I remember the spring of 1999. The NBA was in the midst of their forgettable lockout-shortened season, and while the basketball had taken a turn for the worse over the year’s first three months, it felt like a new age was dawning on us. Philly was young and exciting. Allen Iverson was on the cusp of becoming the most popular player in the world. The Lakers had talent that screamed future titles. The Blazers were cool enough; they had not yet become the Jail Blazers. Jason Williams was a god. Both conferences were up for grabs. Baggy shorts were in. Braids were coming in. Michael Jordan hadn’t even been retired for a year, and yet his era seemed dead and gone.
Also that spring, the two best young big men in the league were set to face off in the first round of the playoffs. Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett were set to start a rivalry that would define the next 10 years. Both were all of 22 years old, and both were already averaging 20/10s. Minnesota’s coach at the time, Flip Saunders, once said he recalled KG being so hyped to play Duncan that he “was almost hyperventilating.” On the other side, the normally unflappable TD admitted he actually tried to do too much, tried too hard to outplay Garnett and beat the double-teams by himself.
San Antonio would win the series in four games, but it wasn’t so much because the Big Fundamental outplayed Da Kid. In fact, Garnett won the individual battle, outscoring Duncan (21.8 a game to 18.8) and out-rebounding him (12 to 10.8). The Spurs were just THAT good. They’d go on to lose just one game the rest of the way in winning a championship. But all someone like myself remembered was their Game 4 confrontation in the first round when they almost came to blows. Destiny pointed in one direction: Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan would be playing each other for titles every year.
Instead, they went on to play one another just one more time in the playoffs – the 2001 first round. A shame.
After last night’s Spur win in Boston where Duncan had 16 rebounds and Garnett had 16 points, Duncan said this to The San Antonio Express-News:
“It’s been difficult. We’ve always had some great battles. It always seems to turn into a war at some point in the game, but it’s a lot of fun. We bring a lot out of each other.”
They do. They always have. But it’s a shame they played in the same conference for a decade, making the playoffs together in seven of those seasons, making the NBA Finals a combined six times since 1999 and yet all we have are some classic regular season games and a few memorable first round playoff series.
Were we cheated by not seeing more of Duncan/Garnett against each other in their primes?
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