- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 25, 2005

They beat on Tim Duncan in Game 7, beat on him something awful.

The Pistons beat on Duncan knowing that the three dunces in stripes would not have the guts to call a foul each time, would not want to stop play as often as it would be necessary, would not want to deal with the Oscar-worthy hysterics of Rasheed Wallace, Ben Wallace and Antonio McDyess.

The three Pistons took turns hip-checking Duncan, planting a forearm in his back and pushing him as he tried to maneuver around the basket. And still Duncan kept coming at them, kept taking the punishment, kept demanding the ball, no matter how many shots he missed, no matter how many times the three clowns in stripes swallowed their whistles.

Duncan’s was not a pretty statistical line: 25 points on 10-for-27 shooting, 11 rebounds, three assists and two blocked shots. But it was not about being pretty with the NBA championship at stake, with basketball observers questioning Duncan’s nastiness and resolve, even resorting to the cliche of his laid-back manner being connected to his upbringing in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

It was about having a stretch that determined the outcome of the game, as Duncan did in the third quarter after the Pistons surged to a nine-point lead. It was about Duncan calling for the ball each time and matching the aggression of the Pistons.

This was the Duncan we all wanted to see.

This was the Duncan, declaring, “I am the best player on the floor, and I refuse to acquiesce to the no-calls and the mugging.”

The dime-store shrinks were all over Duncan going into this game.

Never mind his two previous NBA championships. Never mind all his efficiency and accolades.

He had made a mistake. He had shown himself to be human. He had shown that he cared too much.

Duncan was horrendous from the free throw line in Games 5 and 6, and perhaps, as so many other professional athletes might do, he should have blamed the lighting in the arenas. Or perhaps he should have claimed to have a speck of dirt in his eye.

Instead, Duncan wore his free throw failures for all to see. You could see it in his eyes and body language.

This somehow, if only for a few days, made him somewhat less than the leading players of yesteryear, somewhat less than Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, Willis Reed, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Rick Barry, Julius Erving, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan.

But Duncan was a competitor’s competitor in this one. He dived to the floor at one point and took a knee to the head and the ball to his gut that left him, momentarily, in search of an unobstructed breath. He slowly got to his feet and went right back to work.

It was mostly a scrum, as the three buffoons in stripes ended up charging the two Wallace guys and McDyess with a combined 14 fouls. Their foul total probably could have been almost doubled.

In the end, Duncan fought through the selective policies of the three referees, the doubts raining down on him going into the game, and both the double-team defenses of the Pistons and their foul-foul philosophy.

And not once did he lose his cool. Not once did he shirk the burden, not even after he missed eight consecutive shots at one point in the third quarter, a number of the misses induced by the assault and battery of the Pistons.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Duncan is too laid-back, somehow not American enough in the context of basketball, as if we have forgotten that we are the No. 3 basketball nation in the world, and a fortunate No. 3 at that.

Go ahead, keep judging basketball players in the 1992 box of the Dream Team.

But there are lots of effective ways to play the game.

Not to be too fine with the point here, but one of Duncan’s teammates, Manu Ginobili, actually was the lead member of the gold medal-winning basketball team in Athens last summer. Yes, Ginobili is so Argentinean.

And Duncan, the St. Croix native who, in temperament, is not what we expect our leading athletes to be, is atop the NBA again.


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