With one minute remaining in their eventual 117-107 victory over the visiting Toronto Raptors, the air was nearly sucked out of AT&T Center and the San Antonio Spurs’ bench when Tiago Splitter fell into Tim Duncan under the basket.
Duncan left the game with what was later called a hyperextended elbow, but the injury isn’t viewed as serious, a team source told the San Antonio News-Express. However, the 38-year-old’s status for Thursday’s home game against the Cleveland Cavaliers is unclear.
“He hyperextended his elbow,” Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich said after the game. “I think he will be OK. I think, but I don’t know. We’ll see. I think he’s OK.”
Duncan was coming off the first game of his career in which he failed to make a single field goal, and he wound up punishing the Raptors for 12 points and 13 rebounds in San Antonio’s sixth straight victory.
For now it would appear the Spurs dodged a major bullet, especially with the way injuries have affected their 40-23 season. The Spurs had already dealt with several injuries among their regular starters with Duncan, Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker and Danny Green missing a combined 38 games, or nearly half the season so far.
San Antonio also missed Splitter for 24 games, and sharpshooter Marco Belinelli for another 19, and yet Popovich has managed to keep the team positioned for the postseason for the 17th straight year.
Currently sixth in the Western Conference and with 19 games remaining, and only three games separating the No. 3 and 6 seeds, the Spurs could quickly move up the standings for at least home court advantage in the first round.
Any serious injury to Duncan could have thrown those hopes out of whack, and kept the Dallas Mavericks, who sit a half game back at No. 7, in the hunt to overtake the Spurs.
But Duncan’s rarely missed a significant amount of time or suffered a major injury in his career. The veteran has managed to play through nagging injuries and be an efficient player on both sides of the court.
Averaging 14.1 points, 9.6 rebounds and 1.8 blocks this season, Duncan’s received adoration for both his diligent, consistent style of play and for capturing five titles, but he should be praised just as much for his durability. The most games Duncan’s ever missed in a single season was 16, back in the 2004-2005 season, and the Spurs still raced to the No. 2 seed in the West.
There is a possiblity that Popovich sparingly uses Duncan against Cleveland, with the rest of the schedule this month being rather tame. Staring down the equally hot Cavs and LeBron James, actually serves as San Antonio’s biggest test until March 22.
After Cleveland, the Spurs will host the 14-48 Minnesota Timberwolves and hit the road to face the 12-51 New York Knicks. They’ll also swing through to face the Milwaukee Bucks, and then host the Boston Celtics before hitting the road again to face the East’s top seeded Atlanta Hawks.
Popovich could very well keep Duncan out versus the Wolves, Knicks, Bucks, and Celtics, without much risk of losing ground in the standings before the Hawks game.
Furthermore, leading scorer Kawhi Leonard has appeared to take the offense’s reins during San Antonio’s win streak. The reigning NBA Finals MVP has scored 20 or more points in five consecutive games, and is even leading the charge defensively with 12 steals in the last four.