NBA Player Heated Rivalries: Kevin Garnett vs. Tim Duncan

Some heated rivalries between players can simply be a case of bad blood that proves distracting. Other player rivalries can seem to drive both players to become even better, if only to get one over the other. Such is the intensity and fast action of the NBA, its packed schedule can forge some truly great rivalries, especially into the NBA finals. That’s certainly the case for the rivalry between Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan. 

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The Origins of the Heated Rivalry

If you had to compile a list of the greatest power forwards, it would be amiss to not include Tim Duncan of the San Antonio Spurs and Kevin Garnett of the Minnesota Timberwolves. Not only have they both proved inspirational on the court but both have redefined the position itself in the modern age. Both players were inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2020. That’s perhaps where the rivalry starts as Garnett could be described as explosive while Duncan had a blander playing style with a discreet personality. 

Their first matchup was on February 24th, 1998 with the Spurs winning 105-99 over the Timberwolves. Duncan had been drafted in as the top overall pick and Garnett, with Stephon Marbury, had been brought in to keep their team competing. Even then, Duncan only played 35 minutes as the likes of Jaren Jackson and Vinny Del Negro could excel. 

Both Duncan and Garnett left the court with some big numbers. Duncan led the way with 28 points, 19 rebounds, and three assists versus Garnett’s 25 points, including 11 rebounds, and a single assist. This was a sign of things to come and expectations began to rise for both players. If you want to see how your expectations can help you with your wagers then check out the latest NBA odds

A Pure Basketball Rivalry

It may seem strange to note that Garnett and Duncan only faced each other twice in the postseason. That says more about how Garnett had comparatively little to work with at Minnesota rather than his own failings. The rivalry was played out on the basketball court as there was little to go by outside of it.

Their personalities rarely clashed as they were so different. Duncan barely leaves a trace aside from his on-court performances. He’s as introverted as they come as you will struggle to see him featured in the newspapers or on commercials (even a Foot Locker commercial saw him poke fun at his own relaxed demeanor). Fans love him and so he can play without fear of a backlash as his performances are marked by their sheer consistency.

Then there is Kevin Garnett who will dominate the airwaves when given a microphone. However, there are suggestions that Duncan resents Kevin Garnett though in a typically quiet manner. Few public words exist to back it up yet Duncan’s record against Garnett’s teams suggests that Duncan ups his game judging by his and his team’s records whenever he faces Garnett. That suggests that Duncan has been paying attention to any needle and let his playing do the talking, as you may expect.

The Defining Matchups

Garnett has gotten the better of Duncan a few times, memorably on 17th November 2000. Back then, he was the main player at Minnesota Timberwolves and left the court with 32 points, three assists, 12 rebounds, three blocks, and two steals. If anything, it was the Kevin Garnett Show as the Timberwolves won 99-94.

A few months later on April 21st, 2001, both players showed up to great effect. During the first round duel in the playoffs, both Garnett and Duncan demonstrated their power and game know-how. Duncan claimed the victory with 33 points and 15 rebounds yet Garnett still played admirably with 25 points and 13 rebounds as the Spurs triumphed 87-82.

Then it became Tim Duncan’s time to shine, most notably on January 14th, 2004. Though Duncan managed a stupefying 36 points, seven assists, and 20 rebounds, Garnett’s Timberwolves still prevailed 100-93. That was more down to Spurs’ head coach, Gregg Popovich’s game management rather than Duncan’s.

One of their later matchups also needs mentioning and that was on February 8th, 2009. Arguably, this was the final time that both players could be said to be at their peak. Spurs won 105 over Garnett’s Boston Celtics yet both players produced for arguably the last time on the same court.

Garnett’s decline would occur that season yet he left the court with stats of 26 points and 12 rebounds. Duncan’s own decline would come a year later yet he ended with 23 points and 13 rebounds. Those numbers remain impressive yet you can only imagine what the numbers they would have produced if they played under the modern rules.


Heated player rivalries are for the overall benefit of basketball as they force players to rise and excel. You can see that down the decades with Magic Johnson against Isiah Thomas, Michael Jordan versus Isiah Thomas, or Shaquille O’Neal versus Kobe Bryant.

In the case of Garnett v Duncan, both players retired in 2016 but left a legacy of how players in the same position and with the same height can compete.

Their records were near identical though Duncan was named NBA MVP twice while Garnett can only claim to have been named once.

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