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Spurs can’t afford for Tim Duncan to go MIA again

Updated: June 9, 2014 9:15PM

There has been a trend in these NBA Finals of future Hall of Famers checking out early.

The Miami Heat’s LeBron James did it in the fourth quarter of
Game 1 after cramps essentially rendered the left side of his body paralyzed from dehydration.

But in the San Antonio Spurs’ loss Sunday in Game 2, which evened the series at 1-1 heading to Miami, the Spurs found themselves putting out an APB on Tim Duncan with much less of an explanation. And if Duncan continues to disappear on his team, South Beach will be celebrating its third consecutive NBA title.

Duncan took fewer shots — one — in the fourth quarter than the number of words coach Gregg Popovich used to explain the Spurs’ second-half meltdown. That was saying something, considering the mood Popovich was in after the loss.

‘‘The ball stuck,’’ Popovich said of the Spurs’ play in the second half.

The stonewalling reporters faced when questioning Popovich
after the game paled by comparison to the defensive job Heat
reserve Chris Andersen did against Duncan in the fourth quarter. It was like Duncan came to a screeching halt after missing a 12-foot jumper with 9:10 left.

Up until Duncan started to play hide and seek, he had scored 18 points. It seemed as though he was on his way to the kind of dominating performance he had turned in during the 2013 Finals against the Heat, which the Spurs lost in seven games.

Of all the Spurs, Duncan is supposed to have the easiest time scoring against the Heat. As great as the Heat’s perimeter defense has been during the last four seasons, their players have struggled to
defend the post. Andersen is their only player who has a chance at holding Duncan in check.

‘‘We’ve been making a point of trying to keep [Duncan] out of the paint for two games, and sometimes it looks like that’s part of the game plan,’’ Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.

Read between the lines, and it seems as though the Heat got a little help from an uncharacteristically passive Duncan.

There’s plenty of credit and blame to go around, of course.
Andersen was effective around the rim, and the Spurs, who move the ball around as well as any team in the NBA, didn’t do so in the fourth quarter Sunday.

‘‘We can’t put [the ball] in somebody’s hands and have them create everything for us,’’ Popovich said. ‘‘It’s got to be a group effort, and we didn’t do that. That puts a lot of pressure on everything else. It means we’re going to have to be perfect on defense.

‘‘You move it, or you die.’’

The thing about most disappearing acts is that the person eventually reappears. The Spurs had better hope that’s the case with Duncan in the first quarter of Game 3.

NOTE: The NBA fined Heat guard Dwyane Wade $5,000 for exaggerating a foul charged to Spurs guard Manu Ginobili during the second quarter Sunday of Game 2 of the Finals.


Twitter: @SethGruen

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