Boston, it was The Stare, the usually exuberant LeBron seemingly vacant of all emotion. Last night, it was The Headband, and by eschewing his signature accessory, James eschewed any and all final links to the LeBron of the past. No longer un-clutch. No longer unafraid. The headband was a prison, long ago adorned by James, for fear that neither he nor the rest of the world could handle his awesome power. But fear would not rule LeBron, not this day. OK, it probably had more to do with the fact that there was a really important game going on and he couldn’t care less about a piece of fabric.

Still, while the loss of his headband didn’t unlock some heretofore untapped power, that it almost perfectly coincided with the Heat’s miraculous comeback will certainly shape the legacy (sorry, Derek) of this game. This is not something to bemoan. So many of any sport’s iconic games or performances are fondly recalled by a word or a phrase: The Flu Game, The Hand of God, The Catch, The Bloody Sock, and now, The Headband.

This is what we wanted.

This is what we hoped and wished and begged and prayed and pleaded for: seven games of this magnificent match-up. And there could not have been a more perfect set-up to usher us in to Thursday night’s finale than last night’s instant masterpiece.

 

 

 

Legacy: The New “L” Word

Photo courtesy of  JP FRENAY/Flickr

Before game four of these 2013 NBA Finals, the question was posed to me on Twitter if this was a make-or-break game for the legacy of LeBron James. The question struck me as peculiar since basketball is a team game and it’s incredibly difficult-if-not-impossible for one player to carry a team and odd that one game could override a larger body of work. On the surface, LeBron’s 39% shooting percentage in games one through three — a likely result of the Spurs’ defensive effort — was worthy of an eyebrow raise. However, whether it was his 12.3 rebounds per game, 6.3 assists per game or 2.0 turnovers per game in that stretch,  LeBron found other ways to contribute to the team while he tried to find his rhythm.

And this one game was supposed to define LeBron’s career from this point on, overriding four MVP awards in five years, three consecutive Finals appearances (which very well could be four appearances in five years dating back to Cleveland), and a championship? I don’t think so.

The truth is that when the Heat have lost games in these Finals (save for game one) they’ve been careless with the ball, gotten beat on the boards and left shooters open. When they’ve won, they’ve protected the ball, rebounded, and got to the line– all things that help you control the flow of a game. The bigger determinant of the Heat’s success in these Finals has not been whether or not LeBron has been good enough, but whether or not the team as a whole is willing to do the little things like exert the effort to crash the glass, make the proper defensive rotation or focused enough to cut down on careless turnovers.

At any rate, how did our protagonist/antagonist fare in his big legacy game? Oh, 33 points, 11 rebounds and four assists with just two turnovers on 60 percent shooting. It’s funny because even though many would have viewed a poor performance in this game as a stain on his legacy, there was no widespread clamoring that his legacy was now given a boost for his performance. Perhaps this meant that it had no effect on it and something that his critics would feel is something he should always do, making his showing something to be expected. Which in some ways is an odd form of roundabout praise masquerading as absurdly high standards of near-perfection because they’re still acknowledging LeBron as a great player.

Alternatively, LeBron’s “legacy” is likely no different than any other great player in the history of the league in that he’s needed help from his team to put them over the top. We’ve seen this happen all throughout history how great teams need their role players to step up from time-to-time, just as Rick Barry told me last week. The Spurs are no exception to this as they called on Boris Diaw in game five to successfully defend the best player in the league or have leaned on Danny Green while Manu Ginobili has slumped, who has emerged as a legitimate front-runner for Finals MVP. That’s right; not Tim Duncan or Tony Parker, but Danny Green! And Green is really the next in the line of role players such as Steve Kerr, Robert Horry, and even Shane Battier last year who stepped up when their team needed them to.

I play the game because I love it. I love the competitive side of it. Once I’m done, you know, you guys will write my legacy and say what I’ve done for this game, but that’s not for me to worry about right now.

LeBron James – FoxSports.com (6/5/13) 

The only way this legacy thing really matters anyway is if it matters to the players, which it doesn’t. LeBron admitted as much before the Finals and he’s not the first player to come out and say so. As fans we like to believe that these things matter as much to the players we attempt to rank, but they don’t. They speak the same things about enjoying playing the game and competing rather than worrying about their place in history. While analyzing the game is a part of the fun, overanalyziation takes away from our ability to appreciate what we see from great teams and players while we’re still able to watch them. Maybe that’s where we should take a cue from them to sit back, relax, and just enjoy the game ourselves. If we’re able to do this tonight, we’ll be able to truly appreciate the Spurs adding another championship to one of the greatest extended runs in NBA history and a great team digging deep to save their season should the Heat claim victory.

Inside Tim Duncan’s Halftime Buzzer Beater

A brief peek into the mind of Tim Duncan with .8 seconds remaining in the first half of Game 1:

“…seriously, though, it’s ridiculous how badly druids were nerfed in the last patch. Blizzard is out of their minds. Boris, are you even listening to me? Blizzard is a French owned company. This matters to you, too. … S’that, Pop? …with less than a second remaining? Sure. What’s the play? Must be like a lob or a pindown or something, right?”

Trust the process.

Create space. Give Tony room to get you the ball. Laugh at Joel Anthony. Seriously, Joel Anthony? Is Erik Spoelstra trying to play a joke on me?

Okay, focus. Wade’s here, too. He’s pesky. Probably won’t affect the shot too much, but he stands to have a bigger impact than Joel F—ing Anth — I said focus, Tim!

Why am I even thinking about these guys, anyway? Trust the process. Set your feet. Square your shoulders. Bend your knees. Get at least 6 inches of lift on the “jumper,” or Tony’s going to give you so much s— about being 50 or some other s— after the game. Trust the process. It’s just math. .8 seconds is plenty of time to make the catch and shoot, as long as you trust the process. No hesitation. No fear.

Heh, remember No Fear? Man, I think I still have a dozen of their shirts in the closet at Pop’s super secret lake house. Love fishing there. Pop’s got the biggest cache of C4 from his military days and man, it’s hilarious watching Patty Mills swim around after the detonation, gathering nature’s flash-charred bounty in his mouth. He loves it.

Oh, neat. We scored. Someone must have trusted the process. Wonder if Pop will let me run a 5-man dungeon at halftime.

Maybe I’ll invite Joel Anthony. Dude probably plays a hunter.

Image by ceoln via Flickr

RTOE: Game 1 reactions!

Game 1 happened! It was awesome! Amin, Ian, Jack, Jared, and Jordan wanted to talk about it! RTOE ahoy!

1. In 10 words, what’d you think of the game last night?

Amin: It made watching bad teams for 82 games worth it.

Ian: Everything I wanted and more, filler, filler, filler, filler, ten!

Jack: These teams are fantastic and this series will be, too.

Jared: Tony Parker: good at basketball. The series is not over.

Jordan: Basketball gods, please give us six more games of that

2. Please describe, in as vivid detail as possible, your reaction to Tony Parker’s game-winning shot.

Amin: “HOLY [EXPLETIVE] HE MADE THAT????”

Ian: Dulled by red wine and the Eastern Standard Time Zone, it still merited a pretty significant snort of surprise.

Jack: I snorted.  Or chuckled.  Perhaps it’s best described as some combination of a scoff and laugh, actually.  What great defense when Miami absolutely needed it, and what an even greater shot when San Antonio had the chance to put the game away.  Still, I wasn’t surprised.  That’s the brilliance of Parker in a nutshell.

Jared:

Jordan: No. Instead, I shall give you my father’s reaction: *Dad jumps out of his chair* “WHOOOOOOOOOA”

3. LeBron had 18/18/10. Holy crap.

Amin: I don’t understand how someone can so understatedly dominate the way he did. Eighteen rebounds and ten assists? Great googily moogily.

Ian: It’s an impressive line, but watching him accumulate it wasn’t nearly as impressive as it would seem. The curse of being the best is the accompanying absurd expectations.

Jack: Ridiculous.  No disrespect to Parker or Duncan, but LeBron was far and away the best player on the floor last night.  And he shot 1-8 from outside the basket area! That’s as true a testament to his dominance as anything else, and one of the main reasons why this series is still a 50/50 bet.  Simply, he can be better going forward – it’s a make or miss league, remember? – and he will.

Jared: It’s ridiculous that we’re probably going to spend the better part of the next few days listening to garbage about whether or not he was too passive rather than talking about how he became one of only 7 players to put up those numbers in a playoff game, and the first since Tim Duncan in 2003 to do it in the Finals.

Jordan: BUT HE DIDN’T WIN TEH GAME BECUZ HE’S A CHOKER. Seriously, though, that’s just ridiculous

4. Dwyane Wade was alive last night. That was fun.

Amin: I especially appreciated Doris Burke asking him right before the half something along the lines of “so how much of your play so far has been shots falling vs. your body cooperating?” We’re at a weird place in our NBA-watching lives when reporters are rightfully allowed to ask players about their waning health and the players don’t even bat an eye because it’s true. But as has been the case throughout these playoffs, coulda used a bit more Wade.

Ian: I prefer the hobbled, limping version serving metaphorical penance for the tracks that were laid for him straight to the free throw line in the 2006 Finals. Ball Don’t Lie.

Jack: Wade was active and energetic offensively, but I’m not sure his solid individual numbers paint an accurate portrayal of his impact.  All too often he pounded the ball after receiving a high screen, getting the Heat out of rhythm and rendering LeBron spot-up bystander.  That won’t be good enough against the Spurs, as Wade’s team-worst plus/minus (-11) properly indicates.

Jared: Was he? 17 points on 15 shots, 2 rebounds, 2 assists. I didn’t really “feel” like he had a huge impact on the game, either.

Jordan: That was fun! And I’m sure LeBron appreciated the help. Now, Miami hopes Wade can keep that production up.

5. Duncan’s halftime buzzer-beater or Manu’s curveball bouncepass to Bonner: which made you feel more like you wanted to be a basketball player when you grow up?

Amin: While Ginobili’s pass was something I still can’t comprehend, Duncan’s shot was so nuts to me. There were 0.8 seconds left in the half, and he got the ball off the inbounds pass, created space, took the jumper, nailed it, never broke a sweat. It was the moment when I knew, for a fact, he was an automaton.

Ian: Curveball. Even Pedro Martinez thought it was ridiculous.

Jack: Curveball, but I was just as impressed by several seemingly more routine passes Manu made last night.  Miami’s aggressive pick-and-roll defensively strategy will give Ginobili ample opportunities to show off his passing flair.  What a joy to watch.

Jared: Manu’s bounce pass. That thing was inhuman.

Jordan: curveball curveball curveball curveball. Oh my god I needed a cigarette and a change of pan–too much? Too much.

6. After last night, the Big 3-era Heat have now lost four Game 1s in the playoffs. They have gone on to sweep the following 4 games. Do you see that happening in this series?

Amin: I have zero clue how to factor last night’s game as some sort of projection point. Certainly, the Spurs outplayed the Heat down the stretch. Part of that was due to Duncan checking in right as LeBron checked out. They made up for some lost ground there, and the Spurs never ceded it. Assuming Wade plays with the same level of energy through the whole series, and assuming that Kawhi Leonard will eventually make another corner three sometime before the world ends, the Spurs are not getting run over in 4 consecutive games.

Ian: No, and also no.

Jack: No way.  This series is going six games at least, and we should all hope for longer.  It might be a classic.

Jared: No. This is going 7.

Jordan: Absolutely not. This is going to be a long, terrific series.

What is Tiago Splitter

There are few other teams, if any, that affect our view of a player when they’re acquired by a team than the San Antonio Spurs. For over a decade we’ve seen the Spurs pluck valuable role players out of the bottom of the first round of the draft and salvage reclamation projects other teams didn’t know what to do with. We assume that these players are quote-unquote fundamentally sound and do all the little things while playing within the team concept. They may not all be great, but the rest of us non-Spurs fans wish our team operated similarly. We’ve seen it with Luis Scola, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, George Hill, and even Tiago Splitter.

But what do we really know about Splitter? It feels like he’s widely presumed to be a good player because he’s a Spur and that our perception of him has more to do with how much we revere his team than Splitter himself. And with Splitter set to become a restricted free agent, someone in need of a center is likely going to make a serious run at him this summer. Because of this, let’s take a look at two ways to view Splitter.

What is Tiago Splitter? Tiago Splitter is an Unsung Hero, Damn’t! 

Tiago Splitter is next in a long line of savvy moves by the Spurs. First off, he’s a valuable cog in the Spurs’ offense, exhibiting a nice two-man game with Manu Ginobili and works with Tony Parker to form a formidable pick ‘n’ roll duo. In fact, Splitter posted a 1.27 mark in points per possession (PPP) in pick ‘n’ roll man situations according to MySynergySports.com, good for 11th overall in the entire NBA. Furthermore, Splitter posted an impressive 60% True Shooting Percentage this season with average usage and turnover rates. And even though he plays frequently next to Tim Duncan, he’s managed to average a 15.3% Rebounding Rate for his career, helping the Spurs get second chance points and control the tempo of the game.

Defensively, Splitter is a terrific low post defender. Last season he was posted up 35.7% of the time and still managed to post a 0.64 PPP, good for 15th in the league. Seriously, why aren’t we talking more about Tiago and how the Spurs need to retain him since he clearly makes Duncan’s life on the block much easier. His 3.5 Defensive Win Shares and a Defensive Rating that has gone down every year he’s been in the league really don’t lie, either.

Tiago Splitter is a big reason the Spurs have been able to finally return to the NBA Finals following a six year absence where they have typically run out of gas in the conference finals. He’s been the secret ingredient that makes everything go for the Spurs and a big question this offseason will be if they will be able to keep him around to continue making these runs. The Spurs have done it again, I tell ya.

What is Tiago Splitter? Tiago Splitter a Menace! 

A hero? Don’t fool yourself– Tiago Splitter  is a menace and he must be stopped. This blind reverence towards the Spurs needs to stop because not everything they have done has been as perfect as people make it out to be, Splitter included.

You may be tempted to fawn over Splitter’s 18.7 PER this season, but you have to remember that Anthony Randolph once posted a 17.6 PER not that long ago and you don’t see anyone praising his brilliance. You know why he’s so efficient on offense? He took 417 shots at the rim, made 68.3% and was assisted on 81.7% of those makes. And do you know what he shot from three-feet-and-out? .285 on 189 attempts. As a player who is just under 7-feet tall, you would hope that he would be able to score at the rim, but his inability to do much else anywhere else makes him rather one-dimensional on offense. If he can’t shoot, you think he’d be able to post up, but he posted a 0.86 PPP on Post-Ups this season, which is below-average.

See, his offensive production comes in part  from being big and underneath the basket, and if it weren’t for Parker’s ability to draw defenders while driving in the lane or Duncan’s excellent offensive spacing, you could remove the “almost” caveat at the beginning of this sentence. Playing with Hall of Famers really makes your life easy, huh?

I can’t argue with his PPP in defensive post-ups this season, but I can argue with just about every other part of his game defensively. You can’t mention his Defensive Rating without pointing out that he often shares the court with Duncan and Leonard– two good defenders who positively affect his defensive rating as well. It’s not that he’s a bad defender; he’s just closer to being average than elite. This would be an entirely different story if opposing teams ran post-ups on him every possession, but that’s never going to happen.

So, which one of the above is Splitter? Likely somewhere in between. He’s a center with limited range that works well in the pick “n” roll and finishes very well at the rim, but will likely never be a featured center in an offense since he’s 28 and therefore the room for further development is shrinking. Defensively, he can defend an opponent’s best attempts to post up quite well, but is perfectly average just about everywhere else, which is still more than you can say for a lot of players. With Duncan, Parker, Ginobili, and Kawhi Leonard, Tiago Splitter works as their complementary center in the starting lineup. As Aaron McGuire of Gothic Ginobili told me, Splitter is opportunistic in that he can catch his man off guard and was intelligent enough to develop a synchronicity with the Spurs’ best players from the get-go. Who knows how he would fare outside of the Spurs’ system where he might be asked to do more than he’s capable of, but those limitations are well-hidden in San Antonio. In fact, the Spurs’ ability to hide those weaknesses and accentuate his strengths where other teams might not is a very Spurs thing to do.

Thanks to Aaron McGuire  of Gothic Ginobili for his input on this piece. Clearly Aaron knows more than the average person should know about Tiago Splitter, but I’m grateful for that. Be sure to check out his site and follow him on Twitter: @docrostov. 

Playbook Parable: Manu Ginobili/Tim Duncan Side Pick and Roll

“Can I tell you something?”

“Yeah. Of course.”

She stares at me. Not a harsh, stabbing stare of anger or accusation, she just wants to make sure I’m paying attention. How could I not? Every time she fixes those hazel tractor beams on me, I’m paralyzed. The world around me—the soft breeze, the gnarled wooden dock we’re sitting on, the still lake that’s slowly freezing our naked feet—melts. The only thing left, the only thing that matters, is her.

She bites her lip. She always does that when she’s trying to find the exact words.

“I used to think you were so fucking boring.”

The words leave her in a hurry, as if they’ve been trying to escape for years and she’s only now granting their release. An eternal moment passes. She breaks her stare, and the world returns. Now she’s looking down at her feet. She always does that when she thinks she’s upset me.

“Boring?” I ask, not upset, just surprised.

“Just… you drank water when everyone else was taking shots.” She stops. She swears silently; that wasn’t what she wanted to say. “We were young, we did stupid stuff. We drank and smoked and hooked up and had sex, the stuff you’re supposed to do when you’re young. But you never did. You were old even when you were young.”

“And that’s bad?”

“No. I never said it was bad. Honestly, it’s what made you great. You were reliable, dependable. You were always there and you could always be counted on. But it also made you so damn boring.”

A silence surrounds us. I’m still staring where her eyes held me.

“Well, if I’m boring you, maybe I should go.” I put my hands on the aged wood, about to push myself up. I’m faking, of course, and she knows that.

“Shut up,” she says with a smile, kicking water onto my shorts. “I said ‘used to.’ I’m older, now. Being stupid and wild and out of control isn’t fun anymore. But you’ve changed too. I’ve never seen you more active, or laugh harder, or, fuck, just enjoy life as much as you do. You’re older, but I think, maybe, you’re also younger.”

“Maybe we’ve both changed.”

The stare returns, and once again the world fades.

Video support provided by NBA.com/stats

Ed. note: Inspiration for this post/series comes from the terrific music blog Said The Gramophone

 

Tim Duncan’s Birthday Bash

Size was supposed to be the one area in which the Lakers had a modicum of advantage against the Spurs. Dwight Howard, though still not the Dwight Howard of Orlando, at least began to approach his perviously superhuman form. Combined with Pau Gasol, who returned from his injury in surprisingly good shape and formed a nice chemistry with Howard over the past month, the Lakers seemed poised to at least give the Spurs trouble up front.

Then the playoffs started, and while the Lakers are shooting 76% in the restricted area per NBA.com, any potential advantage granted by their size has been negated by the brilliance of the San Antonio Spurs, and especially Tim Duncan.

Last night, Tim Duncan celebrated his 37th birthday in style by playing the best game of the series, scoring 26 points on 12-of-16 shooting to go with nine rebounds, three assists and a steal and a block. Duncan also continued his series-long abuse of Pau Gasol on offense, as the Spaniard has been completely hopeless defending him.

Gasol is familiar with Duncan. He knows his moves, his sweet spots, and his tendencies. None of that knowledge, however, has worked to Gasol’s advantage so far, as Duncan does such a good job of mixing up his shots from possession to possession that Gasol can only guess as to what Duncan will do next. It’s a mind game Duncan plays with Gasol, one which the Spaniard frequently loses.

On the Spurs’ opening play of the third quarter, Danny Green gets the ball to Duncan on the left block, with Gasol on his back. Duncan turns and faces up Gasol, and thus the game begins. First, Duncan jab steps, causing Gasol to rock back a bit, lower his hands, and play the drive. Duncan then pump-fakes, which gets Gasol in the air, freeing up a driving lane for Duncan. All Gasol can do is watch as Duncan blows by him, gets the basket, and draws the foul.

On the very next possession, in a bout of deja vu, Duncan and Gasol find themselves in the same situation. Duncan once again turns and jabs, but this time Gasol maintains his balance and position. Excellent, Duncan thinks, as he simply shoots over Gasol and sinks the jumper.

Further hindering Gasol’s ability to defend Duncan, as well as the Lakers’ ability to defend the Spurs overall, is the Lakers’ awful communication on defense. It’s an issue that’s plagued the team for the entire season, and has done so especially against the crisp, precise execution of the Spurs. Perfectly encapsulating this issue is last night’s alley-oop play to Tim Duncan.

The play really starts with Duncan just to the right of the top of the arc. Tony Parker, who has just given Duncan the ball, is running to the right corner while Danny Green crosses from the right corner to the left.

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Tiago Splitter sets a screen on Metta World Peace, momentarily freeing up Kawhi Leonard, after which Splitter pops up to the elbow to receive a pass from Dunacn. Already, we can see the beginnings of defensive issues for Los Angeles. Andrew Goudelock, who was guarding Danny Green, took a wayward and lazy route in trailing Green to the opposite corner. If Duncan had wanted, he could have easily hit Green with a pass in the corner.

Screen Shot 2013-04-27 at 3.20.22 PM

Instead, Duncan passes to Splitter just below the arc, and here’s where the Lakers defense really breaks down. Leonard sets a back screen on Gasol, which World Peace fails to call out. Gasol turns and runs right into Leonard’s screen, giving Tim Duncan a direct lane to the basket. Dwight Howard…well I have no idea what Dwight Howard is doing.

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Danny Green, who received the ball from Splitter, sees Duncan streaking to the rim and hoists a perfect lob straight to him, which Duncan finishes in style. Gasol, because of Leonard’s screen, and because of the subsequent path he takes to try and cover Duncan, has no chance to stop this lob.

The Lakers may have size, but their lack of cohesion and communication on defense does that size little good. As the Spurs and Tim Duncan have shown, it’s not the size that counts, it’s how you use it.

Gif courtesy of @CJZero

Gif courtesy of @CJZero

Statistical and video support provided by NBA.com

The Missing Interior Narrative of Tim Duncan

Here’s a guest post by Spencer Lund. It’s really good, so you should read it. Here’s a little bit about the author: Spencer enjoys smoking Camel Lights and mainlining greasy cheeseburgers and burritos. He’s a big fan of Emily Dickinson’s slant rhyme, and is currently choosing which William Blake relief etch to tattoo on his back.  You can find him around the web elsewhere, or just making basketball gifs.

In my younger days, I only read male authors. I am male (as are the majority of the readers of this site, I’d guess), and like all kids who start reading early, I sought to understand my own sense of self in the words of others like me. After a while, this inadvertent misogyny of POV was called out by a mother, who has no shame in telling strangers she burned some bras back in the day. So, much later in life than I’d have liked, I started to incorporate female authors into my personal syllabus. I do not enjoy the anachronistic gossip of Jane Austen, though George Eliot can be immersive; I dug the polemics of Mary Wollstonecraft, but they were still unrelated to contemporary society. Frankenstein might be the greatest novella ever conceived, but again, I was left looking for something more modern. I read some Joan Didion essays too, but then came Alice Munro and I had discovered what I was looking for: Her protagonists were female of course, but their interior thoughts and inferences were educational when combined with their actions, which is all I’d ever experienced of women. Her imagery too is placed in the murky-skied Canadian hinterland of Munro’s home in Ontario, and it’s similar to my youth as a Rust Belter from Western New York. But the best parts were the hidden snapshots of lives I’d never known. Lifetimes I could picture matching up with real women whose internal orbit I’d remained cut off from. Seeking to understand people different from you is a good thing, but when my curiosity about a person’s thoughts transfers to a specific athlete, that can be a problem.

Munro’s short stories also made me think a lot about Tim Duncan. He’s as internalized an NBA Hall of Famer as we’re ever likely to see again in this day of social media interaction; where knowing so much–too much–information about the individuals who comprise a basketball team, sometimes makes the games themselves feel like an afterthought. The games aren’t trivial to Timmy or the rest of the Spurs crew, they’re the focal point of their existence as basketball players. So maybe that’s why for every Duncan anecdote relayed in the pages of the Express News or a rare Chris Ballard profile, it feels like a passage from a Munro short story. Duncan is a private man, and so are the women Munro writes about and inhabits to tell her stories. Her stories are windows into her character’s souls, and in the case of Duncan, these rarely published vignettes about his personal life are a reminder that there’s a complex set of neurons firing behind the placid expression of Duncan’s game face.

The Spurs are at the top of the Western Conference yet again this year. They seem to have been at the top of the Western Conference since before I could fathom life outside my own corporeal existence. Despite the delirious affect the Miami Heat’s consecutive wins streak has catalyzed among the NBA basketball Illuminati we follow on Twitter, the Spurs have continued to play and win despite an aging Duncan, an injured Manu and Tony, and a cast of imports, both foreign and domestic, that comprise the well-oiled basketball Borg that is the Spurs. The Heat won 27 games in-a-row, but the Spurs have just two more losses and two less wins on the season as of this writing. It’s because before Miami decided to give a crap about defense during regular season games, the Spurs were plugging away, running over their opponents with crisp passing and the vocal defensive communication that’s been their hallmark since Timmy and Popovich took that magical swim in the Hippocrene waters off St. Croix all those years ago.

Aside from the slapdash antics of the “trill”-iest Spur of the last decade, Stephen Jackson, the Spurs remain an enigma of soft shadows on the hardwood and impersonal machinery off. There is a reason they are the Borg. Sure, Tony Paker was married to a network television star, and he was hit in the face with a bottle in the middle of a juvenile (but not Juvenile) rap beef at a Chelsea nightclub during the off-season, but for the most part the Spurs don’t make headlines for their personal lives. Or even really for their professional ones as their dynastic rule continues unabated by time or circumstance. Casual basketball fans probably don’t care, but for those of us who think about the game an unhealthy amount, we’re left to wonder about the secrets of R.C. Buford and Popovich (unless Jonathan Abrams is around). They seem to know something everyone else doesn’t, and we want in. Like a “simple” wife (a misnomer if I’ve ever written one) in a nondescript Canadian household in the 1970’s, which Munro writes about with such clarity and insight, the Spurs–and by extension Duncan–are so much more than meets the eye. The mechanisms behind their seemingly mundane existence are a chimera; I could be talking about Duncan or a Munro protagonist when I write that. Both possess multiple layers of texture, which appear at once smooth, but with soft ripples of nuance and meaning our tactile minds miss.

In a lot of ways, Tim Duncan best represents this void that permeates the Spurs franchise. His countenance itself is basically an extension of Larry Bird after Reggie’s game-winner, and we grapple with the mystery of what he’s thinking while hoping he’ll write a book when he retires to pull back the curtain a bit. Maybe there’s nothing there, but like a Munro character, that’s just a mask because all of us have meanings larger than what we show externally. Whether we hide the truth through a sturdy resolve to keep our marriage, like Meriel in “What is Remembered.” Or it’s left unsaid because the exigency of an imagined future requires us to give up something we’d have rather kept in the present. Like Lorna’s pleading deal with God to save her children the site of Polly’s corpse in an imagined suicide that Lionel’s presence negates, thus fulfilling Lorna’s unsaid arrangement at the end of “Post and Beam.” I have no idea why Duncan isn’t more giving of himself in a time when NBA players are all too happy to share their personal thoughts on Twitter or elsewhere. But the more I watch him on the court, and fail to see anything of substance from him in my RSS feed, I become more curious about why. The regal way he stays above the fray is so odd in this day and age.

Wishing for more Duncan insight just perpetuates the over-sharing that’s become commonplace for every AAU star that rises through the ranks of the American basketball hierarchy in the public eye. Maybe we should just enjoy him on the court and leave the rest to the beat reporters who can no longer afford to JFK-it to themselves. Maybe Tim Duncan realized long ago that what he does in his spare time was none of our business, and so he kept a wall of clichés up. Maybe that’s the secret hand the Spurs and Duncan have kept face down during all these years of winning. Maybe he’s just a dad, a husband and sometimes the best power forward who ever walked the earth. Maybe I don’t need to learn who he is outside of basketball like I did with the women in Alice Munro’s short stories.

Those stories make me a better, more well-rounded man (if you’re like me and think fiction can teach you things about real life), but maybe Tim Duncan’s basketball brilliance isn’t endogenous, and I should stop hoping for some overt sign of who he is off the court. He’s a real person, not a fictional character, and he’s made it pretty clear that part of his life isn’t for mass consumption. I need to respect that and simply marvel at that which he does show the world: the methodical 15-foot bank shot, that old drop-step when the defender overcommits to the middle, when he contests an opponent’s jumper in the lane after a switch on a pick and roll. These moments are no less interesting simply because I can’t find some foundational element to rest them on. Seeking to understand women through the short stories of Alice Munro is important (to me at least), but striving to comprehend a real individual simply because they’ve played a game at an unusually high level for more than a decade is voyeuristic and superficial. So I’ll stop hoping for more and just watch what Tim Duncan does on the court without the slightest understanding as to why he is the way he is.

But if he ever wants to share, I’ll certainly listen.