Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett are two of the greatest players at their position in NBA history. They were stars that were able to directly impact the game on both the defensive and offensive end of the floor. Duncan and Garnett were so similar yet so different in their ways but both found great success at the highest levels of basketball.
Duncan became the consensus “greatest power forward of all time with a cool, calm, and collected style. He was never known to get in your face after a big play or get boisterous with the media, but he was a straight-up killer on the court. Despite his lack of flash or pageantry, Duncan dominated opponents and became a 15-time All-Star, 2-time MVP, 3-time Finals MVP, and a 5-time champion. He didn’t need a flashy game to prove to anyone that he was the best player on the floor any given night, and opponents knew it too.
Garnett on the other hand, well, he made a little more noise. Garnett is widely known as one of the best trash talkers ever and he wasn’t afraid to let you know he was killing you. The stories of his trash-talking have reached legendary heights, but he backed it up fully. Sorry, Carmelo. Garnett was a dominant two-way power forward who commanded control of his domain. Whether he was viciously ripping down boards or throwing down dunks with that same energy, his presence was monstrous amongst men.
These two had long and illustrious careers in the NBA and it is time we compare them by their single-game career highs.
Tim Duncan – 53 Points (Spurs vs. Mavericks, December 26, 2001)
Kevin Garnett – 47 Points (Timberwolves vs. Suns, January 4, 2005)
Tim Duncan’s career-high in scoring came in a heartbreaking loss to the Dallas Mavericks back in 2005. The Spurs were coming off of a bad loss to the Milwaukee Bucks and were looking to bounce back quickly. Duncan was unbelievable on this night shooting 19/28 from the field and at one point hitting 15 consecutive free throws. He was unbelievable. His team on the other hand was not.
Aside from Duncan, the Spurs shot just 20- 57 from the field on that night. Despite the poor shooting, the Spurs were still able to force overtime against Dallas. Overtime was tight and the Spurs took a two-point lead with just seconds to spare. Steve Nash and the Mavs were not to be denied and with 0.6 seconds left, Nash drained a three to give Dallas the win. Duncan famously said after the game “I wish I would have missed all of my shots the way this game went”
Kevin Garnett’s big night unfortunately also came in a loss coincidently at the hands of a Steve-Nash-led squad. Garnett’s performance eerily mirrors Duncan’s in more than one way as he also shot 19-28 from the field on the night. Garnett also pulled down 17 rebounds, dished out 4 assists, and got himself 2 steals. The Phoenix Suns, however, were 26-4 at the time and took home the W 122-115. The Timberwolves let him down just as the Spurs did Duncan.
Aside from Garnett, the Wolves shot just 28-58 with only Sam Casell contributing with 24 points and 9 assists on 11-15 shooting. This was Nash and Amare Stoudemire’s night. Amare finished with 34 points and 8 rebounds while Nash went for 20 points and dished out 16 assists. Nash would go on to take home the MVP award that season as the Suns finished with the best record in the NBA at 62-20.
Advantage: Tim Duncan
Tim Duncan – 27 Rebounds (Spurs vs. Hawks, January 27, 2010)
Kevin Garnett – 25 Rebounds (Timberwolves vs. Kings, December 5, 2003), (Timberwolves vs. Magic, January 12, 2005)
Duncan’s career-high in boards game in 2010 against the Atlanta Hawks in a 105-90 victory. Duncan had an abysmal shooting night, going 5-20 from the field for 21 points to go with his 27 rebounds. As Tim Duncan always did, he found a way to impact the game even when he was struggling to shoot the ball. Duncan grabbed 25 or more rebounds in a single game 3 separate times in his playing career, finishing with 15,091 total in 20 seasons. Not only is he the Spurs franchise leader in the category but he also ranks 7th all time.
Kevin Garnett grabbed his career-high in rebounds twice with 25 against both the Magic and Kings. Garnett feasted on the Kings on the glass in his career, grabbing 24 or more rebounds 4 times against them in his career.
On the day in 2003 that he grabbed 25, Garnett also poured in 33 points and dished out 6 assists. In his career, Garnet grabbed a total of 14,662 rebounds which lands him 10th on the all-time list.
Advantage: Tim Duncan
Tim Duncan – 11 Assists (Spurs vs. Cavaliers, March 25, 2000), (Spurs vs. Warriors, November 23, 2010)
Kevin Garnett – 12 Assists (Timberwolves vs. Suns, March 9, 2003), (Timberwolves vs. Trail Blazers, April 6, 2003)
In each of the 4 games that these two players recorded their career-high in assists, they also recorded a triple-double. Tim Duncan recorded 2,092 assists in his career and ranks 22nd all-time for power forwards in that regard. Garnett on the other hand recorded 4,149 assists in his career and ranks only behind Karl Malone for the most assists by a power forward all time. Duncan was a good passer for his position and feasted when teams decided to double-team him in the low post and he could find his shooters.
Garnett was a serious playmaker for a player his size. He had the vision of a point guard, regularly finding his teammates on their cuts, hitting them right in their hands, and perfectly led. Same as Duncan, Garnett thrived when teams decided to double-team him in the post and he could find his teammates on the cut or the perimeter. He also ran the floor extremely well and if he wasn’t finishing the play himself, he was finding the best opportunity for his teammates to do so.
Advantage: Kevin Garnett
Tim Duncan – 8 Steals (Spurs vs. Nuggets, February 9, 2000)
Kevin Garnett – 7 Steals (Timberwolves vs. Hawks, December 14, 1999), (Timberwolves vs. Clippers January 27, 2007)
Tim Duncan was one of the best at his position on the defensive side of the ball. He was a much better defender when an opponent had the ball and was trying to score in the post. He showed the above-average ability to deny the entry pass in the post and that’s how he obtained most of his steals. In this particular matchup with the Nuggets, Duncan nabbed 8 steals to go with 24 points and 13 rebounds in a 106-97 victory.
Garnett is easily one of the greatest defensive power forwards ever. The things that made him so great were his incredible anticipation, elite vision, and relentless motor that swarmed offenses to death. Garnett recorded 5 or more steals in a game 16 different times in his career including the 2 games he recorded his 7. For his career, he averaged 1.4 SPG and in total, he nabbed 1, 859 steals, good for 5th all-time for power forwards.
Advantage: Tim Duncan
Tim Duncan – 9 Blocks (Spurs vs. Grizzlies, January 26, 2007)
Kevin Garnett – 8 Blocks (Timberwolves vs. Celtics, January 3, 1997), (Timberwolves vs. Bucks, January 4, 1997)
Tim Duncan recorded 1,650 blocks in his NBA career. He recorded 7 blocks 11 different times in his career and 8 blocks 5 different times. The night he got himself 9 blocks was against a much inferior team in the 11-33 Memphis Grizzlies. Duncan added 26 points and 13 rebounds in the blowout victory. Duncan ranks 4th all-time in blocks by a power forward, 3 spots ahead of Garnett who has a little over 200 fewer career blocks. What makes Duncan’s place special on that list is that he played 329 fewer career games than Garnett.
Garnett was a skilled shot-blocker as well. As previously mentioned, he is 7th among power forward in blocks for his career. Garnett achieved 8 blocks in a game on back-to-back nights in 1997, his 2nd year in the NBA. Both of his efforts resulted in victories over the Ray Allen-led Bucks and Antoine Walker’s Boston Celtics. Garnett would record seven blocks in a game 6 different times in his career and six blocks 8 different times.
Advantage: Tim Duncan
Tim Duncan – 1 (Done 30 Times, Last Recorded: Spurs vs. Thunder, March 25, 2015)
Kevin Garnett – 4 (Timberwolves vs. Kings, November 5, 1999), (Timberwolves vs. Trail Blazers, December 30, 2001), (Timberwolves vs. Lakers, January 11, 2002), (Timberwolves vs Kings, December 5, 2003)
There is no secret that Tim Duncan is not a three-point shooter. His game was to dominate the paint on both ends with no real reason to stretch him outside of the paint. That was his domain, the perimeter was not. Duncan attempted168 3-pointers in his career and connected on only 30 of them. That is good for a whopping percentage of 17.9% from beyond the arc.
Meanwhile, Kevin Garnett could stretch the floor far better. It’s not like he was camped out behind the 3-point line but he could hit them for sure if he was feeling it. His shot was more built for the mid-range but he was semi-successful from three. In his career, Garnett attempted 632 3-pointers and connected on 174 of them for a percentage of 27.5%.
Advantage: Kevin Garnett
Field Goals Made
Tim Duncan – 19 Field Goals Made (Spurs vs. Grizzlies, April 1, 1999), (Spurs vs. Mavericks, December 26, 2001), (Spurs vs. Magic, December 5, 2003)
Kevin Garnett – 19 Field Goals Made (Timberwolves vs. Suns, January 4, 2005)
Tim Duncan’s career-high in field goals made came in a career-high scoring performance against the Mavericks in 2003. He scored 53 points in that contest but he also poured in 19 buckets on two other occasions. In 199, when the Grizzlies were still in Vancouver, Duncan poured in 39 points, 13 rebounds, and 6 blocks on 19-31 shooting in a win. He would do it again against Orlando in 2003 when he would go 19-34 shooting for 47 points in yet another victory.
It should come as no surprise that Kevin Garnett’s career-high in makes comes in the same game as his career-high in points. On this night in 2005, Garnett went 19-28 from the field for 47 points. He also added 17 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 steals. He shot 67.9% from the field and went 9-11 from the free-throw line as well. The Suns went on to win the game 122-115.
Free Throws Made
Tim Duncan – 17 Free Throws Made (Spurs vs. Jazz, January 17, 2002)
Kevin Garnett – 15 Free-Throws Made (Timberwolves vs. Hawks, April 9, 2005), (Timberwolves vs. Kings, March 19, 2006)
Both Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett were particularly skilled at getting to the free-throw line, especially later in their careers. Duncan achieved his career-high at the charity stripe against the Jazz in 2002. Duncan was a perfect 17-17 from the line going for 35 points, 10 rebounds, and 5 blocks in a 4-point victory over the Jazz. Duncan shot 69.6% from the foul line for his career.
Garnett accomplished his career nights from the line in the 2005 and 2006 seasons. In 2005 against the Hawks, Garnett shot a perfect 15-15 from the line in a 4-point loss. He went for 31 points, 12 rebounds, and 7 assists on the night. In 2006 against the Kings, Garnett shot 15-17 from the line in a 6-point victory. On the night he recorded 37 points, 10 rebounds, and 4 steals. KG loved playing the Kings. For his career, he was a 78.9% free-throw shooter.
Advantage: Tim Duncan
Tim Duncan – 10 Turnovers (Spurs vs. Warriors, March 4, 1998)
Kevin Garnett – 9 Turnovers (Spurs vs. Pistons, January 8, 2000)
Tim Duncan was more prone to turning the ball over than many think. He ranks 16th all-time in the category with 3,381 turnovers. On this particular night, Duncan may have very well cost his team the game. Despite the 35 points, 17 rebounds, and 5 blocks, Duncan’s turnovers were 10 of a team total of 26 as the Warriors would win 90-83. We’re just going to chalk it up to growing pains in Duncan’s rookie year.
Garnett was slightly less of a turnover machine than Duncan. For reference, Garnett tallied over 200 fewer turnovers than Duncan in over 300 more games played. That is a large difference when you break down the math. Against the tough Pistons defense in 2000 though, Garnett had the worst turnover night of his career. Garnett went for 22 points, 14 rebounds, and 8 assists in a 110-105 victory. Garnett’s turnovers adamantly led his team though, with the next most by a player being 3 turnovers from Joe Smith.
Advantage: Kevin Garnett
Two Tremendous Talents; Tim Duncan Reigns Supreme
Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett led the pack in what was known as the ” Golden-Era Of Power Forwards”. Not to take anything away from Garnett but Duncan stands alone atop the mountain. Garnett is a legend no doubt with an MVP, a Defensive Player Of The Year, 15 All-Star selections, 9 All-NBA Team selections, 12 All-Defensive Team selections, and a title in 2008 with the Celtics. He’s in the Hall Of Fame for a reason and that’s because you cannot tell the story of the NBA without Kevin Garnett.
Without Tim Duncan, you’d be deleting nearly an entire decade of basketball and one of the most decorated careers in history. He was a 5x Champion, 2x MVP, 3x Finals MVP, 15x All-Star, 15 All-NBA Team Selections, and 15 All-Defensive Team selections. He was the driving force behind the creation of the San Antonio Spurs dynasty that took home 5 championships and was an absolute nightmare for opponents on the basketball court. No matter who you prefer out of these two all-time greats, there is no denying their standing in the history books.