duncanIt was late Tuesday. I had watched the Twins and Mike Pelfrey win a crisply played game — a sentence that has not been written often — and then taken care of some late-night tasks, including some prep for Thursday’s big Vikings-focused Star Tribune NFL draft show, which will air live on the website starting at 7 p.m.

It was approaching midnight, and I did a quick scan of scores on my phone, thinking I was about to go to bed. But there it was: Spurs 82, Clippers 82, end of the third quarter.

Sports fans know this dilemma well: Do you pass on the finish, knowing that you could very well miss something great … or do you just give in, knowing full well the final quarter of a pivotal Game 5 in a tied series between two very good teams will be, at the very least, good — and might very well be much better than that.

You can imagine what happened next.

The TV went back on, and sleep became the secondary priority. The reward was, of course, 12 great minutes of basketball. The Spurs forged ahead by seven points late, but the Clippers roared back. Then, on a pivotal possession, Tim Duncan stuffed Blake Griffin so cleanly and embarrassingly that you would swear Griffin was the 39-year-old in the fourth year of his alleged decline and Duncan was the 26-year-old up-and-comer with springs in his legs.

In the final seconds, the Clippers had a potential go-ahead bucket negated by offensive basket interference (a good call and easy call). The Spurs never gave them another sniff, grabbing a critical offensive rebound to seal the deal.

At that moment, Duncan smiled broadly (image via a TNT screen grab). It was the smile of a man who knows that someday, somehow, this dynasty is going to end. He will not play forever, even if at this point nobody can be sure where the finish line is, exactly. It was the smile of a man who doesn’t often smile, but who knew that at the moment that rebound came down, his team had secured the win that exponentially increased its odds of moving on to the second round.

In the postgame interview, Duncan gushed — as much as Duncan can gush — about what a great game it was to be a part of.

If a future Hall of Famer — more than that, I suppose: arguably one of the 10 greatest players in NBA history — felt that way about playing in it, nobody who stayed up into Wednesday morning to watch the end should feel cheated. Tired, yes, but no regrets.

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