Time catches up to the San Antonio Spurs

This group of ageing Spurs may never see another chance at a title.

San Antonio Spurs' Tim Duncan, second from right, leads his teammates Manu Ginobili (20), Gary Neal (14) and Tony Parker (9) off the court. Duncan says the Game 7 loss to the Miami Heat will 'haunt' him.
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The proud and the fallen, the San Antonio Spurs players stood at centre court looking lost and uncertain as confetti rained down.

Four times previously they had ventured into the NBA finals. Four times they had left champions.

This celebration was for someone else.

It must have been almost an out-of-body experience for them.

Losing Game 7 to Miami Heat.

Losing an NBA championship.

Tim Duncan seemed uncertain how to proceed. As Miami's players hugged each other, Duncan looked around, almost as if waiting for someone to tell him how losers handle moments like these.

His familiar blank stare more trancelike than ever, he finally started to walk off the court. He was stopped by Dwyane Wade and then LeBron James, who consoled him.

And then finally, he headed to the locker room.

Will these Spurs ever be seen again? These championship-calibre Spurs? A team led by its own big three, now looking tired and old and, finally, beaten.

These finals looked suspiciously like a last hurrah for the Spurs of Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Duncan.

Perhaps just as the basketball world had finally learnt to revere their teamwork and intelligence and respect their professionalism, they are ready to fade away.

Duncan is 37, Ginobili turns 36 next month and Parker is 31, but with a lot of basketball miles on him. Ginobili was inconsistent throughout the finals, too often trying to will his body to do things it no longer could.

He has talked of retirement.

Still, they had squeezed out one last post-season run and will forever be haunted by a Game 6 they led by five points with 30 seconds to play. A desperate three-point shot by Ray Allen deadlocked the game and sent it to an overtime the Heat won.

That they could rebound from that devastating loss and push the younger Heat to the limit in Game 7 was testimony to their resolve.

For Duncan there would be the memory of two missed shots at the 47-second mark that could have tied the game.

"Game 7 is always going to haunt me," Duncan said.

No one wanted to talk about what was next for the Spurs, that their great run might be at an end.

"I'm not going to think about next season," coach Greg Popovich said. "I'm going to enjoy what they accomplished this season and feel badly about the loss all at the same time. I don't know how you do that, but I'll figure it out."

People have been talking about the ageing Spurs for years, of course, but now Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Clippers are on the rise. They are young and hungry for a first title.

And the proud Spurs, now fallen, and maybe for the last time.

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