The very first post I ever wrote at PtR, way back in the 2005-06 campaign, was a reply to site founder Matthew Powell's love note to Kevin Garnett. For reasons that escape me, Powell was rather fond of The Big Ticket, a player whom I've always found unlikable in the best of times and downright loathsome in others. I remember writing some long anti-Garnett rant, emphasizing how Duncan was not only the far better player, but also a much sounder investment for building a team because of his superior leadership qualities.
Duncan's attempt to prank Manu Ginobili goes awry
There's getting even. There's getting ahead. And then there's what Duncan did to Manu on New Year's Eve at the AT&T Center.
Back in those days, Garnett had a well-publicized feud with his Minnesota second banana, Wally Szczerbiak, and some lesser-known-about dust-ups in practice with random whodats. My point was that not only would such a thing never happen with Duncan, but even if had a teammate that he couldn't stand personally or professionally, he'd find a way to make it work with the guy, or the player would just quietly be shipped out without fanfare or controversy. There would be no leaks or inside scoops. The guy would just vanish. I mean, it's theoretically possible that Duncan despises Mengke Bateer, but we're never gonna find out about it.
As I was watching the Spurs casually dispatch that pathetic Nets team, I was thinking about all the Duncan vs. Garnett comparisons written over the years. The on-court mannerisms between the two future Hall-of-Famers couldn't be more different. One screams and struts and claps and howls, talks trash incessantly, tries to bully foreign players and demands that officials from the Guinness Book of World Records follow him from arena to arena, lest he break his own record for times uttering a certain 12-letter expletive within a two-hour period. The other guy just stares impassively, keeps quiet, plays the game and maybe bulges his eyes out at a bad call or claps his hands together in frustration at a missed shot.
I've regarded most of Garnett's shortcomings with a shrug. However distasteful I found his on-court antics, I couldn't deny that he was talented, passionate and a winner. If all the trash talk and screaming and swearing is how he fires himself up ... whatever, it works for him (even though it's an open secret in the league that Garnett is the ultimate phony tough guy, a "fugazi" of the highest order).
I've long disliked KG, even reviled him at times, but until I saw him with my own eyes last night, I never pitied the guy before. I know the saying goes that "Father Time Is Undefeated," but this was something beyond a win. This was Muhammad Ali's last fight against Larry Holmes, where he was too winded to even throw a punch. This was Willie Mays dropping an easy fly ball in the World Series as a Met. This was Brett Favre's second season as a Viking. It's just sad now. Pathetic really. Garnett isn't just in decline. Rigor mortis has already set in. He's averaging 8.3 fewer points and shooting 13 percent less than last season, and his 2012-13 numbers were the second-worst of his career, after his rookie season. How can you be a seven-footer and shoot 36 percent from the field? That's practically impossible, unless you're strictly a stretch four. Garnett has attempted three three-pointers all season, so he's not a stretch four. His PER is 10.7, almost half what it was last year, which was the lowest he put up since he was 20 years old.
Even more incriminating, KG is averaging just 21.5 minutes per game. His previous lowest, as a rookie, was 28.7. Remember when Jason Kidd, after he was hired as head coach, said he was going to limit Garnett's minutes to 25 a night and hold him back on some back-to-backs like Pop does with Duncan? Garnett immediately and publicly chafed at that, saying Kidd's effort to explain his concerns didn't "go too well." He just wanted to look like a tough guy with the media, being defiant, refusing to concede at all that he's not what he once was, and then once the games started, he's playing even fewer minutes than expected, and not looking at all bothered by it.
The more I think about it, pity isn't the right word to describe how I feel watching Garnett play. Angry is more like it. Watching him play, watching him sit on the bench for the lion's share of the game, cashing an eight-figure check, makes me angry. I know it's not my money, but it's still a disgrace. It's one thing for talent to fade, for joints to stiffen and legs to lose their springs. It happens to all of us. What I can't abide or understand though is what happened to Garnett's pride. As talented as he was in his prime, the defining characteristics of his game used to be his pride, his passion and his will to win. Now it seems that they've all been completely sapped out and he's just a guy, chilling on the bench, making more money than a hundred teachers and cops and firefighters put together, and watching Mason Plumlee throw down reverse jams (when not being blocked by the Red Mamba, that is).
Tim Duncan would never, ever, ever let himself come to this.
* * *
The Spurs enter the new year with just seven losses so far, exactly where I predicted they'd be, albeit with one fewer win thanks to the postponement in Mexico City versus the Timberwolves. Lord knows I've dumped on them as much as anyone for not being able to beat anybody good, but I do have to give the fellas credit for not dropping any games to the second-tier teams. No small feat, that.
For every letdown against Houston or Oklahoma City, there was a feel-good triumph, such as the road win at Golden State where The Big Three were rested, or the SEGABABA at Dallas, where the good guys shook off the stench of a rotten Christmas loss with a win in the DeJuan Blair Revenge Game. Winning at Phoenix is certainly more complicated this season than people figured it'd be during the summer, and even the home win versus Toronto shouldn't be dismissed as the Raptors are as in form as anyone in the East, having beaten both the Thunder and the Pacers recently.
In fact, thanks to Toronto's win over Indiana, the Spurs are only a half game out for the best overall record in the league, so they're still well within striking distance for home-court advantage, should they want to go for it (and they should). The January schedule eases up a bit, with 14 games on the slate, nine at home, and only three BABAs, all of which will feature really short plane flights (Memphis to San Antonio for the first set, San Antonio to New Orleans for the second, and Houston to San Antonio for the third). I'll be optimistic and predict an 11-3 record for them, with road losses at the Pelicans and the Heat and one home upset against the Clippers or maybe the Blazers.
I do not see them losing at Houston. I want to be emphatic about that. I have a gut feeling they'll come up big on the road for that one. 36-10 going into February, mark it down.
* * *
December Three Stars Tally:
18. Atl 3. Splitter (8) 2. Diaw (16) 1. Duncan (33)
19. Ind 3. Duncan (34) 2. Leonard (20) 1. Ginobili (23)
20. @Tor 3. Leonard (21) 2. Baynes (3) 1. Ginobili (28)
21. @Mil 3. Leonard (22) 2. Green (21) 1. Duncan (39)
22. Min 3. Diaw (17) 2. Leonard (25) 1. Ginobili (33)
23. @Uta 3. Parker (32) 2. Baynes (6) 1. Duncan (44)
24. @LAC 3. Green (22) 2. Ginobili (36) 1. Duncan (49)
25. @Phx 3. Diaw (18) 2. Duncan (52) 1. Ginobili (41)
26. @GS 3. Diaw (19) 2. Leonard (28) 1. Belinelli (16)
27. OKC 3. Duncan (53) 2. Splitter (11) 1. Parker (37)
28. Tor 3. Ginobili (42) 2. Parker (40) 1. Green (27)
29. Hou 3. Mills (10) 2. Duncan (56) 1. Ginobili (47)
30. @Dal 3. Diaw (20) 2. Green (30) 1. Duncan (61)
31. Sac 3. Diaw (21) 2. Parker (43) 1. Ginobili (52)
32. Bro 3. Belinelli (17) 2. Splitter (14) 1. Parker (48)
Ginobili 34 pts (Six 1sts, One 2nd, One 3rd)
Duncan 33 pts (Five 1sts, Two 2nds, Two 3rds)
Parker 17 pts (Two 1sts, Two 2nds, One 3rd)
Green 12 pts (One 1st, Two 2nds, One 3rd)
Leonard 11 pts (Three 2nds, Two 3rds)
Diaw 8 pts (One 2nd, Five 3rds)
Splitter 7 pts (Two 2nds, One 3rd)
Baynes 6 pts (Two 2nds)
Belinelli 6 pts (One 1st, One 3rd)
Mills 1 pt (One 3rd)
By Player Total:
Duncan 61 pts (Nine 1sts, Three 2nds, Seven 3rds)
Ginobili 52 pts (Eight 1sts, Two 2nds, Six 3rds)
Parker 48 pts (Five 1sts, Seven 2nds, Two 3rds)
Green 30 pts (Four 1sts, Three 2nds, One 3rd)
Leonard 28 pts (Three 1sts, Three 2nds, Four 3rds)
Diaw 21 pts (Five 2nds, Six 3rds)
Belinelli 17 pts (Two 1sts, Two 2nds, One 3rd)
Splitter 14 pts (Four 2nds, Two 3rds)
Mills 10 pts (One 1st, One 2nd, Two 3rds)
Baynes 6 pts (Two 2nds)
Joseph 1 pt (One 3rd)
Before I tallied it up I thought this was a runaway for Ginobili, but apparently not. He and Duncan were neck-and-neck, well ahead of Parker and everyone else. The two geezers pretty much carried the team to a 11-4 record, so congratulate Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili, your Co-MVPs for December.