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The end of the Tim Duncan vs Kevin Garnett debate

After having mirror-image careers for so many seasons, there's finally no comparison.

Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

I grew up an only child. My parents had me when they were in their late-30s, so there wasn't ever much chance of me having a sibling. I always thought it would have been cool to have a brother. Whether older or younger, the idea of having another kid in the house to play with always appealed to me.

Although I never had a brother by relation, I had the next best thing. By the time I was old enough to walk, one of the kids that lived up the street from me, who was 8 years older, named Scott, decided to come play with me and make sure I had at least one friend.

As older kids do with younger kids, Scott influenced me a ton. I liked the stuff he liked, wanted to take part in the activities he did, etc. Scott was a huge San Antonio Spurs fan, so when I was 5, and Jordan had retired, and the Spurs were on their first championship run, I become one too.

Because of this shared fanhood, coupled with us always hanging out, Scott and I became close. He taught me about basketball and NBA history. He was a good person to talk to in general, because he was so much older and had solutions to any dumb kid issues I was going through. We also played a lot of basketball, often staying out late playing one on one. (I always beat him. He would tell you that he let me win because I was young. I beg to differ.)

Growing up in the early to mid-00's, and being Spurs fans, one of the debates we frequently had was over who was better between Tim Duncan and the Minnesota Timberwolves' Kevin Garnett. Both players were 7-footers who could play either post position, had an extended repertoire of post moves, could hit jumpers, and anchor defenses. They even both wore the number 21.

In fact, the only real differences between the two came in their personalities. Duncan was methodical, surgical on the floor, never displaying much emotion. Garnett, on the other hand, was the polar opposite. KG was fiery, intense, maybe even a little crazy. He talked to himself, the ball, opponents, and anyone else in the vicinity to get himself hyped up.

Because of their similarities in style of play and production, they were always compared to each other, and because of that, were always discussed between Scott and me. I remember having these discussions sometime around 2004, during KG's MVP season, and the year he made his deepest postseason run with the Wolves, to the Western Conference Finals. After both teams ended up falling to the Los Angeles Lakers in the playoffs, I remember having one of these discussions with Scott.

His argument was always the same. Even though Garnett may have had a better year than Duncan that year, Duncan had already won back to back MVPs, and had two NBA championships under his belt to that point, so he was by far and away the better player. My tendency, if only because I wasn't smart enough to form any smarter analysis at 10 years old, was to agree with him.

In reality, both of us were mistaken. Through both of their primes, Duncan and Garnett were always on the same plane. In fact, out of all their great seasons, Garnett had the best single individual season out of the two in that 2004 year, which, arguably, means he had the better prime than Duncan.

Fast forward some years, and things have changed a bit. Scott and I, while we will forever be brothers, don't talk about the Spurs or basketball with each other nearly as often; a by-product of him moving to Austin and my going to school in Ohio.

Duncan and Garnett have changed as well. They are past their primes, yet still playing for the same team they started with. (After KG took a detour, winning a ring with the Boston Celtics and playing with the Brooklyn Nets.)

Duncan is still performing at a high level at 39 years of age, albeit in fewer minutes. While Garnett's passion and spirit for the game will always be there, he's now a minor factor on the floor. His greater role within the Timberwolves organization is to groom young Karl-Anthony Towns, the prodigious rookie post player who compares favorably to both Duncan and Garnett.

Even after all these years, people still compare the two; but, now one clearly stands ahead of the other. Longevity means everything in these legacy discussions, and Duncan's incredible ability to impact games (and a championship team) at a high level at his age for the past few seasons gives him an edge.

This is no slight for KG. Garnett had wonderful longevity of his own, being an impact player and All-Star selection into his mid-30s. His sharp level of play just didn't extend as long as Duncan's -- which is okay, because not many do.


You could pick one of about 5 different players to be tonight's game MVP, but Duncan gets the nod here. He didn't score well, only having 2 points on 1-6 from the field. However, even without putting up points, he affected the game in so many ways. He patrolled the paint with even more effectiveness than usual, rendering the Timberwolves' efforts to score inside practically useless. He also moved the ball around well, running an especially smooth high-low game with LaMarcus Aldridge. Duncan, ever the ageless wonder, put the many ways he can change a game on full display.


  • 408: The Spurs have a point differential of +408, which is the second best of all time in the NBA 30 games into a season. They're second only to the 1971-72 Milwaukee Bucks' mark of +435, a team that went on to go 63-19, though they would lose to the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals. A similar fate may be in line for the Spurs, who are beating the pants off of opponents, but still have to compete with the seemingly indomitable Golden State Warriors for the crown in the West.
  • 80: In the modern NBA, many teams have an offensive philosophy of trying to score their points either in the lane, or by 3-pointers. The Spurs accomplished this much tonight, scoring 80 of their 108 points either in the paint or from beyond the arc.
  • 24: The amount of points the T-Wolves had in the paint. Tim Duncan and the rest of the Spurs' defense wrought havoc, closing up the lane all night. As a result, Minnesota was forced to move out to find decent looks, and only shot 41.7% from the field on the night


  • After being in a huge slump to start the season, Danny Green was able to get the lid off the rim, shooting 3-4 from deep. He actually would have been 4-5 from 3, but one got waved off due to a 3-second violation called on the Spurs. It could have been a one-night performance, but the hope is that this is the jumpstart Green was looking for. He's defended and rebounded well all year, and his gravity on offense still spaces the offense. But if he's able to actually hit 3-pointers consistently, an already powerful Spurs offense may turn into a complete juggernaut.
  • The Spurs' scoring in this game was incredibly balanced. 9 of their 13 players had 6 points or more, including double-figure scoring nights from David West and Kyle Anderson. The scoring was so spread out for so long that Kawhi Leonard, who led the team in scoring with 19, had only 7 going into the 4th quarter, and San Antonio had still already put the game away by then. (By the way, those 4th quarter points from Leonard had to have been the easiest 10+ point quarter of his life. He didn't even come close to breaking a sweat.)