ORLANDO, Fla. -- San Antonio Spurs forward Tim Duncan returned to the lineup Wednesday after missing eight games due to soreness in his right knee, and walked away unscathed from his team’s 98-96 triumph over the Orlando Magic.
That’s a start for Duncan, who last played a game against the Los Angeles Lakers on Jan. 22 in L.A.
“It felt good,” Duncan said. “I couldn’t make a shot, but it was good to be out there with those guys, and do what I can to help them win.”
Duncan played a little more than 18 minutes but sat on the bench the entire fourth quarter as the Spurs rallied from 12 points behind at the start of the quarter to win on Kawhi Leonard’s 19-foot jumper with nine-tenths of a second remaining in the game.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said Duncan brought “a couple of rebounds, steadiness” to the Spurs, adding that “everybody feeds off him, and knows where to go on the court” when the power forward is involved.
Duncan contributed five points on 2-of-9 shooting, but pulled down seven rebounds, dished five assists and blocked three shots. On several occasions, Popovich has called Duncan the “center” of everything the club does on defense. So with the offense finally starting to mesh as players such as Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge find synergy, Duncan’s assistance on the defensive end should bring about optimism about the team’s prospects as the postseason approaches.
Popovich thought Duncan “did good,” but most importantly “he didn’t feel anything” in the sore right knee.
“He felt fine,” Popovich added.
Duncan snagged his first rebound just 32 seconds into the game, then blocked a Nikola Vucevic driving layup at nearly the halfway point of the first quarter. Aldridge and Danny Green agreed Duncan’s timing might be off, but both say he makes the Spurs a more formidable defensive team. Leonard raved about Duncan’s “great mind for basketball.”
“He definitely changes our defense,” Aldridge said. “He makes it tougher to score down there. It’s going to take him some time to get his timing back, but that’s just natural because he’s been out for a while. But he’s Tim. He’ll figure it out.”
Added Green: “I think it was a good game for him to come back on. Obviously, he’s still a little rusty. It’s hard to get back. Playing shape is very different. But I thought he played pretty well for the most part, didn’t get the foul calls that he wanted. But he made some good moves, got some good finishes, made some good passes. The timing will get there. Tim is another rebounding big, great defensive guy, blocks a lot of shots and he’s a great passing big. He’s also another pick-and-pop guy. Getting another one of those main guys back, it helps our defense a ton. We’re gonna need that.”
The team also needs this upcoming All-Star break to heal, as Tony Parker recovers from a sprained left ankle and Manu Ginobili works to return from testicular surgery. Duncan said the injured knee felt fine, and he didn’t suffer any setbacks against the Magic. But Duncan still needs to recover his timing while working himself back into playing shape.
“We’re gonna have to put it all together,” Duncan said. “Obviously, Tony was out tonight. Manu is still out. I came back and things changed a little bit. But we’ll figure it out. Luckily, we have another half of the season to do that.”