At it's peak, the rivalry between the San Antonio Spurs and the Dallas Mavericks was one of, if not the most intense one in the NBA. The teams differ in ideologies, as the Spurs have focused on building through the draft and used free agency to find role players, while the Mavericks seem to always be swinging for the fences on the open market, and have had multiple makeovers through the years.
Both teams have stars at the same position, but who play that position in their own styles. The Spurs have Tim Duncan, the all-around legend, who has made his living with a bevy of post moves and rim protection on defense. The Mavericks have Dirk Nowitzki, the 7-foot tall German offensive savant, whose soft shooting touch made him the first of his kind.
These two Texas squads have two-stepped together many times, providing the world with seemingly infinite great basketball moments. More than anything else, though, this rivalry is founded upon hard-fought playoff series'. Here, we'll take a look back at some of the most memorable moments that shaped the rivalry into what it is now.
The first playoff matchup between the Spurs in Mavericks came in the 2001 Western Conference Semis, but that wasn't really the beginning of a rivalry. That was San Antonio winning in a gentleman's sweep, and beating the Mavericks by double-digits in each of their wins.
If the first series didn't suffice, their second playoff meeting, the 2003 Western Conference Finals, definitely served as a start of something memorable.
The teams split the first two games of the series, and it looked as if both teams were even. Then, late in Game 3, Nowitzki sprained his knee in a collision with Manu Ginobili, and came out for the game, and eventually the rest of the series. The Spurs took advantage of the Mavericks' misfortune, winning Games 3 and 4, and giving themselves an opportunity to knock off Dallas in 5 games. The Spurs got up big quick in Game 5, but the Nowitzki-less Mavs showed incredible resolve, coming back from down 19 to steal the game.
This set up one of the biggest games in both franchises' histories to that point. The Spurs had a chance to close out the series in Game 6, but the Mavericks had all the momentum from their remarkable comeback the game before. Dallas rode that momentum all through most of the first 3 quarters. Then, with 2:55 left in the 3rd, with San Antonio down 17 and in need of a spark, Coach Gregg Popovich sent in little used guard, Steve Kerr. And then, with some help from Kerr and Stephen Jackson, the flood gates opened.
After a couple years of staying away from each other in the playoffs, the two teams came back together in the 2006 Western Conference Semis for another epic series. This version of the matchup featured both of the teams' stars at the height of their powers. For the Spurs, Tim Duncan averaged 32.3 points, 11.7 boards, 3.7 assists, and 2.6 blocks per game. For the Mavs, Nowitzki averaged 27.1 points, 13.3 boards, and 2.7 assists. The rest of their teams were stacked with talent, but this was a clash of the titans.
Dallas quickly went up 3-1 behind outstanding from Nowitzki and Jason Terry. On the brink of elimination, the championship veteran Spurs battled back winning Games 5 and 6 by a combined 6 points, forcing a Game 7.
That Game 7 is pretty easily the best game played between the two teams. Duncan had 41 points, 15 boards, 6 assists, and 3 blocks. Nowitzki had 37 points, 15 rebounds, and 3 assists. San Antonio got down big, but worked themselves back into the game.
The final possessions of regulation gave us the full spectrum of Manu Giveth, Manu Taketh Away. With 32 secinds in the 4th, Duncan passed out of a double-team to an open Ginobili, who knocked down a huge 3 to put the Spurs up. Then, on the very next play, as Nowitzki made a beast of a move to get middle versus Bruce Bowen, Ginobili ran over to help, and fouled while trying to block the shot attempt. Of course, Dirk made the shot, as well as the and one, which tied the game, instead of having the Mavs down 1 still. Regulation ended on a missed Ginobili runner from the left side of the lane, and the Mavericks carried that momentum to an overtime win.
In 2009 and 2010, the Spurs and Mavs faced each other in two straight first round series'. In 2009, a 7-seed Dallas team upset a 2-seed San Antonio Squad. The next year, the script was flipped, as a 7-seed Spurs seed upset the 2-seed Mavs.
These two matchups represented something of a lull in meaning for the teams' playoff battles. Both teams beat up on each other in back to back years, but neither of them would go on to win a series after that. They just sort of beat each other, then fizzled out.
The period after these series represented a time for change in both organizations. Prior to the 2010-11 season, the Mavericks changed their roster first, trading for Charlotte Bobcats center Tyson Chandler, and acquiring sharpshooter Peja Stojakovic in free agency. These acquisitions, along with the adoption of using zone defense more frequently, helped position them for a title run in 2011.
The Spurs in 2011, meanwhile, had a great season, but again fell in the first round, this time to the Memphis Grizzlies. This series loss, as well as the two previous years' quick postseason elimination, forced the organization to look at it's core, and consider changing some pieces around. There began to be heavy trade rumors involving guard Tony Parker, but instead, during the 2011 draft, they traded George Hill to the Indiana Pacers for a pick that became a quiet young rookie forward named Kawhi Leonard.
Back At It
After some more time off from each other, San Antonio and Dallas met yet again in the 2014 Western Conference First Round. The 1-seed Spurs were expected to flat-out demolish the fledgling Mavericks, who had just snuck into the 8-seed.
The Spurs got Game 1, but it quickly became evident that this would not be an easy series to win. The Mavericks came out and dominated Game 2, behind strong performances from Monta Ellis, Nowitzki, and Shawn Marion. Game 3 was heavily contested, with both teams battling hard. The teams ended up tied at 106 with 24 seconds left, and the Spurs had the ball. San Antonio scored via a Manu Ginobili runner (the exact same runner he missed in 2006's Game 7), but that left 1.7 seconds left on the clock. Coach Rick Carlisle drew up a beautiful ATO, and Vince Carter hit a buzzer-beater 3 to put Dallas up 2-1.
This served as a wake up call for the Spurs, as they ripped off 2 straight victories to take the series lead, 3-2. They had a chance to end the series once and for all in Game 6, but as we all know, nothing comes easy in this rivalry. Monta Ellis had it all in Game 6, scoring 29 points, and leading the Mavs down the stretch to force a Game 7.
In Game 7 San Antonio finally played the way that people expected them to in the series, defeating Dallas handily by 23 points. Parker led the way for the silver and black, scoring 32 points on just 19 shots, as well as racking up 4 assists and 4 rebounds. This series served as a catalyst for the Spurs. Once they got through it, they played at another level all the way through their win in the Finals.
The San Antonio Spurs, of course, have remolded themselves as necessary since the 2014 Finals to keep themselves as a contender in he West. They added LaMarcus Aldridge and David West, and Kawhi Leonard has taken the leap to stardom, giving them the ability to fight for another trip to the Finals.
The Dallas Mavericks, however, have not been so fortunate. As is his San Antonio counterpart, Dirk Nowitzki is on his final legs. But, the Mavericks simply haven't been able to regain their status as a real player in the West. This season they have a busted up roster that doesn't quite fit together. Rick Carlisle is doing what he can to get the players working together, and have overachieved so far, but the bottom feels destined to fallout.
As we saw on Wednesday, that doesn't mean that Dallas can't still give San Antonio a game. Neither team was particularly impressive, but they played to each other's level. Tony Parker got to the rim when he wanted, and Dirk hit a couple jumpers, and then it felt just like old times, if only for a brief, fleeting moment.
Kawhi Leonard - 26 points on 9-16 shooting, 4-7 from 3PT, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals
I'm not really sure how Leonard could have had a more complete game. He did everything well as his scoring kept the Spurs afloat on a poor team shooting night, his passing provided teammates with much needed clean looks, and his defense was, as usual, at a very high level. Oh, and when the Spurs were only up 1 with less than a minute left, Leonard sent a dagger 3-pointer into the heart of the Mavericks'. He really does do everything.
NUMBERS ON THE BOARD
42: Points in the paint for the Dallas Mavericks. When their shots couldn't fall from deep, the Mavs turned inside and established dominance in the painted area. Their ability to get in the middle whenever they wanted was the key to how they were able to match San Antonio on the scoreboard.
1: Awesome buzzer-beating 3-pointer for David West to close the 3rd quarter. He's really started to find his role within San Antonio's offense. He keeps the ball moving, and knocks down whatever the defense gives him.
0: Amount of times the Spurs have trailed in the 4th quarter at home. Home is where the heart (and good basketball, apparently) is.
- Rick Carlisle is a wizard. He's got a roster full of [players that are either old, often-injured, or have under-performed over their career. And yet, with Carlisle's tutelage, the Mavs are 9-7 and right smack in the middle of the Western Conference playoff race. They've got a team that's just outside of the top 10 in defensive rating (100.3), and they showed it tonight. Dallas made life difficult for the Spurs, forcing tough shots all over the floor. San Antonio didn't help themselves much: any time they did get an open looks they struggled to knock them down. But don't lose sight of how Dallas played on that end of the floor. They've got a good team, and will be tough for anyone to deal with down the road.
- Speaking of defense, the Spurs have a great one. The best in the league, actually, according to their low defensive rating of 93.8. Kawhi Leonard, of course, is playing out of his mind on that end, and Tim Duncan is reliable as ever. A lot of the criticisms people had about the Spurs heading into the season haven't shown up yet. Like most players, LaMarcus Aldridge has been fine when paired with Tim Duncan, but even more intriguing is that he's been fine when he plays the 5 and has to protect the rim himself. Wing depth hasn't been an issue either, with Rasual Butler providing some decent minutes when Kawhi Leonard needs a break. Whether this is sustainable or not is unknown, Aldridge's defense could fade a bit as the season wears on, and wing depth may become a bigger issue as keeping Leonard well-rested becomes more of a priority. But for now, the Spurs look pretty darn good on that end of the floor.
- I've talked about Manu Ginobili's good play this year in a couple earlier rehashes. Now it's time to give some love to his career-long backcourt mate, Tony Parker. After wearing down at the end of last year, and a poor showing at Eurobasket, everyone sort of wrote Parker off as someone who would be a good contributor for San Antonio. If the first month of the season is any indication, we were wrong to do so. While Parker's usage is down to the lowest its been since his rookie campaign, his efficiency is up. He's currently shooting 55.5% from the field, and has made a keen effort to get everyone he plays with clean looks in their preferred spots. In the past week and a half, Parker has looked especially good. He's looked spry when driving to the lane, unleashing his patented spin move, and using his angles to spin the ball of the glass and in.
- Okay so this isn't really about the game, I just wanted to leave you all with a quick note. In previous years I've spent Thanksgiving in many different ways; sometimes with my family, sometimes with some of my close friends, and sometimes also alone by myself. No matter how I spend it, it still always ends up being my favorite time of the year, if only because it seems to put everyone in a genuinely good and appreciative mood. So, with that, I'd like to wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving. I hope that whether you are with loved ones or on your own, you can find a way to make this an enjoyable day.