HOUSTON -- San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich muttered three words in discussing milestones hit by Tim Duncan in the team’s 104-94 win Saturday over the Houston Rockets to close out the annual Rodeo Road Trip.
“He doesn’t care,” Popovich said.
Those words would prove prophetic minutes later. Having passed Karl Malone for sixth in NBA history for career rebounds (14,969) on Saturday, in addition to becoming just the fifth player in league history to post at least 3,000 blocks, Duncan strolled a buffet line in the Spurs’ locker room holding a plate and lifting metal lids, trying to figure out what to eat.
Tim, you passed Karl Malone on the all-time rebounds list.
“Nice,” he said.
Did you get off the floor on that 3,000th block?
“I haven’t gotten off the floor since my 2000th block,” Duncan joked.
But the block proved significant since you also saved it out of bounds to a teammate, right?
“Yeah,” Duncan said. “I’ll take that.”
San Antonio, meanwhile, gladly accepts the production Duncan continues to deliver at the age of 39; he has helped the Spurs achieve their 50th win of the season in just 59 outings, which gives the team the designation of becoming the seventh-fastest team to 50 wins in NBA history.
Duncan also has helped the Spurs win 50-plus games in every season since he was drafted in 1997, except for the lockout year in 1998-99, when the team posted a 37-13 mark.
In one corner of the locker room, LaMarcus Aldridge, David West and Rasual Butler marveled at Duncan’s 3,000 blocks, asking how many other players in NBA history had achieved such a feat. The answer is just four since blocks became an official league statistic during the 1973-74 season: Hakeem Olajuwon (3,830), who was in attendance Saturday, along with Dikembe Mutombo (3,289), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (3,189) and Mark Eaton (3,064).
“I don’t know what to say,” point guard Tony Parker said. “He’s been unbelievable; an unbelievable career, obviously. And 3,000 blocks, that’s a lot, that’s a lot of great defense. [He’s] maybe one of the best defenders ever in the NBA.”
Kawhi Leonard and Aldridge stole the show on Saturday, no doubt. Leonard poured in a team-high 27 points to go with eight rebounds, while Aldridge contributed 26 points and 16 rebounds. Duncan, meanwhile, had six points on 3-of-7 shooting, with five rebounds and a team-high six assists.
Given the addition of Aldridge, Duncan and the rest of the Spurs have had to adjust their games, with the 19-year veteran making the most significant changes.
“Everybody has to adjust,” Parker explained. “I think it’s just we’re getting more post-up [plays] for L.A. [Aldridge]. Before, all of our post-up plays were for Timmy, basically. Now, everything is for L.A. But Timmy has been deferring and being a team player, like everybody else on the team. It’s not just one guy on our team. Everybody’s gonna help and contribute. And it depends. On different nights, it could be somebody else.”
On this night, Leonard, Aldridge and Parker provided most of the team’s production offensively. But throughout the season, Duncan has become more of a ball distributor, while maintaining his role defensively as the center of everything the Spurs do.
Earlier in the season, Duncan finished a game scoreless for the first time in his career. When informed, Duncan was totally unaware, saying, “I guess I screwed that up.” Same thing when earlier in the season, Duncan finished his first career game without a rebound.
He doesn’t care.
“You guys tell me after [the milestones] happen,” Duncan said. “I’m not really out here chasing them. It is what it is, and I’m honored to be mentioned with some of these guys’ names.
"But I’m not out there chasing them.”