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Not surprisingly, Duncan's numbers dipped during the regular season; he averaged 15.4 points and 9.0 rebounds per game. However, inspect his production per 36 minutes—starter's minutes. Those figures rise to 19.7 points and 11.5 rebounds. Or almost exactly his career averages.
Watch him this week, as the Spurs begin their second-round series against the Clippers, and you'll note that he's moving better than he has in a while, that he looks fitter and that he appears rejuvenated by both the lack of double teams and the relative youth of his teammates. (San Antonio's average age, 26.9, is the lowest of the Duncan era.) Says Duncan, "It's the best I've felt in years."
5 His Buddy KG
Just kidding, as this might count in his favor. In fact, Duncan hates Kevin Garnett. Hates him the way liberals hate Sean Hannity. This information comes from very reliable sources, who talk about how KG has made a career of trying to punk Duncan, baiting him and slapping him and whispering really weird smack into his ear. They talk about how funny this is, because the worst thing you can do as an opponent is piss off Duncan. Then, as Malik Rose says, "he f------ destroys you." Duncan's lifetime numbers versus Garnett's teams, by the way: 19.4 points per game, 11.6 boards and a 44--17 record, including the postseason.
Duncan is diplomatic about the topic. Asked if perhaps all those years battling Garnett have softened his feelings for the man, led to a Magic-Larry type of kinship, Duncan leans back on the couch in his hotel room and grins. There is a pause. A longer pause. Finally he says, "Define kinship."
Duncan ducks into the elevator in the Marriott. He will do the interview, in his hotel room no less (raised eyebrow, thumbs-up from James). Moments later a family of three enters the elevator: corporate husband, well-coiffed wife, teenage daughter. The door closes. Here's what the husband does not do. He does not do a double take, betray any recognition of Duncan or make a comment about the previous night's game or this year's postseason or that one time Tim Duncan did that amazing thing. The wife does not bat her eyes or squirm. The daughter does not think OMG! OMG! OMG! and start texting furiously. This is not LeBron or Kobe. Or even Melo.
The door opens, the family leaves without looking back. Duncan looks relieved.
7 An Unusual Love Story
The story of Duncan's career begins on an island, in the summer of 1997. That's when Popovich flew down to St. Croix to meet his team's No. 1 draft pick. On the first day, Duncan took his new coach swimming. Out they went, one man tall and assured, the other short and as pale as the sand, his arms churning furiously. Duncan led them past rocky outcroppings into deeper water, the shoreline of the island quickly receding. Popovich began to think about how far out they were, about what lay beneath, about the waves cresting off the rocks. Still, he kept going, determined not to show weakness.