While the Los Angeles Lakers, San Antonio Spurs and LeBron James have won most of the championships since the turn of the century, there was no great rivalry between them. A rivalry that has been constant was right here in the Lone Star State.
The Dallas Mavericks and San Antonio Spurs gave us some great ones and now that Tim Duncan is retiring without as much as a press conference, the rivalry of the most consistent teams of the previous decade is gone with him.
While Bird versus Magic (Celtics vs. Lakers) was more notable for their clashes in the NBA Finals, The Big German and The Big Fundamental played twice as many times in the playoffs. The biggest knock on Dirk and Tim is that they were never truly considered the best players in the league, despite their three combined MVP’s. Magic and Bird were the faces of the league in the 1980's, winning six combined MVP's, but only played three series against each other in the postseason.
Over the past 18 seasons the Dallas Mavericks and San Antonio Spurs have squared off 108 times, postseason included.
In those 108 games the Spurs lead the series 65-43, but just 20-16 in playoff games. The win-loss record does not tell the whole story though. Those six series include three playoff classics; the 2003 Western Conference Finals, the 2006 Western Conference Semis, and the 2014 First Round matchup. All three resulted in an NBA Finals appearance for the winner, twice producing the champion (2003 and 2014).
While the rivalry was never at the national forefront, Mavs and Spurs fans surely remember just how tight the series always were. The teams were exceptionally familiar with each other and the ball was often in the hands of each team’s star Power Forward.
With 33 postseason appearances between the two franchises since 1998, these are two of the most accomplished and consistent teams of the post-Michael Jordan era of basketball. They are arguably the two most successful teams of the 2000’s decade, with neither team missing the postseason during that span.
While the coaches and teams have changed during this almost two-decades-long rivalry, that officially ended today, Dirk Nowitzki and Tim Duncan have been there for it all. In a way, they are perfect foils for each other. One, an international-born player who came and revitalized a dead franchise with an offensive game never before seen. The other is also international, but became an American-college basketball star. Drafted by a franchise that could not get over the hump in the 90’s, Duncan created a dynasty without doing anything special except doing everything right.
Their rivalry is similar to their great careers, with Dirk’s still ongoing. Dirk, one of the greatest offensive players in NBA history, has spent most of his career being underappreciated since he’s been deemed a one-way player. Duncan, one of the elite defensive players of all-time with a resume unrivaled among Power Forwards, has been easy to undervalue because of his lack of interest in fame or sensationalism.
If you consider their careers and the games they played against each other, though, it is easy to see just how great the Mavs versus Spurs really was. And now, without commencement or prior notice, the rivalry is gone. At least we got to witness.