- The Washington Times - Friday, June 17, 2005

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — There is no debate about what San Antonio Spurs power forward Tim Duncan’s place in basketball history ultimately will be — and no wonder.

Duncan is one of 10 players to win multiple league MVP awards, and just the third (behind Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan) to be named NBA Finals MVP in his first two trips to the championship series (1999 and 2003). And this year Duncan became just the fifth player to be named All-NBA First Team in each of his first eight seasons.

The accolades are staggering for the 6-foot-11, 260-pound 29-year-old, the type of achievements that will put him in the Basketball Hall of Fame as soon as he is eligible.

But at the moment, Duncan’s legacy is far from his mind. His Spurs have dropped the last two games of the finals to the Detroit Pistons by an average of 24 points, allowing a 2-0 lead to evaporate in a best-of-seven series that resumes tomorrow night at the Palace of Auburn Hills.

In the Pistons’ two blowouts here, Duncan hasn’t been his usual dominant self. In Game 3, won by Detroit 96-79, Duncan finished with just 14 points and 10 rebounds — great numbers for, say, Brendan Haywood of the Washington Wizards but just ordinary for Duncan.

Facing triple teams at times in Thursday night’s Game 4, the most lopsided loss (102-71) in a series in which all four games have been decided by at least 15 points, Duncan again struggled (16 points, 16 rebounds, three blocks). Over the two games, he was just 10-for-32 from the field, including 5-for-17 in Game 4.

Duncan conceded yesterday that the waves of big bodies the Pistons are throwing at him — from Ben Wallace to Rasheed Wallace to Antonio McDyess — have caused him problems.

“It’s just frustrating, especially at this time of the year and on this stage,” Duncan said. “I feel like those shots should be going down for me. I should be able to make those shots.”

The way the Spurs played on the road during the regular season, it really shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that the Pistons have battered them the way they have.

The Spurs were the best team in the league at home, going 38-3 at SBC Center. However, six teams had better road records than the Spurs (21-20).

Ben Wallace has been a different player at the Palace. More than anyone else, he is causing Duncan problems with his defensive energy and rebounding. And Wallace sounded confident the Pistons could do it again tomorrow.

“We are back to our defensive selves, and everybody is playing with a lot of energy,” Wallace said. “We’ve got a couple of guys that we can rotate in and out of the game and put on him. We just want to make him fight for 48 minutes trying to score and keep him off of the boards.”

A great player assumes responsibility, especially when his team reaches the point where everything is on the line. While Manu Ginobili is perhaps on the brink of stardom, Duncan is considered by many to be one of the two or three best players on the planet.

After scoring 26 and 27 points in the first two games of the series, Ginobili, who says he is not bothered by a knee he banged hard in Game 3, has been ineffective, scoring seven and 12 points in the team’s two losses. While Ginobili can hide from the expectations, Duncan cannot.

“I am the leader of this team,” Duncan said. “It starts with me, and I understand that.”

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