The Spurs’ season is over, and it’s time to ask the question that it feels like we’ve been asking all our lives: What’s going to happen to Tim Duncan?
Duncan’s been rendering that question moot for years now, simply by being more consistently productive than a big man over the age of 35 has any business being. The answer was simple in 2014, when the 38-year-old Duncan helped lead his team to a championship by playing 32 minutes a game and averaging 16 points and nine rebounds throughout the playoffs. It was even simpler at the end of last season, when the old man played 35 minutes a night against the Clippers in the first round, slapping them with 17 points and 11 rebounds per game.
The answer isn’t so clear this morning, a day after Duncan wrapped up the least-productive regular season and playoff run of his career. Duncan played just 25 minutes a game in the regular season, but all that rest didn’t bring about his usual postseason surge. He was a non-factor in both of the Spurs’ series, playing just over 21 minutes a game while scoring five points and grabbing four rebounds per contest. More than that, there were multiple occasions during the series against the Thunder in which he looked, well, old. That’s no great shame for a 40-year-old man who has been playing at a high level for 19 seasons, but it does mark the first instance in which the league seems to have passed Duncan by.
Duncan didn’t have anything to say about his future after last night’s game, telling reporters, “I’ll get to that after I get out of here and figure life out.” Head coach Gregg Popovich was similarly cagey during his press conference, bristling at a reporter who tried to bring up the possibility of Duncan retiring:
If you’re looking for any hint about whether you just watched Tim Duncan play the last game of his career, Popovich may have offered one during the game itself. At the start of the fourth quarter, with the Spurs down by 26, Pop was seen talking to Duncan on the bench. Popovich wouldn’t reveal what that conversation was about, and Duncan answered coyly—“We had a conversation. He asked me if I wanted to play, and I told him I always want to play...”—but it’s hard not to make something out of the fact that Duncan went on to play every minute of the fourth.
If that quarter was Duncan’s farewell lap, it was a fitting one. He scored six points, helped his team cut the deficit to 11, and finished the game with 19 points and five rebounds. It was just the sixth time all year that he scored more than 15 points in a game.