|Is this how it ends?|
Let me preface this column by saying the following: Tim Duncan is one of my top 3 favorite players of all time. He's right there with Dominique Wilkins and Dirk Nowitzki. I started liking Duncan when I was in high school and he was still at Wake Forest. The reason Duncan became my favorite player was the fact that he was successful playing the game the right way, using a tremendous set of fundamentals rather than just relying on athleticism, thus garnering the nickname "The Big Fundamental." I modeled my game after Duncan's due to my lack of athleticism when compared to other post players I faced.
It hurts me to say this, but after watching this opening series against Memphis, I'm afraid Duncan has reached the twilight of being a force in the NBA. Check these highlights from Game 4 last night and watch the play at 1:43. Tim Duncan gets out muscled and out hustled by Marc Gasol.
My jaw dropped when I saw that play live. I even said something about it to my wife, knowing she couldn't care less, but I was so stunned and sad. Tim Duncan has never been one to be outworked, but he has been outworked all series, as have the rest of the Spurs, against a much more athletic, young and hungry group of Grizzlies. I, like many, thought Game 1 was a fluke, but it's clearly obvious the Grizzlies are just better than the Spurs and will win the series.
So far in the playoffs, Duncan is averaging 12 points and 10 rebounds per game, a far cry from his dominating performances during the Spurs' championship runs, where 20+ point, 20+ rebound games were the norm. I don't think it's a matter of heart; no one will ever question Tim Duncan's desire. It's a matter of ability.
It will be interesting to see what happens over the next couple of years. Will Duncan try to hang on, like Shaq (and Brett Favre), and be a mediocre role player, or will he realize his best days are behind him and ride off into the sunset a winner (John Elway)?
Either way, Duncan is one of the 10 greatest centers of all time and a first ballot Hall of Famer. It's sad to watch when he can no longer perform up to his and fans expectations.