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Twin towers Garnett, Duncan linchpins to their teams' success

by | Special to CBSSports.com
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SAN ANTONIO -- Twenty-four days and almost 1,600 miles separated the births of Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett, so the possibility that they are fraternal twins can be ruled out.

Duncan was born on April 25, 1976 in St. Croix, Virgin Islands. Garnett was born on May 19, 1976 in Mauldin, S.C.

Tim Duncan isn't the player he once was, but the Spurs will need him to contribute if they have any hopes for a title. (US Presswire)  
Tim Duncan isn't the player he once was, but the Spurs will need him to contribute if they have any hopes for a title. (US Presswire)  
They grew to be giants -- each is 6-feet-11. Duncan is listed at 255 pounds; Garnett at a twin-like 253.

But the two have vastly different demeanors. If they were siblings, Garnett would be the talker, Duncan the listener. Garnett would be the agitator, Duncan the peacemaker. Garnett would be the kid who serves detention all the time; Duncan would be the teacher's pet.

Garnett's approach to basketball is a combination of Mount St. Helens (seemingly always ready to blow up) and a tabloid headline (screaming wildly and beating his chest vigorously to make sure the world knows he has a big heart).

Duncan is an island breeze, approaching every game and every play with an impassive look that belies his competitiveness and dedication to his craft. He is like a heart surgeon preparing to operate -- quiet, meticulous and professional.

"Kevin wears his emotions on his sleeve," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "He'd be great to play poker against. Tim would be difficult because you can't read him. You don't know what the hell he's thinking. One's an emotional guy and one's not."

In terms of individual production, however, they are (again) remarkably similar. Yes, Duncan has four titles and Garnett just one. But Garnett supporters will point out that until he reached Boston, Garnett played with the likes of Michael Olowokandi, Wally Szczerbiak and Stephon Marbury -- who do not rank alongside David Robinson, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker in terms of a championship supporting cast.

Perhaps the one statistic that not only says the most about two of the premier forwards in the history of the game, but also represents their essence as team players is shots attempted. Each has averaged 15.7 shots a game during his career.

"There couldn't be a bigger contrast as far as everything between those two except for one thing," Rivers said. "They both are as professional as any two players I've ever been around. They are very serious about their craft. They're both team-oriented to a fault at times. You would say at times 'Tim, shoot more. Kevin, shoot more.' Not many stars' coaches have had to do that."

As they approach their 35th birthdays, the two now have a common challenge -- providing the foundation for a championship. Neither puts up the monster stats anymore. Each is only the third leading scorer on their respective team. But if the two teams, both of which have struggled recently, are to mount long runs in the playoffs, there is little doubt that Duncan and Garnett will be the heart of the effort.

More on Celtics at Spurs

Thursday night was a perfect reflection of each player's approach to the game. Duncan, who was returning after missing four games with a sprained left ankle, started the game in his usual calm, effective manner. Shortly after walking onto the court, he grabbed the first rebound of the game, and subsequently found Antonio McDyess for an easy layup with a nifty pass across the key, sent a scowling Garnett to the bench with two fouls in the first 147 seconds, scored four points, blocked a Paul Pierce shot, took the rebound away from Pierce and intimidated Rajon Rondo on the point guard's drive to the basket, forcing a miss. The Spurs led by as many as six in the first quarter.

Garnett sat on the bench for 12 minutes, but managed 10 points in the first half as the Celtics came back to tie the game at halftime.

The Celtics took command of the game in the third period, so when the fourth arrived, Duncan asserted himself. At one point, he scored 10 consecutive San Antonio points, but the Celtics answered with 63 percent shooting. In the last four minutes, Garnett scored three baskets on long jump shots, and along with strong performances by Ray Allen (nine points in the last quarter) and Rondo (22 points to lead Boston), the Celtics won the game 107-97 and swept the season series.

For the Spurs, it was their fifth consecutive loss, which is their longest losing streak since Duncan joined the team in 1997 (although he did not play in the previous four losses). For the 52-22 Celtics, who had lost seven of their previous 12 games and had dropped behind Chicago into second place in the East, it was an important win.

"They're the best team in the league," Garnett said, noting the Spurs still lead the West at 57-18. "You have to be ready to play when you come in here or they'll kick your ass."

The final stat lines for Duncan and Garnett were reflective of how similar the two have been in production throughout their careers. Each had 20 points. Duncan was 8-of-12 from the field; Garnett 9-of-12. Other stats were different, but it is those stats that were representative of the twin-like numbers they have amassed in their careers.

They entered the league so differently -- Duncan after spending four years in college at Wake Forest; Garnett after his senior year in high school at Farragut Career Academy in Chicago.

Garnett beat Duncan to the NBA by two years. By the time Duncan arrived in 1997, Garnett had already made his first All-Star team. Since then, only once did they miss an All-Star Game (both in 1999), with Garnett appearing in 14 and Duncan in 13. And although they are polar opposites in approach, their production is eerily even. Consider:

  Duncan has averaged 36.8 minutes per game during his career -- less than one minute more per game than Garnett's 35.9.

  Duncan has averaged 7.9 field goal attempts made per game; Garnett 7.8.

  Duncan's career shooting percentage is .507; Garnett's is .498.

  Duncan has averaged 11.4 rebounds; Garnett 10.7.

  Duncan has averaged 8.4 defensive rebounds; Garnett 8.3.

  Also, the two are exactly one assist per game apart, less than one steal and less than one block for their careers. They even average the same number of fouls (2.5).

  Duncan's career scoring average is 20.6; Garnett's is 19.5.

They are at the same point in their careers -- both more fragile, not as prolific and content to play roles rather than dominate. They will have to defeat challengers, many of them younger and sturdier. But it hardly stretches the imagination to envision Duncan or Garnett hoisting the championship trophy in June.

And it would not be surprising to see one do it at the expense of the other.

It would be fitting for the two to engage in a battle of wills and styles and see which is strongest, which survives. In the end, however, one victor would be indistinguishable from the other. Because as different as they have been, their basketball bottom-line is the same.

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