The Spurs-Mavericks Rivalry Is Back
- Updated: November 24, 2015
San Antonio- As a San Antonio Spurs fan, there are always several games we circle on the calendar as games we cannot miss. The Lakers(obviously), the Rockets, the Suns, recently any team Lebron James plays for, and now, the Golden State Warriors and Oklahoma City Thunder. For years, the Dallas Mavericks were also on this list, until Dallas starting declining and the Spurs always beat up on the Mavs. However, with both teams in contention this season, I think I speak for fans of both teams when I say this: The “I-35 Rivalry” is back.
As we know, the Spurs biggest rival currently is(and always will be)the Los Angeles Lakers of Anaheim because of the two teams always competing to be the best in the western conference. However, the Lakers fall from dominance has made this rivalry irrelevant of late as the Spurs have won 13 of the last 16, and the Lakers are a dreadful 2-11. The same could also be said of the Mavericks rivalry. And to be honest, who could blame anyone saying that? Since the Mavs won the title in 2011, the Spurs have won 19 of 26 against the Mavericks and Dallas has not won a playoff series since. Me personally, this match-up means a lot. Growing up, I always looked at the Mavericks as more then just a game, it was personal. Knowing it was always the Mavericks who the Spurs were trying to separate from to be the best in the west or chase to try to be the best in the west made it a serious game. I always used to say that there were only 4 games a year that really mattered, and those were the 4 games against the Mavs. However, in recent years, all that hatred for the Mavericks evaporated. As the Mavs declined and the Spurs constantly defeated the Mavs, I came to the conclusion that Spurs-Mavericks wasn’t really a rivalry anymore. John Madden once said this about the rivalry between the Denver Broncos and the team he coached for years: the Oakland Raiders: “The only way a rivalry heats up is when both teams are good. When Denver was down, it wasn’t a good rivalry.” Thats what happened to Spurs-Mavs the last few seasons. The Spurs remained among the top teams in the NBA while the Mavericks were steadily declining. But now this season, both teams are good. The Spurs are 11-3, while the Mavericks are the surprise of the season at 9-5.
Very few people know this, but the Spurs actually used to play in Dallas. They were originally known as the Dallas Chaparrals from the old ABA, playing 6 years in “Big D” until they moved in 1973 to San Antonio, where they were renamed the Spurs. The Dallas metroplex only had to wait 7 years for basketball to return, as the NBA granted them an expansion franchise known as the Mavericks, which began play in 1980. On October 11th of that year, the rivalry was born as the Mavericks defeated the Spurs 103-92 at the old Reunion Arena. The Spurs however went on to win the last 5 meetings of the season and the next 9 overall against Dallas. By 1997, both teams were bringing up the rear in the Western Conference. That year the Spurs finished a with franchise worst 20-62 record, while Dallas went 24-58. The Spurs though, took 3 of the 4 meetings. But that summer, San Antonio drafted Tim Duncan with the number 1 overall pick, while Dallas took Dirk Nowitzki the following summer, and the rivalry changed for the better.
When 2000-2001 rolled along, both teams turned it on. San Antonio had the leagues best record of 58-24(competition was really weak back then)and Dallas went 53-29, upsetting the Utah Jazz in round 1. The Mavericks had built a solid team of Nowitzki, Steve Nash, and future Spur Michael Finley. Yet when the Mavs faced the Spurs in the Western Conference Semifinals, they had no answers for Tim Duncan, who helped the Spurs send Dallas packing in 5 games. Two years later, it heated up. The Spurs and Mavs both finished with 60-22 records in 2002-2003, but San Antonio got the tiebreaker and had homecourt for their meeting in the Western Conference Finals. After losing game 1, the Spurs won the next 3 and seemed ready to close it out at home, but Dallas rallied back to win game 5 and send the series back to Dallas. There, Steve Kerr hit 4 three pointers in the 4th quarter to give the Spurs a 90-78 win and a second trip to the NBA Finals, which would lead to a second NBA title as they beat the then New Jersey Nets in 6 games.
The Mavericks were left searching for answers. Their high powered offense could not beat the Spurs in two playoff meetings in three seasons. So midway through the 2004-2005 season, with the Spurs on their way towards a third NBA championship, the Mavs parted ways with head coach Don Nelson and hired assistant coach Avery Johnson, who just so happens to be a former Spur; he was even responsible for the Spurs first championship as he made the game winning shot in game 5 of the 1999 NBA Finals. Johnson installed a hard nosed defensive mentality into his team, and they displayed it to the Spurs on April 7th, 2005- when they beat the Spurs 104-68. It was the largest margin of victory in the rivalry, until the Spurs beat Dallas by 38 on December 23rd, 2012. With this new style, the Mavericks equaled their 2003 total by winning 60 games, but fell just 3 games short of the Spurs, who went 63-19. Once again, the Mavericks would face the Spurs in the postseason. The series was an instant classic as 6 of the 7 games went down to the wire; highlighted by the classic game 7 in San Antonio. After leading by 20 in the first half, the Mavs found themselves down 104-101 with 32 seconds to go. Dallas was on the verge of blowing a 3-1 series lead and a demoralizing loss. But Dirk Nowitzki came to the rescue with a clutch 3 point play, sending the game to overtime; where the Mavs would win 119-111, capping off an instant classic of a playoff series. The Mavericks would go onto the NBA Finals against the Miami Heat, where they took a 2-0 series lead. But unlike the Spurs series, this time Dallas did collapse as the Heat won the final 4 games to win the series in 6.
An infamous moment in Spurs history has even occurred in this rivalry. On April 15th, 2007, the Spurs were leading the Mavericks in Dallas when referee Joey Crawford infamously ejected Spurs forward Tim Duncan from the game-for laughing. Crawford was then suspended for the remainder of the season and the playoffs. Of course, the 67 win Mavericks would lose in the first round to Golden State, and the Spurs would win their 4th NBA title when the playoffs started. But ever since that April day in Dallas, Joey Crawford has not been a favorite of the Spurs or the city of San Antonio.
2 years later, the two rivals met again in the playoffs, with the third seeded Spurs taking on the 6th seeded Mavericks. Fans were expecting anther classic series between the two teams, but the series was doomed before it started as the Spurs were without Manu Ginobili who was lost for the playoffs. As a result, the Mavs pulled off a(small)upset by beating the Spurs in 5 games. The loss led to the Spurs retooling, as they acquired Richard Jefferson from the Milwaukee Bucks. The Mavs responded by signing veteran Shawn Marion, and from there, it was on. In their first match-up since Dallas beat the Spurs on their homecourt in game 5, the Spurs defeated the Mavericks 92-83 on November 11th, 2009 thanks to 29 points from Jefferson. It was the only win the Spurs had over Dallas in the regular season that year as Dallas won the final 3 match-ups on their way to the Southwest division title. The two teams once again met in the playoffs, with Dallas the 2 seed and the Spurs the 7 seed. In a complete role reversal from the previous year, the Spurs got their revenge by beating the Mavs in 6 games.
The following season, the Mavericks finally broke through. After the Spurs first round loss to the Grizzlies, the Mavs took full advantage, making it back to the NBA Finals where they beat the Miami Heat in 6 games to win their first NBA championship. The rivalry had more fuel to it now that the Mavericks finally had a title. But whatever momentum that had swung towards Dallas in the rivalry instantly swung back down I-35 when the two met on January 5th, 2012. In their first match up since the Mavericks won the title, the Spurs blew the Mavs out of the building, winning 93-71 in a game that was never near that close-San Antonio built a 55-29 lead at the break on their way to a wire to wire win. When the Spurs beat Dallas 104-87 a few months later; tying the season series at 2, it was the beginning of the end of the rivalry. Or so we had thought. Beginning with that 104-87 win on March 23rd 2012, San Antonio won their next 10 games against the Mavericks. A game that I had always though of as personal suddenly was just “another game”. However, during this stretch of irrelevancy for the rivalry, there was one, recent, exception.
The 2014 NBA Playoffs saw the top seeded Spurs taking on the 8 seeded Mavericks in the first round of the playoffs. After Dallas blew a 10 point lead in game 1 and lost, it seemed like it was going to be a smooth ride for the Spurs. But Dallas stunned everyone and stole game 2 113-92 and sent the series to Dallas tied at 1. That’s when game 3 happened. With the Spurs up 108-106, Dallas went to Vince Carter to try and win the game. I remember repeatedly pausing and playing my TV as the shot got closer to the basket. Finally as the shot was at the rim, I unpaused my TV: to see the ball drop through the hoop to give the Mavs the win.
The Spurs though won 3 of the final 4 games, including dominating
game 7 119-96, avenging their game 7 loss to Dallas from 8 years earlier. The Spurs eventually won their 5th NBA championship by beating the Miami Heat 4-1.
Both teams were expected to be among the top teams in the Western Conference last season. The Spurs of course were the defending champions and the Mavericks were reloaded with center Tyson Chandler and forward Chandler Parsons. However, both teams had disappointing seasons as the Mavs fell to 7th in the west while the Spurs fell to 6th, with both losing in the first round. The two teams split their season series 2-2, including the opening game of the NBA season when the Spurs received their rings and hung their 5th championship banner, then beat the Mavs 101-100.
Now here we are in the early weeks of the 2015-2016 NBA season, and as usual, the San Antonio Spurs are sitting near the top of the Western Conference. But the Dallas Mavericks are contending with the Spurs in the Southwest Division with a 9-5 record. This is what makes rivalries great: when both teams are good and there is something meaningful at stake. Tommorow night; the San Antonio Spurs will host the Dallas Mavericks in the first, relevant, meaningful game between the two Texas rivals in years-bringing back great memories of what this rivalry once was. The I-35 Rivalry Is Back.