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Tim Duncan’s Spurs Career in “A Moon Shaped Pool”

Duncan made the playoffs in all of his 19 seasons with the San Antonio Spurs. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

Duncan made the playoffs in all of his 19 seasons with the San Antonio Spurs. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

Today is Tim Duncan Day because the mayor of San Antonio said so. I’d like to wish you a “Happy Tim Duncan Day!” but the reality is that this first Tim Duncan Day has to be a somber Tim Duncan Day. Because Tim Duncan is gone. He actually, literally might be gone. When was the last time anyone saw him? Until you find proof that he’s still among the living, I’m going to assume that he disappeared à la Obi Wan Kenobi in A New Hope shortly after his retirement interview last week.

But his memory will live on forever, as many great writers have already pointed out. I will not be one of those writers. This Duncan tribute piece – if you can even call it that – is about how his career’s final act perfectly intersects with the release of Radiohead’s ninth studio album, A Moon Shaped Pool.

First, some history, because maybe that will help explain how I came up with this idea…

I woke up at 8:15 am on Sunday, May 8th, 2016 with a splitting headache and all my clothes on, sideways on a queen-size bed in the Extended Stay of Dublin, Ohio. The previous night, two dear friends were married, the Spurs were still up 2-1 in the Western Conference Semifinals with game 4 coming up that day, and the new Radiohead album was about to be released, so despite my killer hangover, things seemed to be going well. Then I got to the airport.

Upon check in, I was informed that my flight was delayed, and because of it, I would miss my connection in Phoenix and be trapped in Arizona without a way to get home until Monday. That won’t do. That won’t do at all. Instead, I could wait at the Columbus Airport for 5-6 hours and board a flight that would eventually land in Oakland that evening, but I would miss nearly every minute of San Antonio’s game 4 against Oklahoma City, thus ruining my genius plan to arrive back in the Bay Area with plenty of time to get home, take my pants off, order a massive burrito, and watch the Spurs in the comfort of my own home.

I took solace in one thing – that the new Radiohead record was going to be available for download a couple hours before my flight left Columbus. At least the greatest band in the world would provide the soundtrack to my anxiety-ridden flight home, or so I thought. Because the world is a giant asshole, I couldn’t download A Moon Shaped Pool directly to my iPhone – even though the Internet was more than happy to let me pay for it with my iPhone. Sigh.

The flight was terrible. The Spurs were fighting for their playoff lives. I was fighting to stop myself from puking all over my fellow passengers. And somewhere below, thousands of people were happily listening to the first new Radiohead music released in over four years. But soon, my fortune would change.

When I landed, the 4th quarter had just begun and San Antonio was up by four points. Even better, my girlfriend was stuck in traffic meaning I had time to watch the final quarter unfold. Would I witness glory in Oakland’s Southwest terminal?

Nope. I watched the Spurs shoot 7-21 while the Thunder made everything – everything that mattered at least – and run away with a 14-point victory. For the second time in the series, San Antonio blew a chance to take a commanding lead in the series, and we all know what happened next.

But the Radiohead album didn’t disappoint me. It was all I listened to that week, where games 5 and 6 went completely wrong and Duncan played his final NBA minutes. By the time Game 6 rolled around, the two had become intertwined in my brain and I started drawing parallels between the suddenly human Duncan and the heavy, melancholic ache of Thom Yorke’s lyrics in what very well could be the last record his long-time band releases.

So, here we are. I present to you “Tim Duncan’s Spurs Career as Told by A Moon Shaped Pool!”

Track 1) Burn the Witch

Widely viewed as a song about how challenging the status quo often results in the challenger’s ostracism or worse. When viewed through the lens of Tim Duncan, Burn the Witch becomes the anthem for putting the Spurs’ history of coming up short behind them and storming their way to their first NBA championship in 1999. Burn the Witch was Tim Duncan announcing that the Spurs have arrived and the rest of the league was on notice.

Track 2) Daydreaming

Daydreaming is what happens as the high from the first title wears off. If there was any doubt that Duncan was now “the man,” those doubts have been erased. Duncan has to be wondering if this is real life, that the kid who didn’t even know if he’d start at Wake Forest just achieved what every basketball player dreams of – in his second year in the league. At the end of the song, Yorke’s whispers of “half of my life” are played in reverse, foreshadowing that Duncan would eventually spend half his life as a Spur.

Track 3) Decks Dark

Remember that time Duncan almost left San Antonio for Orlando? Yuuuuuck. But he didn’t, and we all look back and smile now. Yorke’s lyrics suggest that Duncan’s flirt with the Magic was “just a laugh, just a laugh” and sarcastically inquires, “have you had enough of me?”

It’s safe to say that no Spurs fan has “had enough” of Tim Duncan.

Track 4) Desert Island Disk

I can’t figure out what this one’s about, so let’s chalk it up to Duncan being confused and bewildered after losing to the Los Angeles Lakers in the playoffs two years in a row from 2001-02. Gah, what a stupid two years.

Track 5) Ful Stop

This is what happens when you piss off Tim Duncan in the playoffs, he comes back with a vengeance. Just as Yorke is sick of the “foul tasting medicine / to be trapped in your full stop,” Duncan is fed up with losing to Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal. Yorke warns that “truth will mess you up,” signaling that neither Bryant nor O’Neal are the NBA’s best player, and that Duncan is actually the greatest player of their generation. The Spurs went on to win the 2003 Finals behind a transcendent performance by Duncan.

Track 6) Glass Eyes

Following the 2003 Finals, David Robinson retired. Glass Eyes represents Duncan’s coming to terms with having to be the best player and emotional leader of the Spurs, new territory for the 6-year NBA veteran. In the song, Yorke panics, “The path trails off and heads down a mountain / Through the dry bush, I don’t know where it leads,” mirroring Duncan’s reluctance to become the team’s sole leader at this stage in his career.

Track 7) Identikit

An identikit is a picture of a person, reconstructed from strips showing facial features selected to match witnesses’ descriptions; used by police to build a likeness of a person sought for a crime.

In 2004, Derek Fisher committed the most heinous crime in Spurs history, and Duncan, with his reconstructed team of Spurs, including a young Manu Ginobili and even younger Tony Parker, set out on a quest for justice in 2005. Though they didn’t face the Lakers in the playoffs this year, they were eventually rewarded for their vigilance with a third NBA title, in which Duncan earned MVP honors for the third time in his career.

Track 8) The Numbers

Duncan and his Spurs failed to repeat as NBA champions again in 2006, this time falling to their division rivals, the Dallas Mavericks in a seven-game Western Conference Semifinal matchup. But the Spurs vowed to come back, and led by Duncan, swept LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals. Their journey from the Game 7 loss to Dallas to four-time NBA champions is best summed by Yorke’s haunting close to the song: “And you may pour us away like soup / Like we’re pretty broken flowers / We’ll take back what is ours / Take back what is ours”

Track 9) Present Tense

Following the 2007 season, the Spurs and Duncan suffered a series of strong regular seasons with no shot at winning a title. Chronic knee injuries began plaguing Duncan, but even when healthy, his team ran into buzzsaws in the form of the 2011 Memphis Grizzlies and 2012 Oklahoma City Thunder that prevented him from capturing a fifth NBA title.

Even after a fairy tale-esque 2012-13 campaign, when it appeared that Duncan was 2 minutes away from reclaiming his place on the top of the NBA, James and the Miami Heat snatched the Larry O’Brien trophy out of his hands. Had time come for Duncan to call it quits?

Yorke’s lyrics suggest that Duncan’s greatest enemy isn’t his opponent on the court, but time itself: “This dance / Is like a weapon / Of self defense / Against the present / Present tense”

Track 10) Tinker Tailor Soldier Sailor Rich Man Poor Man Beggar Man Thief

Instead of hanging ‘em up and walking away, Duncan set his soul on fire and vowed to win a fifth title, even with only one good knee. The Spurs would not be stopped, besting the Miami Heat in a Finals rematch, 4-1.

“The ones you light your fires to keep away,” Yorke croons before a series of string instruments take the song into its chaotic finale. The NBA lit its fires, but nobody could keep Duncan and co. from taking basketball’s greatest prize.

Track 11) True Love Waits

True Love Waits explains Duncan’s decision to finally retire from professional basketball. Yorke’s pained second verse begins with “I’m not living / I’m just killing time,” a sentiment echoed by Duncan in his post-retirement interview: “When it’s not fun anymore, I’m done.”

The chorus represents the voice of the fans, “Just don’t leave / Don’t leave.”

But after two decades of truly transcendent basketball, it’s time to let the Big Fundamental go.

Parker, Duncan Lead Points in the Paint

As of today, Tony Parker and Tim Duncan are 1st and 2nd in the league for points in the paint. A point guard has never led the league in points in the paint for an entire season, as far as I know.

Here is how the top 5 stack up:

HEIGHT 6′ 2″ 6′ 11″ 6′ 7″ 6′ 8″ 6′ 8″
POINTS 496 478 466 458 456

The Spurs Beat the Bulls and it Wasn’t Particularly Close

Season 51, Game 13
San Antonio 133, Chicago 94
8-5, 4th in the West

The San Antonio Spurs beat the Chicago Bulls in an NBA basketball game on Saturday night. The score was 133 points in favor of the Spurs, compared to 94 points for the Bulls.

Analysis? The Bulls are not good.

There really isn’t much to take away from this game. We saw a lot of bench work tonight from the Spurs in route to a 39 point win. The game was pretty much over before it began and that’s even with Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and Danny Green out. It was an annihilation.

The game was never really in doubt, save for a few minutes in the second quarter when the Bulls somehow managed to cut the lead down to single digits. But no matter. Coach Pop just inserted the 2017-2018 6th Man of the Year, Rudy Gay, into the lineup (that’s right, Sean. I said it first.)

Rudy came in and shut things down and the Spurs never really looked back. Can you blame them, though? The Spurs are really, really good and the Bulls are really, really bad. Of the 11 players who played for the Spurs, eight of them were in double figures. The Bulls? Three: Robin Lopez, Bobby “Break Yo Face” Portis and Chris Dunn, the only bright spot for the franchise.

The Spurs led in every category this game except one (steals), shot 66% from the three-point line and out-rebounded the Bulls 44-28. Did I mention the Spurs were without Leonard, Parker, Manu and Green? And Joffrey? And Derrick White?

So what do we take away from this game? Not much. We got some meaningful minutes from some core bench guys and put some use to those two-way contracts. But the biggest take away is learning a little bit more about this team is. Also, I got really deep into #HorseFactFridays due to how boring the game was.

Thanks, Trace.

It’s early, so I want to tread lightly here. With full disclosure, I am aware that Kawhi Leonard’s quad injury is a bit more serious that maybe we all thought. I am aware that Tony Parker may never be Tony Parker again, although, he might be. And I am aware that Tim Duncan is not walking through that door. Boris Diaw is not walking through that door. Tiago Splitter is not walking through that door (thankfully).

But the Spurs are starting to look like the Spurs of 2014. Let me explain.

The ball movement is there. The grit is there. And the defense is there. The talent is not.

There are flashes of the beautiful game that we all will tell our grandkids about in 30 years. It may not be perfected yet, and it may not last, but even against the Bucks and Clippers, you can see the extra pass being made. I identified last week that the guys were making too many passes. And I know it’s the Bulls, but last night, they made the right pass.

Kawhi and Tony’s absence could end up being a real blessing in disguise. The flow of the game has been very “benchy” during the first 13 games of the season. If you recall, the Spurs always play a deeper bench than most teams come April. Sometimes, that’s a bad thing. This year, I think it’s going to be a huge boost.

If you’re not on the Rudy Gay bandwagon, I suggest you buy a ticket. Rudy might be the most versatile player not named after a Hawaiian Island to ever take the Black and is a threat to score every time he touches the ball. He’s smart, smooth, athletic and very crafty. I just hope he gets the minutes and stats to warrant that 6MOY trophy. I am making two trips to Texas over the next 90 days and I fully intended on getting myself a Rudy Gay jersey while I am there. For those who know me, that’s a big deal. I don’t buy Spurs jerseys unless I feel like you’re a Spur. To put that in perspective, I haven’t even gotten a LaMarcus Aldridge jersey yet.

Rudy is a Spur and he’s a darn good one.

Speaking of LaMarcus, it’s time to buy his jersey. LaMarcus is for real, too. He finished with only 14 points in this one, but also played only 21 minutes. He went 7 for 11 from the field and had seven rebounds and two blocks. I firmly believe that teams have turned a blind eye to him this year because of the events of last year. Shame on them. Aldridge has been a monster this year and already deserves to be an All-Star. If he stays in this killer instinct mode when Kawhi comes back, I’m telling you: the Spurs will be a tough out (also, I covet a Sweet Honey Dejounte-Green-Kawhi-Rudy-LaMarcus lineup, so get well soon, Klaw).

Gasol has been underdiscussed but has quietly looked very Spursian this year too. He does his work, stretches the floor, finishes with either hand, has been an offensive threat as of late, and although he could probably be a nominee for an Oscar, his assertiveness against the Bulls led him to a beautiful 21 and 10 game. Pau will win a playoff game for the Spurs this year. Watch.

I don’t like Kyle Anderson. It’s no secret. Something about his game bothers me. Makes me uncomfortable to watch. Kyle always looks like he just got done mowing the yard and is really, really tired. Then he scores on you. I’m going to leave Kyle alone and stop being a hater, because whatever he is doing is working and he’s in the NBA and I am writing about him while my kids are napping on a Sunday.

Bryn Forbes can flat out shoot the ball. He’s the 2017 version of Gary Neal, but better. I’d expect to see a lot of Bryn this year, especially as we get close to March and guys are sitting out with res….injuries.

Brandon Paul is our Jonathon Simmons replacement. So far, I like the upgrade, and I loved the Juice. But Brandon is the epitome of a journeyman NBA player. Learn to do two things in the NBA and you will find yourself with a contract: Shoot the 3 and play defense. Brandon ranks 18th in the league in charges drawn. Of the 17 guys ahead of him, only three play less minutes (Willie Reed, Jared Dudley, Okaro White). Of those three guys, Brandon has played in more games, has more 3 point shots made, and more deflected passes. So, yea, I’d say the Spurs found another diamond in the rough.

Finally, I think we need to discuss the future, Sweet Honey Dejounte Murray. The kid is a player, but he is also still young. He opened the season with a really good game and had a couple more, but has been sent back to the bench. This is ok, and to be expected.

First off, it helps him immensely psychologically. His pressure is reduced and he is free to play looser with the second unit. Secondly, his shuffling in and out of the lineup in various time frames of the game allow him a unique perspective to see the game in real time from multiple viewpoints. Murray is getting valuable experience, within the experience gain from Parker’s absence, that will develop him faster than we might have imagined.

The beauty of Pop is how he manages to win these types of battles. In the past, we’ve seen him keep Patty Mills on the bench in his backup PG role and would put the #3 guard in as the starter. We will probably continue to see some of that until Parker’s return, but starting Mills and bringing Murray off the bench allows Pop to develop Murray as both a starting caliber point guard AND as a backup point guard: two very different roles in today’s NBA. It’s genius and I love it. We will thank Pop in 2019.

Not all teams will be as tough a challenge as the Chicago Bulls, but it was a pleasant way to end a six-game homestand, on Veterans Day, before heading to Dallas on Tuesday.

And I’ll end with this: we would be remiss if we did not thank our veterans. If you have served in the Armed Forces, there are no words that could fully summarize our gratitude for you and your families. From all of us here at, Thank You.

Go Spurs Go.

Almost Symmetrical

Season 51, Game 07
San Antonio 94, Boston 108

I miss Kawhi Leonard. And I know I am not the only one.

The Spurs fell to 4-3 Monday night after a 108-94 loss to the Boston Celtics. While it certainly wasn’t the worst loss in Spurs history, clearly this team is without its superstar and it’s never been more obvious.

The Spurs actually played fairly well and managed to keep it close for most of the game, save that ghastly 3rd quarter. The offense is humming along and the Spurs had several good looks. Pop has said numerous times that the players can’t worry about making the shots. That part will come. What they can and should worry about is taking the right shot and making the right play.

For the most part, the guys seemed to do this. Unfortunately, we continue to see plenty of “deer in headlights” plays. Too often, the Spurs are passing up a good shot for a worse shot. It’s fine to go from good to great. It’s another thing to omit the good completely. There’s been quite a bit of extra passing that isn’t exactly beneficial to this team.

The Spurs shot a rough 41 percent from the field, 46 percent from 3 and a mere 50 percent from the charity stripe. Those aren’t good enough numbers to beat the Magic, let alone the Celtics. Brad Stevens has done splendidly in getting the Clover back to reality after losing Gordon Hayward on opening night. Also, it doesn’t hurt that he has Kyrie Irving.

There was about a four minute stretch where you could almost see it on the faces of the players: we miss Kawhi. They needed a bucket a few times and looked like a team playing on a SEGABABA in the middle of March. They looked gassed. Mentally, it takes a toll on you. You miss a few shots, over the course of a few games and then the defense starts to slip. Guys shots turn up short and then they miss a rotation. It’s almost symmetrical.

For years, the Spurs have been kind of a running joke around the league. Everyone talks about how old they are and we all laugh and chuckle about it. But the reality is, this team is young and against the Celtics, without Manu, that youth showed.

It showed when Kyle, Danny, Bryn, Brandon and Sweet Honey Dejounte all refused to shoot, desperately looking for LaMarcus at the end of shot clocks. There is an unnecessary deference taking place inside the offense right now and it’s driving me nuts. These guys are on the court because they can play basketball – well, the jury is still out on Kyle – but without them having the guts to let it fly, the whole team suffers.

Kawhi will help immensely and his return is looming. Parker will also help control the flow of the game and settle things down in the chaos. But until that happens, we will experience some growing pains along the way. For now, we need to take the bad with the good and expect there to be a few headaches.

A few more takeaways from this game…

LaMarcus Aldridge is still really good at basketball.

He received way too much criticism last year, partly for not being Tim Duncan, and partly for not being Portland LaMarcus playing in a spread offense with a penetrating and ball dominant point guard. It was all unfair. He’s been great for the first six games of this season. But he was rubbish last night. In 26 minutes, he shot 39 percent, had a +/- of -19 and shot 1 of 5 from the line. He finished with 11 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, a steal, a block, a turnover and a foul. Sounds like Aron Baynes.

LaMarcus showed some real maturity this offseason by letting the trade rumors fly and then eating some humble pie and having a heart to heart with Pop. This is good and necessary, but tonight was his first game since the opener where I didn’t like his effort. Well, not at least until he started getting the ball at the elbow versus the low block. He’s much more effective there.

Dejounte Murray is not Kyrie Irving.

This was a little underlying drama to the game. Remember when I was telling you guys all summer on my Twitter that Kyrie Irving was not being traded to the Spurs and you guys wouldn’t listen? I do. Good times. But that trade was only even on the table for the Cavs because of Murray. He was the young piece that had the Cavs interest. And Dejounte shares the same agent with one of the Cavs players. I forget which one.

This game was essentially a showcase of who made the right choice. And clearly, Kyrie was ready for this. He ate Dejounte’s lunch and popped the bag. Murray had five turnovers and two of them were pretty much Kyrie just taking the ball away from him.

Look, Murray is going to be a good player in this league. Maybe an All Star one day. But that day is a long way away. He’s still a 21-year-old, second year player, subbing for a Hall of Famer. It remains to be seen how the rotation will shape up when Parker returns, but for now, Sweet Honey Dejounte will match up against the cream of the crop for point guards every night. We should all accept that it might not always be that pretty.

Rudy Gay is kind of our best player.

I’ve been on the “Rudy Gay for Sixth Man of the Year” bandwagon for a while now. He was the only player to play more than 20 minutes AND score double figures and not finish with a negative +/-. And he’s a scorer. Personally, Sean Elliott can do better than “Natural Born Scorer” as a nickname for him, but it at least remains true. He’s been the only help for LaMarcus in these first seven games and it’s hard to find a real weakness in his game.

Nothing looks rushed. He has incredible size (I didn’t realize how long and bulky he was), an above average handle and is the only player on this roster not named after a Hawaiian Island who can create his own shot, which coincidentally is also a good shot. I love Rudy. I’d buy his jersey.

I don’t know what Brandon Paul is yet.

I have this joke I never got to make when we signed Brandon Paul. I wanted to make a meme of Pop yelling at RC Buford saying, “No! I said CHRIS Paul.” Guys, it would have been hilarious. Point is, I knew nothing about BP3. But uh, hello? He’s nice, y’all.

Defensively, he’s been pretty solid filling in for Kawhi and spelling Green at times. But he has easily been our best shooter as well, shooting a blistering 64 percent from behind the arc.

The next closest person? Former NBA Finals Three Point Leader Danny Green at 44 percent. Paul can Ball and I’d fully expect him to get a lot of Jonathon Simmons’ old minutes, just like Pop said he has earned.

The Spurs get a day off and then get six games at home. They start off with the Warriors, then get the Hornets, Suns, Clippers, Bucks and Chicago. I’d like to see them get four of those six, but it won’t happen unless someone starts shooting the ball.

Hopefully that someone wears number 2.

Photo credit: Michael Dwyer/ AP

Round The Horn

Go Spurs Going Forward

The 2016-17 season was the first in decades that the Spurs had to play without Tim Duncan. The Silver and Black attack exceeded all expectations by putting together perhaps the best rebuilding season by any team in history.

The 2017-18 season will be one of continued rebuilding, laying a foundation for now and the future, one as solid as we spoiled fans of San Antonio can hope for.

The post season had our franchise attached to big names and rumors of this generation’s best point guard wanting to join our squad. Chris Paul was serious about wanting to come to San Antonio, despite the realities of his contract needs and the inability of the Spurs to bring him with the team’s cap restrictions.

What’s important is that he, Derrick Rose, Dwayne Wade, and many others have now been actively and publicly linked to playing in San Antonio. Longtime fans know that San Antonio was not a destination for elite free agent NBA stars in the past. That’s changed. The significance of this cannot be overlooked.

We have many, many, many reasons to be optimistic about this year and beyond. And I believe this may be the deepest roster San Antonio has ever fielded.

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