Morning Rehash: With history on their backs

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

For the first time in two months, the Spurs use a full roster to get a victory, this time against the rival Mavericks.

Movies have conditioned us to expect closure. In horror movies, there's always one person (or thing) left standing. In action movies, the hero cuts down the villain in the final moments to save the day. All ambiguities are cleared up, and the film ends with a clear winner and a clear loser.

It's difficult not to bring this thinking into sports fandom. You want the rivalry your team has cultivated with its "enemy" to have a clear ending. You want the story to be completed, and you want it to be neat, tidy, final. Somehow, year after year, we slip into this delusion.

When Tim Duncan hit that three-pointer against the Suns in 2008, it really did feel like the end of something. After 2007's bloody series, many expected a confusing Suns roster to punch above their weight in the 2008 playoffs, so when the Spurs took Game 1 in the most dramatic of fashions and went on to win that series in five games, it looked like that rivalry was over. The Spurs always seemed to get the best of the Suns. How much longer could Phoenix experience defeat to the same franchise? Surely the Spurs "had their number." But two years later, the two teams found themselves facing off again in the playoffs, and this time, it was the Spurs heading to an early exit.

The Spurs/Mavericks rivalry is another great example, and the 2006 playoff series was one of the most heartbreaking in San Antonio's history. (Up until last year, it was probably the most heartbreaking. As the saying goes, it could always be worse. *cries into pillow*) There were big shots, punches to nether regions (No, we haven't forgotten, Jason Terry), and harsh words exchanged by members (and owners) of both teams. And it all led to a crazy Game 7 where, were it not for Manu Ginobili's foul, the Spurs might have had an opportunity to repeat as NBA champions. It was an absolutely crushing blow, and in the heat of that series, a rivalry burned bright for all to see.

Three years later, the two teams met again in the 2009 playoffs, and the Spurs lost to a fiery 6-seed Mavericks team, unable to overcome the absence of an injured Manu Ginobili. (It was the ending of that season and the two after it that would push San Antonio to transform its offense and eventually revamp its defense.) The very next season, the tables were turned, and it was the 7-seed Spurs that shocked the 2 seeded Mavericks.

I remember the feeling in the arena during the game that ended that series. People were hugging and laughing. I recall seeing a surprisingly nimble old woman unloading bags of confetti over dejected Mavericks fans heading for the exits before the final buzzer. The atmosphere was fantastic, chill-inducing even, and everyone had the same word on their lips. "Revenge."

After beating the Mavericks in the playoffs, it felt like the end for the rivalry. Just like the Phoenix series in 2008, the team on the other side of the court had too many questions. Dirk Nowitzki was a free agent. Rick Carlisle was a new coach. Jason Terry looked clinically depressed. It just seemed like it was over. Fans certainly wanted it to be.

But as you know, the Mavericks weren't done yet. The very next season they surprised the NBA with a run to the 2011 Finals and a championship over the newly formed Heat triumvirate. The Mavericks weren't finished. The ending hadn't been written.

When you look back at these series, you start to realize that NBA rivalries take a long time to develop, and usually take time to die as well. Most of the time, these rivalries just revolve around players. The Spurs/Suns matchup became Popovich vs. D'Antoni, Parker vs. Nash, and eventually absorbed even Duncan vs. O'Neal. In the case of the Spurs/Mavericks rivalry, those lines were even clearer. Duncan and Nowitzki were opposing generals. Depending on your side, Michael Finley was either a traitor or a spy; Jason Terry, a war criminal. The rivalry developed along specific dichotomies, and fans fed into them each season. For years, it was great. It was frustrating and fun. It was engaging and emotional.

It's taken a few seasons, but it feels like this once monstrous rivalry is finally getting its quiet end, fading away on the backs of its two aging leaders. At the arena Sunday night, I saw a good amount of Mavericks fans, dressed in blue and shouting loudly. But it was difficult to avoid nostalgia as I heard the cheers and watched Nowitzki and Duncan lumber up the court. There's no denying the Spurs have the greater upside, fresh off a Finals run with a nice infusion of young talent. But the Spurs' ability to compete, like the Mavs', starts and ends with their leader.

This isn't to say that the Mavericks are "dead." They field an exciting roster of odd pieces that Rick Carlisle somehow makes cohesive, and they've been a great team over the past month or so. Sunday night, they pushed the Spurs throughout, and Nowitzki, Monta Ellis, and the ageless Vince Carter managed to stay within striking distance. They have trouble protecting the rim, a problem the Spurs exploited, but they have the pieces to hang with anybody. After inexplicably blowing things up after their 2011 title, Mark Cuban has found something that works. Good for him.

But the rivalry as it once was is on its last legs. Where will these teams be in five years when Duncan and Nowitzki are gone? Will there be bad blood when nobody is around to remember 2006? The proximity of the two franchises will always give their fanbases games to watch, but without the elite talent to fuel the best competition, how will the rivalry endure?

It's a depressing question, but it's one that should inspire our appreciation. True NBA rivalries are rare, and what the Spurs and Mavericks shared is unique. Rivalries often end when the people who drove them are gone. For Duncan and Nowitzki and the Spurs/Mavericks rivalry, that moment is right around the corner. There are mountains of history on the backs of these aging giants. Next time you watch them face off, remember that your opportunities to appreciate this are dwindling.

Be sure to read Fred Silva's recap if you haven't already.


QUOTE OF THE GAME

"The way our record is against winning teams, I don't think we want to see anybody."

- Dirk Nowitzki on playoff matchups, via Jeff McDonald


GAME MVP

Parker

WILLIAM ANTHONY "TONY" PARKER, JR.

PTS

FGM/FGA

3PM/3PA

AST

REB

TO

+/-

MIN

22

10/15

1/2

7

3

1

+8

31:54


With Tony Parker back in the lineup, it was the first time San Antonio went #fullsquad for an entire game since January 2. (Tiago Splitter was available for the January 4th game, but Ryan freakin' Hollins slammed his shoulder and took him out in the second half of that game.) The starting lineup that took the Spurs to the Finals played together for the first time in nearly two months, and they did not disappoint. Parker was one of the main reasons why, and he looked fresh throughout, bringing the energy, acrobatic finishes, and clutch shots that's spoiled fans all last season. Popovich said at the All Star Break that Parker was suffering from a variety of maladies, and made the decision to sit him for the foreseeable future. Parker hadn't seen the court since February 10th, and the rest clearly did him good. With Parker back in the lineup, the Spurs are poised to end the season firing on all cylinders.

GAME LVP

Marion_headshot

SHAWN DWAYNE "HOLLINS FINGER" MARION

PTS

FGM/FGA

AST

REB

STL

BLK

+/-

MIN

5

2/7

1

4

3

0

-3

28:44


This was a hard "award" to give out in a game where just about everybody who played had decent games and those who did not barely played at all. But if we're looking at season averages, Shawn Marion's line fell the shortest of expectations on a Mavericks team that was looking for some extra help on the offensive end. Besides the flurry of baskets at the end of the game, the Mavericks struggled to close the gap against the Spurs in the second half. If you're looking for someone on the roster to blame, I suppose you could go with Marion, who couldn't find his shot. Again, I don't think he was useless in this one, but I've got to hand this to somebody. And his airballed three-point attempt in the fist half may have been enough to get him the nod anyway.

ODDS AND ENDS

  • I'll have to check with Elias, but Tim Duncan's circus shot late in the game was the first of its kind. Previous to it, no player had ever completed such a move without their feet leaving the ground. Classic old guy move.
  • Vince Carter is 37 and still very good at basketball. His offense was efficient and effective all night, and in a league where much younger players like Danny Granger and Caron Butler are optimistic about joining the bench of a contender, Carter sticks out for his ability to maintain diverse and complex points of offensive attack. He was a joy to watch all night.
  • Kawhi Leonard says the wrap he has to wear on his shooting hand as it recovers has been bothering him, but you'd be hard pressed to spot that in the game. Since he returned, Kawhi is shooting 55% from three over the last two games. Obviously that's a microscopic sample size, but he was averaging 34% on the season. These last two games, Kawhi has been shooting without hesitation, and his stroke has had an obvious "flow." #teamwrap
  • Jeff Ayres didn't play, and as far as I know, he wasn't suffering from any maladies that would have prevented his participation. His absence was odd. And before you say that the matchup probably dictated that, allow me to point out that Aron Baynes contributed six very effective minutes off the bench. You might call it unfayre, but who knows what secrets Pop's brain contaynes?
  • The new Spurs in-arena DJ, DJ Quake, makes me miss the old Spurs DJ. The situation is getting dire.
  • Uglier move you're likely to see often as a fan of the team: a Shawn Marion three-point attempt for the Mavericks? Or a Tiago Splitter hook shot attempt for the Spurs?

BY THE NUMBERS

  • 8: Consecutive win streak the Spurs have against the Mavericks. If the playoffs started today, these two teams would face off in the first round. Based on recent history, the round would likely end in a sweep. Here's a more in-depth graphic, via NBA TV. Spurs-mavs
  • 46.4: Percentage both teams shot from the field.
  • 10: Spurs turnovers in the first half, where they outscored the Mavericks, 48-47.
  • 3: Spurs turnovers in the second half, where they outscored the Mavericks, 64-59.
  • 6: Pairs of shoes available to Ginobili during the game. After the fiasco earlier this week, he and Nike aren't taking any chances. (pic via @geokthree) Manu_shoes

BIRD IS THE WORD

THE GAME IN SONG

"I need a rival / I need a rival / I'm tired of the fools I'm killing for survival" – from Black Rebel Motorcycle Club's "Rival"

GOING FORWARD, THE SPURS NEED TO

Hold on to the ball. The Spurs are turning the ball over nearly two more times a game after the All Star break than they had been before it. A lot of that has to do with the injuries, but these last two games haven't really followed that reasoning. I could mention that the Spurs have games against Cleveland (Tuesday) and Orlando (Saturday) this week, but all we'll be thinking about is Thursday's game against Miami. This could be the first time the teams have faced each other with full rosters since the Finals, and it's likely to be a great game. The Spurs might want to hold onto the ball for that one.

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