SAN ANTONIO He still has one game left to save himself.
But the demons, they may be with Tim Duncan for life.
Or at least until he wins Game 7.
He came into this game with more than one thing on his mind. And as big as this Game 6 loss was, the Game 5 win was possibly bigger. More got told, more got exposed. The best basketball player alive found himself in the middle, having an out-of-body experience with the game on the line and the ball in his hands.
Missed free throws and missed putbacks 26 points and 19 rebounds erased.
He still has one game left to save himself.
He sat on the bench at the end of the third quarter in Game 6, resting. Thinking. Trying not to demonize himself.
The score was 71-67, Pistons. Twelve minutes to freedom. He walked out of the huddle, pulling his shooting shirt over his head. His face was Tilt. Unreadable. He dapped Ginobili, talked to Rob, coordinated with Pop. He'd waited 48 hours for this, to redeem himself, to restore his soul. To put those fourth-quarter demons six feet under. This was his moment.
With 6 minutes and 49 seconds remaining, the demons came back. Two free throws rushed. Missed. Call it a comeback.
Then ABC showed the graph: Tim Duncan, 0 points in the last 9:07. Demons are a trip.
They left at 5:16 when he was fouled off an offensive rebound. You could see it in his face and body language: freedom.
He hit his next two free throws. Now it was time to ball.
The dunk off the Ginobili unintentional pass, the baseline spin on the next play to close the lead to one. Demons be gone.
Then two things happened: his teammates stopped going to him and another man with his own personal demons to exorcize may have been more desperate than Duncan.
He had to spend the fourth quarter guarding that man. The one who had to fight the same Game 5 demons as Duncan. But after Rasheed made a layup, after Rasheed hit a 3, after Rasheed put back a Chauncey miss, after Rasheed gave the Pistons a five-point lead with 1:25 left to "guarantee" a Game 7, Tim Duncan had to walk away knowing his demons would have one more game to eat away at him.
One more game to unrightfully beat himself up over.
For 36 minutes last night, the man called Mr. Groundhog Day had the demons under control. Using his psych degree to out-psych himself.
But Tim Duncan's demons, unlike Jerry West's, don't seem to come out until the fourth quarter.
For some reason, they hate him like that.
* * * * *
He entered the SBC Center before the game somber, cheerless, caliginous. Focused, man. Demons have a way of weighing on you.
He didn't take extra shots before the game, he didn't break his routine. He did whatever he could to not let the pressure of a close-out game get to him, take over him, make it more than what it was. He tried to erase the past in his mind.
To understand this you have to go back to a moment in Game 4.
Down by almost 30, with the game out of reach, Tim Duncan sat on the bench. Shoulders slumped, head bowed. Greg Pop began rubbing his leg, giving him words of encouragement. This is what coaches do. But it was the look on Tim's face, the emotions that were evident the ones that usually make us marvel at his ability to never put them on display. More than the look of defeat, it was the emotion of defeat that he couldn't hide. The best player in basketball looked defeated; therefore he was. Done. An emotion that no player of his stature, no player that's being argued as the greatest power forward to ever play the game, no player who is considered the leader and spine of a two-time championship team, should have ever let the world or the Detroit Pistons see.