OKLAHOMA CITY — Tim Duncan wasn't sitting.
Not with his team down by 26 points to the running, jumping, leaping, snarling Oklahoma City Thunder. Not with the best regular season in franchise history getting swept up and swept away in shocking fashion. Not with all that might have been staring painfully in his face.
When San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich tried to run Kyle Anderson out to start the fourth quarter, Duncan had a few words with his coach.
"He asked me if I wanted to play," Duncan said. "And I told him I always want to play."
For 19 years he has played better than anybody who's ever worn the black-and-silver of the Spurs and if this was the end, he was not going out as a spectator.
There were times Duncan was that in this series that ended Thursday with Oklahoma City's 113-99 win in Game 6 -- times when the 40-year-old did not get off the bench in those decisive fourth quarters.
It came at the end of this season when he played the fewest minutes since he entered the NBA back in 1997 and his 8.6 points per game were less than half his career scoring average.
Yet there was Duncan on a night when the young legs of the Thunder were running laps around the Spurs, looking like a man trying to suck what out what marrow was left in the bone.
He banked in short hook shots off the glass, fought for position and made tip-ins, did a right-to-left spin through the paint to drop in four-footer that was from the vintage collection. His 19 points on 7-for-14 shooting was his second-highest total of the season in which he had moved aside to let LaMarcus Aldridge andKawhi Leonard shine.
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Then with Spurs making a desperate run that closed the lead to 99-88 with 3:12 left in the game, Duncan took a pick-and-roll pass from Tony Parker and drove in for a dunk.
After 20,385 other shots that went before it, perhaps the last shot of Duncan's Hall of Fame career was met with violent, loud rejection at the rim by Serge Ibaka.
This is how it always ends in sports and in life. The calendar wins. Duncan at 40,Manu Ginobili at 38 and Parker at 34 have teased time and thrived past their expiration date for years, winning four championships together, the last one just two seasons ago when they were already pushing clear through the envelope.
Larry Bird and Steve Nash spent the final years of their glorious careers lying on the hardwood floor in front of the bench when they weren't in the games to relieve the pain in their aching backs. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar eventually hit the wall. Kobe Bryant scored 60 points in his farewell game, but was treated as gingerly as a Faberge egg for the last two years of his career to set up the gaudy swan song and his Lakers suffered for it. Even Michael Jordan was earthbound in his Washington Wizards years.
Game 6: Thunder 113, Spurs 99
Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook combine for 65 points as the Thunder defeat the Spurs 113-99 to move on to the Western Conference finals.
It is as irrefutable as gravity, this winding down and coming to grips with the finish.
Ginobili shot just 1-for-6 and fouled out in 23 minutes in what might have been his last game and now he'll face up to the big decision again.
"I'm used to it," he said. "I guess once you're past 35, 36, it happens. I'll take my time as always."
Ginobili and Duncan don't need to hear the clock ticking because they can feel the years. Ginobili is no longer Mad Manu throwing himself recklessly all over the court and Duncan missed several games in January due to aches and finished the season wearing a wrap on the right knee, which made a slowed- down game look positively ponderous.
"It's been an amazing run," Ginobili said. "We all enjoy playing with each other. We've accomplished amazing things. We won 67 games. Of course, it's disappointing when you don't end up winning the last game. But only one team can do it. In 14 seasons in my case, it happened a lot of times.
"I'm still proud of having played with those guys for so many years and winning so many games and even playing with the new guys. It's the reason why you always want to come back and keep being part of this because of the amazing chemistry and the good times and good people that you play with and spend time with. It's not always about winning a game or winning a championship. You learn from losses and enjoy the every day, too."
It's been an amazing run. We all enjoy playing with each other. We've accomplished amazing things.
– San Antonio Spurs swingman Manu Ginobili
This one was shocking because of the 67-15 regular season record that was the greatest in franchise history and came at the end of a Western Conference semifinal that started with the Spurs whipping OKC by 32 points in Game 1. But as the series wore on, they were outrun, out-rebounded, out-hustled, simply outplayed in every manner by the brash Thunder.
When the horn sounded, Duncan stood just outside the lane at the defensive end of the court. He gazed up the scoreboard and then was greeted by virtually every member of the Thunder roster in a hug or a handshake or maybe a few special word. They all knew this might have been a night for a special farewell.
Duncan walked up the tunnel exit, raising one finger to the crowd, draped a towel over his head and was gone to ponder what comes next.
"I'll get to that after I get out of here and figure life out," he said.
As if the decision hadn't already been made at the start of the fourth quarter. Tim Duncan wasn't going out sitting.