The San Antonio Spurs have been a part of some classic rivalries through the years.
For it to be a true, great rivalry, there has to be two teams that meet in the playoffs more than a couple of times when everything is at stake.
Over the course of the Tim Duncan Era, three opponents have stood out as true rivals.
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The first and most despised rival is the Los Angeles Lakers. After the Spurs swept them in 1999 in route to the Spurs first Championship. The Lakers returned the favor, ousting the Spurs in a sweep in the Western Conference Finals in 2001, and again in a 5 game, gentlemen’s sweep in 2002.
After that, the Spurs ended the Lakers attempt at a 4th consecutive Championship in the Western Conference Semi-Finals in 2003. The Spurs won that series in 6 games, including a blowout of the Lakers at Los Angeles in Game 6.
That game felt like a Championship game to Spurs fans, and players alike I imagine. Danny Ferry was quoted as saying” We had to calm ourselves down just to go on”. The Spurs did indeed “go on” and took home their 2rd NBA Championship that season.
The Lakers struck back the following season in a 6 game series that include the Game 5, improbable .4 shot by Derek Fisher. The last game of their epic rivalry was a 5 game series in the Western Conference Finals in 2008.
The Lakers added Pau Gasol (ironically now a Spur) which switched the match-up in their favor, and with Manu Ginobili playing hurt, the Lakers prevailed. I can’t count the 2013 sweep of the Lakers by the Spurs, because the Lakers were injured and on their way towards a decline. (that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it!)
So, the Lakers won the over all match-up with both teams at their best, 4-2 during the playoffs between 1999- 2008. Both teams added to the rivalry with some classic regular season games as well. Like this buzzer beating tip by Antonio McDyess to quiet the home town Lakers in a 2011 game.
Another despised rival of the San Antonio Spurs is the Dallas Mavericks. The Spurs took out the Mavericks with out too much resistance in a 2001 sweep of the Western Conference Semi-Finals.
The Mavericks only won 1 game, but Juwan Howard took out Derek Anderson on a drive to the basket, effectively ending his season, which was the bigger blow than the single game they won.
In 2003, the Spurs beat the Mavericks in the Conference Finals in a classic series, which included the famous Steve Kerr blitzkrieg in the closeout 4th quarter of Game 6 in Dallas. Three years later the Mavericks would get their 1st playoff series victory in a controversial seven game series in 2006 that was not decided until overtime in Game 7 in San Antonio.
In 2009, the Mavericks further cemented the rivalry as they disposed of the Spurs in 5 games. The Spurs were without Ginobili that series, and despite the best of efforts from Duncan, and Parker, the Mavericks were victorious.
The Spurs struck back the next year in 2010, becoming the first 7th seed to beat a No.2 seed in NBA first round playoff history. Newcomer, George Hill played a huge part in that series, giving the Big 3 another much needed weapon. So, the Spurs lead this rivalry 3-2 over the course of the playoffs from 2001- 2010.
The 3rd biggest rivalry of the Spurs during the Duncan Era is the Phoenix Suns. The Spurs and Suns split series in 1998 and 2000, with the Spurs winning the former, and the Suns the latter. (Spurs were without Duncan in 2000 playoffs).
After that, the Spurs defeated the Suns in the playoffs in 2003, 2005, 2007, and 2008, before the Suns got a micro version of revenge sweeping the Spurs in 2010. I never understand any fans with any sense of propriety, or character not liking the Spurs.
They represent a class of character in sports that is seldom seen. However, the Suns are the one team whose fans have every right to hate the Spurs. The Spurs have beaten the Suns in dramatic fashion, time and time again.
In 2003, it was a hard fought series with the Spurs putting the Suns away in a close game 6 in Phoenix. In 2005, the Suns were the No. 1 seed and a run and gun, seven seconds or less offense, and a virtual traveling circus.
I loved watching them! Steve Nash is my favorite non-Spurs player in NBA history! The Spurs were the antidote to their poisonous pace.
The Spurs had a team record 43 point 4th quarter in Game 1 of 2005, and outgunned the Suns the rest of the way in a 5 game series that was highly contested, and a joy to watch. The Spurs were just able to finish those games off a little better.
In 2007, the Suns again were the higher seed, but the Spurs proved to be their nemesis once again, and defeated them in an epic series, closing them out in Game 6 in San Antonio. A Robert Horry hip check of Nash in Game 4 added fuel to the fire of this already burning rivalry.
Games 1, 5, and 6 are all instant classics in NBA basketball history.
The Spurs next heartbreaking blow to the Suns and their fan base came in 2008. This time the Spurs had the home-court advantage and after trailing all game long in Game 1 of the series, they pulled off what I call the “Triple Dagger.”
A Finley 3 pointer forced OT. A Duncan 3 pointer forced Double OT, and a Ginobili driving lay up over Raja Bell won the game in the waning seconds of the Second OT. It fueled the Spurs the rest of the way as they defeated the Suns in 5 games.
None of the games were easy, but the Spurs always seemed to have an answer for the Suns. the Spurs went on to win the NBA Championship after defeating the Suns in 2003, 2005, and 2007. If not for the Spurs, the Suns would have won titles in both 2005, and 2007 in my opinion.
The Spurs won this rivalry 5-2 between the years of 1998-2010
Another rivalry has begun with the Spurs and the Oklahoma City Thunder. All three of their series have gone to six games before being decided, meeting one another three times in the last five years.
Even without Durant, a Russell Westbrook led Thunder team presents a threat to the Spurs. Hopefully the Spurs get a chance to even up this budding playoff rivalry soon.
The Thunder came up short of a Championship both times after eliminating the Spurs in 2012 and 2016. The Spurs went on to beat the Heat for their 5th NBA Championship after ousting the Thunder in the 2014 Western Conference Finals.