Despite Tim Duncan being robbed of a quadruple-double in Game Six of the 2003 NBA Finals, the San Antonio Spurs legend put on a defining performance as he secured his second championship in four years.
Up until recently, the triple-double was a coveted and seemingly impossible feat to accomplish as a professional basketball player. It was left to players at the peak of powers like historic point guard Magic Johnson, lifelong phenomenon LeBron James and the savior of the San Antonio Spurs: power forward Tim Duncan.
Now, it’s become more common than ever with players from varying levels of fame and status reaching the mark throughout the regular season. However, the quadruple-double is in a league of its own with only four players, including San Antonio Spurs center David Robinson, ever reaching the achievement. That list would’ve extended to five, but poor stat-keeping muddied one of the most prolific performances in NBA history.
On June 15, 2003, the Spurs played host to the New Jersey Nets in Game Six of the NBA Finals. Duncan dominated in the previous game with a 29-point, 17 rebound performance in a 10-point victory for the silver and black. With momentum on their side and the confidence of a championship-caliber organization, San Antonio returned home to what was then the SBC Center for a chance at securing a world championship.
Early in the contest, it seemed like New Jersey was taking its competitiveness to another level. Duncan only scored seven points in the first quarter and the Nets took an early eight-point lead. Point guard Jason Kidd had fire in his eyes, which helped him reach a 21-point, seven-assist stat-line in the contest. Just after Duncan tied the game at 38 apiece with under a minute left in the second quarter, Kidd drained a three-point shot to give his team a three-point lead at the half.
By this point, Duncan had a loaded stat line with double-digit points and a heap of counting stats to match. He was dominating around the rim, blocking shots left and right while fending off big man Kenyon Martin at the peak of his powers.
Things looked bleak in the fourth quarter as Duncan scored only four points and New Jersey extended its lead to three. During this timeframe, the two missed blocks that ruined Duncan’s quadruple-double occurred.
With 6:43 remaining in the third, Kerry Kittles attempts a scoop layup near the basket that Timmy knocks out of bounds. Instead of counting as a blocked shot, however, the officials recorded it as a deflection. Just two minutes later, Duncan stuffs one of Martin’s shots near the rim, but the credit was given to Robinson instead despite Timmy making the defensive rotation and pinning the layup.
Spurs fans have been reeling over this mistake for years. Everyone in the Alamo City champions Duncan and his legacy as one of the greatest to ever play the sport. Having the illusive quadruple-double on his resume would’ve been one more bullet point to use in arguments against the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers fans who place Larry Bird and Shaquille O’Neal above him.
Regardless, Duncan powered through in spite of his rough quarter and caught fire in what would be the final quarter of the season. San Antonio put together a 19-0 run in the fourth surged by Duncan’s smothering defense. He blocked three shots in that span and altered a handful more, causing the Nets to go scoreless on eight-strait possessions while racking up assists to his teammates in the process.
"How many times have you seen somebody get a triple-double in Game 6 in the deciding game to win the championship?"
— FOX Sports (@FOXSports) May 30, 2019
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San Antonio escaped a game they were never supposed to win based on the first three-quarters on the back of their star player. Duncan’s final stat line was 21 points, 20 rebounds, 10 assists and eight blocks on 9-of-19 shooting. His block percentage was inconceivable at 12.6 percent, and his Box Plus/Minus reflected that at a sky-high 16.4.
If the basketball world is going to remember Duncan for a single performance, this would be the one. Even though he didn’t officially get the quadruple-double that he deserved, he still asserted his dominance on the league throughout the 2002-03 season which culminated with his single greatest game at the very end. Obviously Duncan was crowned the NBA Finals MVP, putting him in elite company with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Michael Jordan, amongst others, as he won both MVP awards in one season.
As we all know, Duncan continued a surefire Hall of Fame career, winning multiple championships and various awards along the way. All of his accomplishments landed him to where he is today—Back on the Spurs’ bench with his head coach and close friend, Gregg Popovich.
The greatest Spur of all-time has never stopped giving everything he can to San Antonio’s franchise, and we’ll all remember his greatest moment doing the thing he loved the most.