A Minnesota basketball fan born in the late ‘80s or early ‘90s had the opportunity to become NBA fans at the perfect time. Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon were still league powers while youngsters like Shaquille O’Neal, Allen Iverson, and Kobe Bryant were ascending. Canada still had two teams and the Seattle SuperSonics were still a thing.
Of course, the biggest hook at Target Center in the mid ‘90s was Kevin Garnett. Not only was Garnett a rising star, but Tim Duncan’s entrance in the league at the end of the decade gave him a legitimate rival for years to come.
Garnett’s fiery on-court persona contradicted Duncan’s calm demeanor. Duncan had the elite powerful style of play while Garnett thrived on using his athleticism to finesse opponents on both ends. Both players even wore the same number. This was perfect.
Well, perfect until you look at the two players’ head-to-head records. Duncan’s teams were 27-17 in their regular season meetings and won 6-of-8 postseason matchups. Despite similar head-to-head numbers, both players would probably tell you they would take the winning over big numbers.
However, that’s not very fun for a basketball blog. This is a hiatus, after all.
Forty-four games is a healthy sample size and both players had great games against the other. Since this is a Timberwolves blog, we’re going to look at Garnett’s best games versus Duncan as a Timberwolf.
Let’s dive in.
Timberwolves @ Spurs (Game 2, first round of the 1999 playoffs)
At just 22 years old, Garnett was dealing with the twin towers of David Robinson and Tim Duncan. Down 0-1 in the five-game series, the Wolves needed a repeat of Garnett’s strong Game 1 performance, or better, to avoid going back home on the brink of elimination.
Playing all but two minutes of the contest, Garnett posted 26 points, 12 boards, and six assists. Garnett got it done on the defensive end swiping three steals and swatting two shots.
Garnett averaged 21.8 points, 12.1 rebounds, and 3.8 assists per game on 44 percent shooting for the series. This wasn’t the first time Garnett encountered a formidable front court in the playoffs, but he certainly rose to the occasion with only Terrell Brandon to take the pressure off him.
Spurs @ Timberwolves (1/27/2003)
Both teams had solidified themselves as Western Conference powers by this point. Trailing Minnesota by a half-game in the standings, San Antonio was looking to leap up the standings. Garnett had other ideas.
In just 35 minutes, Garnett dropped 34 points while grabbing 10 rebounds and dishing 10 assists in the victory. Garnett could hardly miss, connecting on 14-of-19 shots from the field and 6-of-8 from the line. This was one of Duncan’s worst performances against Garnett as he shot 5-for-17 from the field, though he did make seven free throws and grab 10 boards.
Thanks to Garnett, the Wolves took a crucial 106-95 win, gaining another game in the standings.
Spurs @ Timberwolves (12/15/2005)
To be honest, the only surprising part of Garnett losing his patience with this franchise is that it didn’t happen sooner. Garnett was 18 months removed from his first MVP award and a deep playoff run.
Fast forward to this December meeting and the Wolves were no longer a conference power. Flip Saunders, Sam Cassell, and even Latrell Sprewell were all gone by this point. Somehow, the Wolves were three games above .500. Hey, Michael Olowokandi and Marko Jaric were still there.
This was the night Garnett posted 24 points, 21 rebounds, and six assists. Garnett had two fewer boards that his teammates did combined in this game. While this was a good Wally Szczerbiak night, 23 points and six rebounds, Jaric had 11 points on 5-for-13 shooting.
The Wolves lost this game 90-88 after rallying back from 89-82 down. Jaric was at the line with five seconds remaining to put his team ahead but split the free throws, allowing the Spurs’ Michael Finley to hit the game-clinching free throw seconds later.
I bet Garnett didn’t even look at Jaric until the all-star break afterwards.
Timberwolves @ Spurs (3/21/2003)
This was a game the Wolves probably shouldn’t have won. The teams were a couple games apart in the standings but the Wolves needed a great performance from Garnett and the supporting cast.
While the Wolves would win 101-94 in overtime, this was no small feat. In addition to playing on the road, Duncan posted an 29-point, 12-rebound, and three-block performance. This night was Duncan’s night to experience his teammates waste a great performance of his.
Garnett had 24 points, 18 rebounds, eight assists and five blocks, but he wasn’t alone. Anthony Peeler had 23 points and Szczerbiak added 14 points, seven rebounds, and four assists.
In overtime, it was Troy Hudson and Garnett who put the game away for the Timberwolves.
San Antonio Spurs @ Timberwolves (1/3/2007)
In one of the last meetings between Duncan and Garnett in a Wolves uniform, this one would also go to overtime. This was an era where Mark Blount shot 14 times a game and Randy Foye was still a young player.
This was not a great Garnett shooting night but he found other ways to make his mark. Garnett shot just 9-of-23 from the field but made 9-of-10 free throws. Further more, Garnett pulled in 17 rebounds and seven assists. It was Garnett who made two free throws in overtime that would put the Wolves up for good.
This time, there was no off-night for Duncan. The Spurs big man posted 24 points, 13 rebounds, five assists, and five blocks. Garnett and Company certainly earned this win.
An All-Time Rivalry
With dozens of games against each other over the years, you could choose from a variety of other matchups to discuss for this post. You could also argue that there were even better games than the ones I mentioned above. Either way, looking back, we we were truly lucky to see two great players deliver elite performances against each other time after time. It’s difficult to fully appreciate these things when they happen in the moment but knowing what we do today, we were extremely fortunate to watch these two Hall of Famers go at it during their prime years.