Duncan shrugged off a stretch of eight straight misses to dominate the fourth quarter of Game 7, finishing with 25 points and 11 rebounds as the Spurs beat the Detroit Pistons 81-74 Thursday night.
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Duncan earned his third MVP of the finals, giving San Antonio its third title in seven years and denying Detroit a chance to repeat.
"He showed that he can not only deal with that pressure, but overcome it," former teammate David Robinson said.
"A lot of athletes would have crumbled under that type of pressure, but he came out in that second half and showed unbelievable championship character. I'm so proud of him because he just really solidified himself as one of the top couple of power forwards ever. I mean, unbelievable character — just awesome," he said.
In turning around the worst postseason series of his career, Duncan teamed with Manu Ginobili to help the Spurs overcome a nine-point deficit in the third quarter to tie it going into the final period.
The Spurs are certainly not a dynasty, but their staying power as a championship caliber team — and their performance in the NBA's first Game 7 in the finals since 1994 — helps validate their legacy.
Ginobili scored 23 points with a series of slashing, scintillating drives and big passes, and his drive through traffic for a layup late in the fourth quarter took the last of the fight out of the Pistons.
"I don't even think we've scratched the surface of him," Duncan said. "He's going to continue to grow, and we're going to continue to grow around him."
Behind Duncan, the stoic established star, and Ginobili, the flashy young Argentine who won an Olympic gold medal in Athens, the Spurs celebrated on their home court with silver and black confetti streaming down from the rafters.
"We just played a great team. I don't know how the hell we did it, but I am thrilled," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said after embracing good friend Larry Brown as the game ended. Popovich became the third coach with three titles, while the Detroit coach headed into an uncertain future.
"I'm just as proud this year as I was last year," Brown said.
The Pistons recovered from two early blowout losses, won twice and then split the next two games before Duncan and the Spurs reasserted themselves in the end.