All things considered, Tim Duncan wishes he had taken a better shot. His 19-foot jumper with 1.9 seconds remaining bounced off the back of the rim as Utah defeated San Antonio 83-82 in Game 1 of their NBA playoff series Tuesday in the Delta Center.
"It felt good when it left my hand," said Duncan, who in retrospect would have used the remaining time on the clock to move closer to the basket. "I had a decent shot, but it didn't happen. That's how it goes."After Bryon Russell rebounded the potential game-winner and time expired, Duncan left the court with his head down. The NBA Rookie of the Year, however, had nothing to be ashamed of.
"Timmy was a pretty good option," teammate David Robinson said of Duncan's shot over Greg Foster. "Especially the way he was rolling."
Duncan scored 17 of his game-high 33 points in the fourth quar-ter, making six of his first eight attempts from the field, as the Spurs rallied from an eight-point deficit to lead twice down the stretch.
"He's a heck of a player, no doubt about that," San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said. "He does a great job. He's obviously the go-to guy."
After the Spurs fell behind 32-16 early in the second quarter, Duncan helped his team close the gap to as little as five points before halftime. His game-high 10 points complimented eight from Robinson and seven from Avery Johnson.
"It was a slow game, so I thought I had to pick it up and contribute," Duncan said. "And they came to me."
And he didn't disappoint - earning praise from both locker rooms.
"Tim Duncan was fabulous tonight," Adam Keefe said. "Luckily Greg Foster did a great job on him on the last play."
The result? Just enough defense to force the shot off-balance.
Russell wasn't surprised San Antonio went to its star rookie with the game on the line.
"He's their best player," he said.
Duncan, as per his quiet demeanor, deflected such recognition. The Wake Forest product says the Spurs have several players who'll step it up when needed.
Among the cast Tuesday were frontcourt mates Robinson and Will Perdue. The 7-footers joined Duncan in a three-towers approach that produced a combined 57 points, 36 rebounds and eight blocked shots. Robinson, who struggled on 5 of 17 shooting but grabbed a game-high 16 rebounds, was the focal point of a controversial play exactly 55 seconds before Duncan's final shot. The Admiral was whistled for an offensive foul that null-i-fied what would have been a go-ahead score for the Spurs.
"I was disappointed with that call," Robinson said. "I really thought it was a good screen and in the game and in the playoffs you don't figure you're going to get that kind of call."
The illegal screen, however, slammed the door on any remaining offense in the game. After Karl Malone's running 12-footer with 1:12 to play, neither team scored again.
"That's frustrating to get it right to the point where we could win and not get it. But we'll re-group and come back," Robinson said. "The key for us is defense. We can't wait until after the first quarter to play defense. We've got to play it early in the game."
The Spurs set an NBA record by allowing opponents to shoot just 41.1 percent during the regular season. The Jazz, however, jumped out to their early lead by connecting at 52.2 percent in the first quarter.
Another concern for San Antonio was free-throw shooting. Half of the Spurs' eight misses came in the final 10 minutes.
"The defense got better and better as the game went on. It seemed like we did everything we needed to do to get the game, and then we missed some free throws," Robinson said. "I missed some free throws, and that could have been the difference."
Duncan said San Antonio's top priorities in Game 2 (Thursday in the Delta Center) will include making free throws and avoiding lapses where the Spurs don't play as a team.
"We know we can do a lot better. That's the only thing that makes us feel better," Duncan added.
No moral victories here.
"If the Spurs don't show that they've won on the scoreboard, that means we've got to go back to the drawing board," said Johnson, who contributed 14 points and eight assists. "A one-point loss or a 10-point loss is still a loss and we're still disappointed. We've just got to find a way to bounce back for the next game."