Jazz bigs, Duncan share mutual admiration

While the NBA Playoffs are very competitive and can get heated and intense quickly, as referenced byDuncan and Milsap Celtics guard Rajon Rondo’s suspension, Knicks center Amar’e Stoudemire punching the glass case around a fire extinguisher and some chipiness in last night’s Mavericks-Thunder game, apparently the Utah Jazz don’t plan to get too intense unless they are killing the San Antonio Spurs with kindness.

Talking to Paul Millsap before Game 1 tipped off, it was easy to see the respect Millsap had for Spurs forward Tim Duncan.

“It’s always fun to go out there and play against one of the best players ever,” Millsap said. “We know what he’s gonna bring to the table so the best thing for us to do is to try to limit everything that he does.”

Lost in the headlines centering around Tony Parker’s 28-point performance was Duncan and has 17 point, 11 rebound, five assist game. Most importantly though, Duncan limited Jazz center Al Jefferson to 16 points.

It appeared early on that Duncan would have a rough night after Jefferson pump-faked him to get to the basket, but Duncan gave Jefferson a taste of his own medicine later on and finished it with a dunk over Millsap.

Throughout the game, Duncan and Jefferson had what appeared to be a friendly matchup, often joking during free throws. The friendly exchange, even during the playoffs, wasn’t too shocking considering Jefferson idolized Duncan and this series meant more than just playing another team for him.

“He might not be as quick as he used to be, but he makes that up with experience and he’s very smart. He still knows how to get to the basket and score when he wants to,” Jefferson said. “He’s still a great defensive player. Like I told him before the game, it’s just an honor to go against him in the playoffs. So, I’m learning as I go playing against him.”

“Every time I play against him I learn something new and I take something from him and try to use it for myself. It’s a great experience. To me, he’s not as old as everyone says he is. He still steps up and plays well on the court.”

Duncan’s been doing that all season for the Spurs. While many said he was done, Duncan found a way to come back and close out the season stronger than he has in recent years.

While Jazz fans have been vocal about their displeasure with Jefferson’s lack of intensity in online forums, Jody Genessy of the Deseret News caught up with Duncan yesterday, who was just as complimentary as Jefferson.

“Al’s been always great and given me a lot of compliments over the years, but he’s one heck of a player. He is their main player,” Duncan said Monday. “I’m focused on just trying to slow him down as much as possible. The respect factor is there on both sides, but bottom line is we’re both trying to win games.”

“He’s an excellent post player and always a challenge. Obviously, I have some things I can work on to take away from him,” Duncan added. “I think I gave a couple of things that were too easy. All in all, I thought we both played each other pretty well.”

While this is a far cry from last season’s first round matchup against the Memphis Grizzlies, where one former Spur talked about getting tired of seeing the same faces, it’s also a refreshing change.

As one Jazz forum poster wrote, the Spurs won four championships being nice and respectful.

About Michael A. De Leon

Michael founded Project Spurs in 2004. He started The Spurscast, the first Spurs podcast on the Internet, in 2005. Michael has been interviewed by the BBC, SportTalk, the Sports Reporters Radio Show, MemphisSportLive, OKC Sports Wrap and ESPN radio among others. He is a credentialed member of the media for the San Antonio Spurs and Austin Toros. He is also the founder of Project Spurs' sister sites, Toros Nation and Stars Hoops.

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