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Spurs' Duncan hits stride in playoffs
Updated: 2005-06-07 09:34

Tim Duncan seems to be peaking at the right time.

The San Antonio Spurs' star forward posted his lowest numbers as a pro this year, and then missed a dozen late-season games with a sprained ankle. But Duncan's production has steadily increased in each of the three playoff rounds as his health has improved.

In the Western Conference finals against Phoenix, he averaged 27.4 points and nearly 14 rebounds. He topped 30 points in three of the five games against the Suns, a telling statistic given that he reached that figure only seven times in 66 regular season games.

Duncan will be playing in his third NBA Finals in seven years, and while the Phoenix series showed he still can dominate at both ends of the court, he's just as willing to be a role player.

"The key with Timmy is that he is very unselfish. He doesn't care who's going to take the shot, who's going to be the guy with the basket to win the game," point guard Tony Parker said. "He's willing to share, and he always knows that the ball is going to come back to him. I think that's what makes him great."

The numbers support Parker's view — Duncan has averaged three assists per game in the playoffs, also up from his regular-season total.

"He knows that he needs help," Parker added. "Because he's our star and he's playing like that, it brings a mentality to our team."

The Spurs will have had eight days off by the time the Finals start in San Antonio on Thursday, but Duncan says he will come out with the same focus he had in the Phoenix series.

"There's always questions about losing your sharpness and all that stuff," he said. "It doesn't really matter. When that game starts, the only thing that matters is that 48 minutes you're out there."

Spurs reserve Robert Horry, going for his sixth championship ring, says Duncan's genuine lack of concern about getting his points makes him stand out among the league's superstar big men.

"He just lets the game come to him," said Horry, whose earlier titles were won in Houston with Hakeem Olajuwon and Los Angeles with Shaquille O'Neal. "Most big men, they feel like the best way to help a team is if they score, but he's so set in his ways that if he scores, good, if he doesn't and we win, he don't care."

As well as he's been playing, Duncan says the Spurs' playoff experience as a team has been more important.

"Not only with myself, but with Rob and Tony's been there, Manu (Ginobili) has been there and guys that have been down that road before," he said. "People aren't in awe and in shock. ... Guys won't be as nervous now that they understand the situation."

Nazr Mohammed, acquired from the New York Knicks late in the season, will be playing in his first Finals and he's glad it's alongside Duncan.

"If you're open, he hits you. He waits for the double team, kicks it out, he guards on every possession," said Mohammed, who moved into the starting center slot when Rasho Nesterovic went down with an ankle injury in April.

"He does the little things and the big things," Mohammed said. "Some superstars, they're not willing to do the little things, but Tim does them all the time."

With his right ankle still weak, Duncan started slowly in the first-round playoff series against Denver. After an 11-point performance in Game 3 against the Nuggets, he bounced back with 39 points and 14 rebounds in the next game.

He finished the five-game series averaging 22 points per game, nearly two points higher than his regular-season average.

Against Seattle in the second round, his ankle even stronger, his scoring improved to 25.2 points despite routine double-teaming by the physical SuperSonics.

In the Phoenix series, he made about 53 percent of his shots and averaged nearly five offensive rebounds per game.

Duncan has also been keeping the mood light while waiting for the Finals to get going.

After a weekend practice, he held coach Gregg Popovich in front of the TV cameras after Popovich jokingly accused him of hogging all the media attention.

"We know when to have fun, we know when to be serious," Duncan said. "That's the perfect mixture."

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