EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — They say he likes to join his oldest child on the playground of her pre-school, then he acts like he does on the road in fourth quarters.
Tim Duncan acts like a kid.
He says this is what happens when you get old in this league. You become young. And the Spurs saw all of it Tuesday night. On a road trip that is supposed to be dreary, in front of a small crowd without much emotion, Duncan fully enjoyed himself.
It didn't hurt he came close to a triple-double.
There have been times in his career when he's dragged, especially at this time of the season. Before the All-Star break, with the playoffs far away, it's not hard to grow weary of hotel rooms and refs.
Duncan has legitimate reasons to tire, too. Gregg Popovich now says he benched Duncan in Denver last week because he had a sore knee.
“It's sore every day,” Duncan said.
But instead of limping, Duncan chose to come out for warm-ups Tuesday night with a bounce. He put in his work, then started to walk off the court as two loose balls rolled toward him in the corner.
He picked up one and threw in a 3-pointer, and he yelled to teammates. Then he picked up the other and made that one, too.
Duncan went directly to a line of kids wanting autographs. He signed for 10 minutes, then posed for a picture. Not long after he gave the Nets some memorabilia; he opened the game with his signature bank shot.
This Tim was the spiritual opposite of the animated one on the HBO series, “The Life and Times of Tim.” Everything goes wrong for the fictional one, although, it should be noted, the woman in his HBO life is also named Amy.
Everything went right for this Tim, and maybe that's what happens against a rookie center, Brook Lopez. Duncan had similar success earlier in the season against Lopez.
Duncan led the Spurs with 27 points, but the rest of his stat line was more telling. He finished with nine rebounds, four blocks and eight assists, and the assist total has become a trend. In the 18 games he's played since the start of the year, Duncan has had five or more assists 11 times.
He also centered the defense, as always, and once, Duncan swatted back a Vince Carter attempt. During the next dead-ball moment, Duncan sidled up to Carter.
“You gave me that one,” Duncan told him.
The other Spurs say they notice a change. “He's nicer to me,” Matt Bonner kidded.
Shooting as Bonner has the last two games, Duncan has reason to be nicer to him.
But it's more than basketball, and Bruce Bowen sees this. One of his kids attends the same pre-school, and Bowen says Duncan is going through what he is going through.
“You have to look at when we get older, and become parents, we realize some things are here for us to enjoy,” Bowen said.
Such as Carter. Bowen switched to him in the second half and, just like old times, Carter scored only four points the rest of the way.
But Bowen didn't mean that. “Sometimes the business side gets so misconstrued for us that you forget the reason you were attracted to the game. I think, being that he has kids now, he can appreciate these times more. Because the next thing you know, it can be gone.”
Duncan understands all of this. Someone asked him how much longer he wants to play, and he said 10 years.
“But my body won't let me,” he said.
So he savors what he has now. The previous two nights, the Spurs stayed in Manhattan, where Duncan won his first title. Then they bussed to New Jersey, the team Duncan had to beat to win his second.
He said the memories don't overwhelm him. “I don't shed any tears,” he said, with a smile. But he admits he goes through these arenas now with a sense of how much has happened before and how little time is left.
“It's the latter part of my career,” he said, “and I see things differently. I take it less seriously.”
With that, he filed out of one locker room and headed toward another.