Tim Duncan admits it. He wanted to play.

The bone bruise in his left knee he suffered at Philadelphia and reaggravated against Washington, and had caused him to miss eight of nine games, felt fine early in the Spurs’ just-completed eastern leg of the rodeo road trip.

It wasn’t until Wednesday in Cleveland, the last game before the All-Star break, that coach Gregg Popovich was ready to let his 36-year-old star slip off his sport coat and slide on a uniform.

“I could have (played), but honestly sitting here right now, I’m glad I waited,” Duncan said after logging nearly 26 minutes in the Spurs’ 96-95 win over Cleveland. “It’s an injury I didn’t want to recur throughout the season. All that was going to help was rest.”

Duncan scored 13 points, grabbed six rebounds and blocked four shots in his first action since Jan. 2, when Washington’s Martell Webster rolled into the back of his legs in a game at the AT&T Center.

There was a time when being forcibly made to sit would have annoyed the Spurs’ All-Star. After 15-plus seasons under Popovich, Duncan has come to appreciate his coach’s caring touch.

“I just put it all in his hands and he makes the right decision,” Duncan said. “He makes the decision that’s best for us as parts of this team. We want to be out there and helping every game. In a long season like this, the point is to be healthy at the end of the season.”

After surviving his return to the court no worse for wear, Duncan is off to Houston for this weekend’s All-Star festivities.

He does so toting averages of 17.2 points and 9.6 rebounds, his highest numbers since 2009-10. Duncan is also blocking 2.8 shots per game, 0.1 off a career high set in 2002-03, his second MVP season.

When play resumes next week, Duncan will look to add to them knowing his knee is as healthy as it can be.

“I can be defiant and be mad at Pop, but in the long run he always has my best interest in hand,” Duncan said. “This worked out probably the best possible way.”