Intradivisional rivalries comprise games between opponents in the same NBA division. Since the 2004-05 NBA season, there are 30 teams in six divisions of five teams each. Each team plays each division opponent four times during the regular season (twice at home, twice away) for a total of sixteen games out of 82 total regular season games.
Interdivisional rivalries comprise games between opponents in different divisions but within the same conference. A team plays against each team from the other two divisions in its conference either three or four times. The total interdivisional games an NBA team plays is 36. Conference games are often important, as a team's record in common games, as well as its overall record against its conference, are sometimes used as tiebreakers for playoff seeding at the end of the regular season. Also, many regular season opponents have met again in the playoffs, and the result of a regular season game can affect where the playoff game will be played.
Lastly, interconference rivalries comprise games between opponents in different conferences. A team plays each opponent from the other conference in one home game and one away game.
In the 1964 season, Philadelphia brought in a new franchise called the 76ers. They were added to the Eastern Division and would therefore play the Celtics on multiple occasions throughout the season. After the All-Star break in 1965, Chamberlain returned to Philadelphia as a 76er, and a new rivalry was born from the ashes of the old one. That season, the Celtics and 76ers met in the Eastern Division Finals with a trip to the NBA Championship on the line. The series was a battle and went to a game seven in the Boston Garden. With seconds left at the end of the game and the score 110-109 in favor of the Celtics, Russell tried to inbound the ball when it hit the backboard which resulted in a turnover. However, the 76ers failed to capitalize because of a deflection on the inbounds by John Havlicek to his teammate Sam Jones. The Celtics advanced to the NBA Finals and defeated the Los Angeles Lakers in five games for their seventh straight title. In the 1967 season, the 76ers collaborated a then NBA record of 68 wins and 13 losses, and the Celtics managed to go 60-21. They met in the Eastern Division final again, but this time, Wilt Chamberlain and the 76ers beat the Celtics in just five games and advanced to the NBA Finals. They would go onto win the NBA Championship by beating the former Philadelphia franchise the San Francisco Warriors in six games, giving the 76ers and Chamberlain their first title. Both teams would continue to play each other in the post season, but the rivalry didn't have the same passion as it once did.
The 76ers fell into a deep slump until the acquisition of Julius Erving before the 1977 season. The 76ers became a main contender in the Eastern Conference, but the Boston Celtics would soon join them. In 1978, the Celtics drafted junior small forward Larry Bird, but he chose to return to college for one more year. When he joined the team for the 1980 season, the Celtics took off and advanced to the Eastern Conference finals to face the 76ers, but lost in five games. The 76ers, however, failed to win the title against the Lakers.
Boston traded its two first round draft picks for center Robert Parish and later drafted power forward Kevin McHale. With those additions, the Celtics succeeded in knocking off the 76ers in 1981 in seven games while on the way to their first championship in five seasons. However, the following year, the Celtics fell to the 76ers in seven games, but lost to the Lakers. The next season, the 76ers picked up MVP Moses Malone from the Houston Rockets. Malone repeated as the NBA's MVP and lead the 76ers to an NBA Championship in a four game sweep against the Lakers. Both teams still play to this day with some tension, but the rivalry has not lived up to its past notoriety.
The rivalry was back in full throttle during the 2001-02 Playoffs where the Sixers and Celtics met in the Playoffs. The Sixers, led by Iverson and Aaron McKie, were the reigning Eastern Conference Champions, and the Celtics, led by Paul Pierce and Antoine Walker, would go on to win the series and advance to the Eastern Conference Finals. Iverson, who had been given the nickname "The Answer" squared off versus Pierce, whose rabid fans had given him the name, "The Truth."
This rivalry attributes and stems from the rivalry between New York City and Boston, as well as the bigger Yankees-Red Sox rivalry in baseball. The fact that Boston and New York City are only three and a half hours away also contributes to the Knicks-Celtics rivalry.
After a period of dormancy, the rivalry was restored in the 2006 offseason when free agent Ben Wallace, the cornerstone of the Pistons' defense, stunned the league when he signed with the Pistons' rivals of old, the Chicago Bulls. The two teams now both play hard-working, defensively sound, team-oriented styles. The two teams met each other in the 2007 Eastern Conference Semifinals, with the Pistons winning in six games.
The two teams met in the 2004 Eastern Conference Finals. Indiana narrowly won Game One thanks to some late heroics from Miller. Rasheed Wallace, unimpressed by the Pacers, boldly stated "They Will Not Win Game Two" during an interview before the second game (locally known as the "Guaran-Sheed" victory). Late in Game Two, with Detroit holding a two-point lead, Billups turned over the ball, and Reggie Miller appeared to have an uncontested lay-up that would've tied the game. However, before Miller could score, he was chased down by Detroit forward Tayshaun Prince, who leapt from behind and swatted away Miller's shot in a spectacular play. Detroit went on to win four of the next five games and took the series 4-2. The Pistons went on to win the NBA title. During Game Six of the Conference Finals, with Detroit clinging to a slight lead, Artest committed a flagrant foul on Hamilton, nearly causing tempers to boil over near the end of the game.
The following season, on November 19, 2004, at the Palace of Auburn Hills, with less than a minute left in the game, Indiana led 97-82. As Pistons center Ben Wallace went up for a layup, Indiana's Ron Artest hit Wallace with a hard foul from behind. Wallace took exception and attacked Artest, shoving him in the face. Wallace than engaged in a verbal spat with Artest and a timeout was called to cool down the players. Artest tried to keep his cool so he went to the scorer's table and laid down. As he lay on the table, Artest was suddenly hit in the face by a cup of beer thrown by a fan. Artest shockingly went into the crowd and tried to find the person who threw the beer at him. Four other Pacers, Jermaine O'Neal, Stephen Jackson, David Harrison, and Anthony Johnson also fought with fans. All were suspended for varying lengths (Jackson: 30 games, O'Neal: 15 games, Harrison and Johnson: six games, Reggie Miller: one game for leaving the bench to restrain Artest), with Artest carrying the longest penalty: the entire season. From the Pistons, Chauncey Billups, Derrick Coleman, Elden Campbell were suspended one game a piece, and Ben Wallace was suspended for six games.
The Pacers battled through the suspensions, while the Pistons fought off an early season malaise that they attributed to their winning the NBA title the previous year. The teams split the four regular season meetings. Again, the two teams met in the playoffs, this time in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. After Detroit handily took Game One at The Palace, Indiana scored a stunning upset win in Game Two. The Pacers, although blowing an 18-point lead, won Game Three in Indianapolis. However, just as he did a year ago, Rasheed Wallace promised a Pistons win for Game Four by saying, "When we return [to Detroit], we will be tied at 2-2." The Pistons rebounded with blow out wins in Games Four and Five, leading to Game Six in Indianapolis. The Pacers, knowing a loss would lead to the retirement of Miller, fought hard, but fell to the Pistons. It was the second consecutive year the Pistons won a series over Indiana in six games.
The rivals didn't meet until the 1993 season in which Phoenix won 62 games and were the first seed in the Western Conference. However, the Lakers took the first two games in the then called America West Arena, (now US Airways Center) until then Suns coach Paul Westphal guaranteed that the Suns will comeback and win the series. Phoenix then took the two games in the Great Western Forum (the Laker's home court). In the deciding Game Five, Los Angeles had a chance to win the game and the series, but they didn't as Phoenix won Game Five and escaped a tough series. Phoenix eventually made the NBA Finals losing to the Chicago Bulls. The teams didn't meet again until the 2000 NBA Playoffs, in which the Lakers rolled over the Suns, led by Jason Kidd and Anfernee Hardaway, 4-1 in their route to the NBA title.
They met again in the 1st round of the 2006 NBA Playoffs. The Suns were the second seeded team in the Western Conference and Pacific Division winner, thanks in part to back-to-back NBA MVP Steve Nash and Shawn Marion, and improvements by Leandro Barbosa and Boris Diaw, beneficiaries of the Sun's "run-n-gun" style of offense. Leading the seventh seeded Lakers was the scoring champion, Kobe Bryant, and head coach Phil Jackson, who led their teams to the playoffs despite missing it the year before. Phoenix won Game One at the US Airways Center, but lost Games Two, Three, and Four. Game Four ended in dramatic fashion as Bryant hit the game-tying layup to send the game into overtime. Before Kobe's game-tying basket, two Lakers cornered Steve Nash at the sideline, forcing a turnover. Given the physical defense, the absence of a call was somewhat controversial to Suns fans. Conversely, many players and pundits commonly recognize in the waning moments of the game, officials will force players to win the game rather than protect them. The turnover allowed Bryant to tie the game and force the extra period. In the final seconds of overtime, a jump ball was won by the Lakers and Bryant was given the ball, allowing him to hit the game-winning shot at the buzzer. Phoenix won Game Five in a game many remembered for Raja Bell's clothesline on Kobe Bryant. After the game, Raja was suspended for Game Six. The two then continued their rivalry as they exchanged words during practices. In response to the flagrant foul, Bryant, after the game, stated that he "didn't know the kid." He then suggested that Bell was not hugged enough during his childhood, in response to Bell's shots at Bryant's perceived "arrogance" and "special treatment" from the referees. Game Six was a hard-fought game that went to the final seconds in regular play until Tim Thomas shot the game-tying three pointer to send it overtime, which was later won by the Suns, who forced a Game Seven in the US Airways Center. Game Seven was a blowout win for the Suns, completing a big comeback.
A year later they met again. It looked like the Lakers would win Game 1 behind Kobe Bryant's 39 points, but Phoenix came back in the second half to win 95-87. Game 2 was a blowout win as the Suns won 126-98. Kobe Bryant only had 15 points on 5-13 shooting. He erupted in Game 3 though as he led the Lakers to a 95-89 victory behind his 45 points. The Suns took Game 4 113-100 behind Nash's career-high 23 assists. He fell one assist shy of the NBA postseason record. The Lakers were down 3-1 like the Suns were a year ago. The Lakers couldn't pull off an upset as they fell 119-100 losing the series 4 games to 1.
The two teams met in the playoffs during the 2000-2001 season with the Spurs winning in five games. Little was made during this series, as the Spurs won their first NBA championship since their ABA days only two years before. The Mavericks, run by a trio of Steve Nash, Michael Finley, and Dirk Nowitzki, had just defeated the Utah Jazz despite not having home court advantage and were only starting to meld into a title contender.
The two teams met again in 2003 in the Western Conference Finals. Both the Spurs and the Mavericks had 60-win seasons and reached the Western Conference Finals after defeating the Los Angeles Lakers and the Sacramento Kings, respectively. Despite having the best season of their history, the Mavericks fell in six games to the Spurs.
The rivalry took on a new meaning in 2005 when, near the end of the regular season, Don Nelson would resign as head coach of the Mavericks, apparently satisfied with the state of the team, and hand the coaching reins to former Spur Avery Johnson, the point guard of the 1999 world champion Spurs team who hit the game-winning shot against the New York Knicks. Since Johnson was coached under Spurs' Head Coach Gregg Popovich, he would be familiar with most, if not all, of Popovich's coaching style and philosophy. During the 2005 offseason, Michael Finley, waived by the Mavericks under the amnesty clause, joined the Spurs in search for the elusive title.
The two teams, at present, met for the last time in 2006. San Antonio won the first game at home 87-85. The Mavericks got revenge the next game winning 113-91 evening the series up at 1-1. The Mavericks won a dramatic Game 3 by one point 104-103. Though Manu Ginobili could have made the basket with five seconds remaining, he committed an error allowing the ball to bounce away from him with one second remaining. Dallas won a tightly-contested Game 4 123-118 in overtime. Game Five was won by one point with the Spurs taking the victory. In the final seconds of that game, Jason Terry was seen punching former teammate Michael Finley under the belt. This would lead to his suspension in Game 6. He was sourly missed in Game 6 as the Spurs took the series back home for a Game 7. In the crucial Game 7, with 2.6 ticks to go, Nowitzki converted a three-point play to force overtime. Manu Ginóbili, the one who fouled Dirk was the same person who gave San Antonio their first lead one possession earlier. Tim Duncan, who had played in all 48 minutes of regulation was too fatigued to carry his team in overtime. The Mavericks, meanwhile, were set to take control of the game and they did just that winning the game 119-111. The Mavericks went on to the Conference Finals where they defeated the Suns in six games, but succumbing to the champion Heat in the NBA Finals.
Despite much anticipation of a renewed meeting in the 2007 Western Conference finals, the Mavericks lost to the Golden State Warriors in one of the greatest upsets in NBA history. The eighth seed Warriors, who made the playoffs on the last game of the NBA season, defeated the 67-win, first-seed Mavericks in six games. Meanwhile, the Spurs would ultimately go on to win the 2007 NBA Championship, establishing themselves as a true NBA dynasty. The season also gave longtime former Maverick Michael Finley his first championship. Many Spurs teammates claimed that the drive to win this season was partially to give Finley his first championship, especially since Finley had lost a bitter-fought series to his longtime team the year previous.
Worth noting in a regular season meeting between the two rivals in April 2007, a game which the Mavs won 91-86, Tim Duncan suffered his first career ejection. Joey Crawford, the referee who ejected Duncan, allegedly asked Duncan to a fight which led to the longtime ref's season-ending suspension. As Duncan was heading into the locker room, American Airlines Center erupted into a huge cheer, applauding Duncan's ejection.
It is anticipated that despite the surprising loss for the Mavericks in 2007 season, both teams should be competing for supremacy of the Western Conference (alongside the Phoenix Suns) for years to come as both hope to maintain their young, talented cores (Josh Howard, Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry for Mavericks and Manu Ginobili, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker for Spurs).
Knowing that no team could contend with the Celtics grasp on fundamentally perfect play, coach Chuck Daly allowed his team to experiment with a more aggressive type of play. Nicknamed the "Bad Boys" for their rough and aggressive style of play, the Pistons aimed to take this style to the Celtics...and break them. By upsetting the athletic second place Atlanta Hawks 4-1, the Pistons took their style to the 1987 Eastern Finals. Again meeting the defending champion Celtics, this time the Pistons pushed Bird and his team even harder. If not for a game winning steal and assist by Bird in Game Five, the Pistons may very well have won the series, but after seven tense games, the Celtics proved they were still the better team. And while the Celtics would celebrate their fourth straight conference title, the Pistons would recalibrate and come back more aggressive the next year.
The two teams were on a practical date with destiny as they met for the Eastern Finals. Once again the Pistons were the underdogs to the Celtics. Detroit set the tone early and proved that they were done being a mere team on the rise. They upset the aging Celtics 4-2. This marked the Pistons' first conference title since their days in Fort Wayne, Indiana. This started the beginning of the Pistons' reign in the East as well as the fall of the Celtics dynasty.
With Larry Bird injured and sidelined for the season, the Celtics limped into the eighth seed to face the Pistons, who now had the best record in the league. The Pistons swept the Celtics three games to none, showing just how badly they had broken this team. The Pistons would win their first title that year against the other NBA superpower, the Los Angeles Lakers, and would go on to win another the following year against the more talented Portland Trail Blazers. Meanwhile the Celtics would rebuild and invest in some younger more athletic starters like Reggie Lewis and Dee Brown.
By the 1991 season, the two-time champion Pistons were a team starting to show their age. Earning a third seed in the Eastern conference, they went into the semifinals against a recharged Celtics, who now held the second best record in the East. Eager to show that they were still the dominant team come playoffs time, the Pistons contested Boston, overcoming a 2-1 series deficit and defeating the banged up Celtics 4-2. Having secured their fifth straight trip to the Conference Finals, the Pistons had ended the Boston rivalry in their own favor. After this series, both teams would soon suffer the pains of Bird and Thomas's retirement and the rivalry subsided.
This rivalry was hallmarked by Thomas's offhand comments following the 1987 NBA Eastern Conference finals game 5 loss. Thomas and teammate Dennis Rodman intimated that Larry Bird would not receive as many accolades as he did if Bird were not white. These words had for a long time lit the competitive spirit in Bird and sparked a bitter grudge between the two men that continues to this day. Sixteen years later, in 2003, the Indiana Pacers would hire Bird as the President of Basketball Operations and he would use this station to fire Thomas who was the then-coach of the team. Similarly, Donnie Walsh, Bird's boss with the Pacers and current New York Knicks president, fired Thomas after a dismal 23-59 campaign in 2008.
The last time the Pistons and Celtics met in the postseason was in the 2002 NBA Eastern Conference semifinals. Detroit won the first game of the series, but Boston won 4 straight contests to eliminate the stunned Pistons in 5 games. The Celtics earned their first Eastern Conference finals berth since 1988, but lost to the New Jersey Nets 4-2.
The two teams met again in the Eastern Conference Finals six years later. Since their last playoff meeting, both teams engineered dramatic changes. Boston became a defensive force with the arrival of Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, while Detroit became a six-time Conference Finalist thanks to the backcourt duo of Chauncey Billups and Richard Hamilton. In addition, players like Tayshaun Prince, Rasheed Wallace, Antonio McDyess and Jason Maxiell kept the team competitive. As of May 30, 2008, the Celtics won the series 4-2, over Detroit and earned them their first NBA Finals appearance since 1987. Boston would then capture their 17th NBA title when they beat the L.A. Lakers in the 2008 NBA Finals.
A rematch in 1991 proved embarrassing for the Knicks, who as the eighth seed were swept by the top-seeded Bulls 3-0 in the first round, which was highlighted by a spectacular spin-and-dunk by Jordan over Patrick Ewing. The Bulls would go on to win their first title that year.
Under the leadership of coach Pat Riley, the Knicks got tough and scored the fourth best record in the east for the 1992 season. Meeting the Bulls for the semi-finals, the Knicks aimed to upset the champs just as they had been upset in '89. Things looked good when the Knicks shocked the Bulls with a game one victory, 94-89. Despite a Bulls turnaround, the Knicks showed they were serious and took a cue from the Bulls' old rivals, the Detroit Pistons, by implementing aggressive play to break Chicago. But after a surprisingly tough seven game series, the Bulls survived and went on to win their second straight NBA title.
The Knicks honed their act and returned for the 1993 season by besting the aging Bulls for the best record in the East, 60-22. On a collision course for one another in the Eastern Finals, the Knicks showed their dominance by beating the Bulls in the first two games in New York. But in one of the greatest comebacks in NBA history, Michael Jordan led the Bulls to four straight wins to once again defeat the New York Knicks. The Bulls would go on to win their third straight title while the Knicks would spend their summer wondering how they would beat Michael Jordan.
As it turned out they wouldn't have to. With Jordan's unexpected retirement prior to the '94 season, the Bulls started to weaken. Seizing the opportunity, the Knicks tied the Atlanta Hawks for best record (57-25) in the East and another fated rematch with Chicago in the semi-finals. But the Scottie Pippen-led Bulls aimed to prove that it was the team, not Jordan, that continually beat the Knicks. Nearly proving their point by forcing a Game Seven, the Bulls finally fell to the Knicks and brought their dynasty to a seeming end. The Knicks would go on to win their first conference title since 1973.
A nostalgic rematch occurred in the 1996 semi-finals when the rejuvenated Michael Jordan returned for his first full season back with the Bulls. By this time the Knicks had weakened into a moderately tough team tied with the Cleveland Cavaliers for the fourth best record (47-35) in the East. They were no match for the Jordan led Bulls who had not only the best record in the league, but the best record of all-time (72-10). The Bulls avenged their '94 loss and beat the Knicks 4-1, going on to reclaim the NBA title.
The Knicks reached the NBA Finals in 1994 and 1999 (incidentally, after Michael Jordan's first and second retirements, respectively). The Knicks were defeated in a grueling seven game series to Houston in '94 and an uneventful five game series to San Antonio in '99. The Pacers finally reached the NBA finals by defeating the Knicks in the 2000 Eastern Conference Finals, eventually losing to the Lakers in the Finals. The playoff battles between these two franchises led to some of the greatest moments in NBA playoff history, such as Larry Johnson's four-point play in the waning seconds of Game Three of 1999 Eastern Conference Finals, Miller's 25 points in the fourth quarter of Game Five of 1994 Eastern Conference Finals, and Miller's eight points in the last 16 seconds to win Game One of the 1995 Eastern Conference Semifinals.
In recent years, this once bitter rivalry has greatly softened, with the recent struggles of the Knicks franchise and the turnover of the Miami Heat to a new crop of players. Ever since the re-alignment of divisions with the addition of the expansion Charlotte Bobcats, the Miami Heat have been moved to the newly created Southeast Division, in which they have dominated due to the addition of Shaquille O'Neal (from a trade with the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2004 offseason) and the emergence of Dwyane Wade. However, in its prime this rivalry was bitter and marked by players on both teams giving their best efforts in every game. Both teams were almost evenly matched every time they played.
The rivalry has returned due to the return of the Bulls to the playoffs in the post-Michael Jordan era and the emergence of rising superstar Dwyane Wade. This rekindled rivalry has been very physical, involving rough plays and hard fouls between players.
The rivalry extended into the 2007 NBA Playoffs, with the 7-seeded Wizards meeting the 2-seeded Cavaliers. This series was a more lopsided series than their 2006 matchups, due in large part to the fact that Washington was without its two leading scorers, Arenas and Caron Butler, who were sidelined with knee and hand injuries, respectively. Cleveland went on to sweep Washington out of the first round of the playoffs.
The Caviliers and Wizards have played each other 32 times from the 2005-06 Preseason through the 2008 Playoffs (5 preseason, 11 regular season, 16 post-season)
The rivalry intensified during the second half of the 2007-08 regular season. During a game which the Cavs won, Deshawn Stevenson referred to Lebron James as "overrated." James responded by analogizing himself to Jay-Z and Stevenson to Soulja Boy. Gilbert Arenas backed up his teammate by revealing on his blog that the Wizards were looking forward to playing the Cavs, who had struggled during the end of that regular season.
In the 2008 NBA Playoffs, the rivalry was still there. In Game 1 they had scuffle, which resulted in a techinal on LeBron James, Antawan Jamison, and Brendan Haywood. The Quicken Loans Arena crowd routinely booed Stevenson and Arenas. The intensity and closeness of the game forbode an intense and hard fought series. In game 2, Wizards center Brendan Haywood was ejected for a flagrant foul on LeBron James. For game 6 Wizards forward Darius Songalia was suspended for a flagrant foul in game 5.
More recently, in the 2007 NBA Playoffs, the Utah Jazz lead by many young players such as Carlos Boozer, Andrei Kirilenko, Mehmet Okur and Deron Williams defeated the Houston Rockets lead by Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady four to three. Similarly, the following season, the Jazz wore down the Rockets in six games, with Yao on the sidelines.
The teams met four times in the playoffs in the 1980s, with all four series going to the Lakers. They met in consecutive Western Conference Finals in 1982 and 1983. After a first round sweep by the Lakers in 1988, they did not meet in the playoffs again until the 1999 Western Conference Semifinals. The Spurs, led by the "Twin Towers" of David Robinson and Tim Duncan, swept Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant, and the Lakers en route to their first NBA championship since joining from the ABA.
The Lakers, having already swept the Portland Trail Blazers and Sacramento Kings, return the favor in 2001 by sweeping the Spurs in the 2001 Western Conference Finals, in which the Spurs started with home court advantage. The Lakers would proceed to win their second consecutive championship.
The two teams would face off one another again in the 2002 Conference Semifinals. Once again, the Lakers would prevail over the Spurs before winning their third consecutive title.
In 2003 the Spurs and Lakers faced each other once again in the Conference Semifinals. This time, the Spurs ended the Lakers' dynasty in and went on to beat the back-to-back Eastern Conference champion New Jersey Nets in the 2003 NBA Finals. With another championship win, David Robinson retired after the season, handing the reins of his ship to Tim Duncan.
In 2004, the teams met again in the Western Conference Semifinals. After the home team won the first four games of the series, the Lakers beat the Spurs in San Antonio, thanks to a buzzer-beating jump shot by Derek Fisher. The Lakers went on to win the series and face the Detroit Pistons in the 2004 NBA Finals.
Shaquille O'Neal would be traded to the Miami Heat in the following offseason, and the Lakers missed the playoffs the next season. Meanwhile, the Spurs would win their third NBA championship over the defending champion Detroit Pistons in a long, hard-fought seven game series. Since then, the rivalry has become dormant, as the Lakers, now led by Kobe Bryant, would start anew with a younger nucleus.
Recently, in 2008 Western Cenference Finals, the Lakers, led by first time MVP Kobe Bryant, defeated the Spurs in five games. Lakers had to climb back from a 20-point deficit to win Game 1 at Staples Center. Game 2 was won again by the Lakers before the Spurs took Game 3 at home. The Lakers stole a win in San Antonio in Game 4 and wrapped up the series 4-1 to meet a familiar foe in NBA history, the Boston Celtics (led by the big three, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen).
The two teams would meet again the next year, this time in the 1993 Western Conference Semifinals. Also different was the look of the Suns, who acquired former Celtic Danny Ainge and traded Jeff Hornacek, Andrew Lang, and Tim Perry to the Philadelphia 76ers for Charles Barkley, who was the season's Most Valuable Player. The Suns also compiled a league-best 62-20 record and clinched both the Pacific Division title and the top seed in the Western Conference. The Spurs finished the regular season with a 49-33 record and the fifth seed. The Suns barely reached the Conference Semifinals by beating the Los Angeles Lakers in a five-game series after losing the first two games, while the Spurs ousted the defending Western Conference champion Portland Trail Blazers. This series lasts six games with the Suns prevailing over the Spurs again, and ending the Spurs' tenure in Hemisfair Arena. The Suns would proceed to win the Western Conference championship and face the Chicago Bulls in the 1993 NBA Finals.
Three years would pass until the two rivals meet again. This year, the Spurs finished the year with a record of 59-23, the Midwest Division title, and the second seed in the Western Conference. The Suns, in contrast, just made the playoffs with a 41-41 record and the seventh seed. The Spurs won the first two games at home and the second of two games at Phoenix, winning the series 3-1. While the Spurs would go on to face the Utah Jazz, the Suns would trade Barkley to the Houston Rockets for Sam Cassell, Robert Horry, Mark Bryant, and Chucky Brown.
During the 1997 offseason, the Spurs, who finished with the third worst record in the 1996-1997 season (due to extended injures to David Robinson and Sean Elliott) won the 1997 NBA Draft Lottery and, in the subsequent draft, selected consensus All-American Tim Duncan from Wake Forest University. This marked another major turning point in the rivalry as the Spurs would win three of the four next playoff matchups against the Suns, the only series loss to the Suns occurring in the 2000 NBA Playoffs, when Duncan was out with a knee injury.
The Spurs took a 2003 First Round series from the Suns in six games on their way to their second NBA title.
The two teams met in the 2005 Western Conference Finals. The revived Suns (who had posted the third-greatest turnaround in NBA history that season) went up against the second-seeded Spurs. San Antonio took home the bragging rights as they easily won in 5 games on their way to their third NBA title.
Two years later, the two teams with almost the same players from their previous matchup in 2005 met in the Western Conference Semifinals. Having a 2-1 series lead in Game 4 and leading by 8 points with the game almost over, the Spurs broke down and allowed the Suns to even the series up at 2 apiece. During the closing seconds of that game, an altercation resulted when Robert Horry bumped Steve Nash into the scorers table. Horry was ejected immediately and suspended the following 2 games. Amare Stoudemire and Boris Diaw were also suspended one game each for violating the rule that states that a person on the bench isn't allowed to go on the court during an altercation. The two Suns were missed during Game 5 as Phoenix lost. The Spurs won Game 6, which was at San Antonio as they went on to the Conference Finals and their fourth NBA championship.
The following year, the Suns took a major move during the mid-season by acquiring the big fella Shaquille O'neal from the Miami Heat in exchange for Shawn Marion. Hoping to find a solution to Tim Duncan, O'neal was fitted against Duncan on their teams' meeting in the first round, with the Spurs seeded as #3 and the Suns #6. The Spurs would eclipse the Suns in five games. After bouncing out the New Orlean Hornets in 7 hard fought games, the Spurs would come up short and fell to the Lakers in 5 games, with an injured Ginobili and a controversial moment at the end of game 4 that denied Brent Barry the chance to tie the game with freethrows.
Phoenix won Game One 127-102 with a 40-point game by Amare Stoudemire. Steve Nash was also given his NBA MVP award during that game, a game in which he terrorized his former team. However, Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki hit a game-winning turn-around jumper in Game 2 to beat Phoenix 108-106 to send the series back to Dallas tied 1-1. Phoenix and Dallas split the two games in Dallas which saw both winners of games score 119 points. The series went back Phoenix then took care of Dallas 114-108 in the America West Arena (now US Airways Center). Then, in Game Six, with Dallas facing elimination, Phoenix beat Dallas in a thriller which saw Steve Nash with a 39-point game, to go along with 12 assists. Phoenix then made it to the Western Conference Finals, where they eventually lost to the San Antonio Spurs who then went on to win the NBA Title that season.
The following year, a Suns team without Stoudemire (who was injured), Joe Johnson, and Quentin Richardson, but with a core of new players led by Raja Bell (who clotheslined Lakers star Kobe Bryant in a first-round series game), Boris Diaw and Tim Thomas to go along with Nash and fellow All-Star Shawn Marion. Phoenix had to play seven game series against the two Los Angeles teams, the Los Angeles Lakers (who had a 3-1 lead against Phoenix) and the resurgent Los Angeles Clippers. They faced a Mavericks team who won 60 games, but were forced to be the fourth seed since the division winners got the top three seeds. On their way to the Western Conference Finals, Dallas swept the Memphis Grizzlies, and beat in-state rival San Antonio Spurs in seven tense games. Phoenix won Game One 121-118 after Diaw hit a game-winning shot in the dying seconds of the fourth quarter. Bell, though injured himself in Game One, missing Games Two and Three. After that, Dallas took control of the series, winning Games Two and Three by the scores of 105-98 and 95-88. Bell came back for Game Four and led Phoenix to a 106-86 blowout win. Dallas however, beat Phoenix 117-101 in Game Five which included a 50-point performance from Dirk Nowitzki, and eliminated the Suns in Phoenix 102-93 in Game Six. Dallas would later on lose to the Miami Heat in six games, despite winning the first two games.
On March 14, 2007, Phoenix beat Dallas in a 129-127 double overtime thriller. With the Mavericks up by 7 with a minute left in regulation, Dirk Nowitzki (a 90% free throw shooter) missed two free throws. Steve Nash fed off his mistakes and scored 10 straight points including the game-tying three pointer with 3 seconds left to go. Dirk Nowitzki's potential game-winning shot bounced off the rim and sent the game to overtime. Jason Terry sent the game into another overtime with a game-tying three pointer of his own. Dirk Nowitzki's potential game-tying shot in double overtime went in and out of the rim as Amare Stoudemire's 41 points were too much for Dallas to handle. Many considered this game the Game of the Year for the 2006-2007 Season and many compared it to Game 6 of the 2005 Conference Semifinals.
The Pistons dedicated themselves the following season to meeting their new rivals in the 1989 Finals and beating them. The Pistons honed their craft and became the most unstoppable team in the league, posting a league-best 63-19. Despite the first signs of aging and the impending retirement of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the Lakers remained the best team in the Western Conference with a 57-25 record. The Lakers swept through the Western Conference with an astonishing 11-0 playoff record, with sweeps of the Portland Trail Blazers (3-0) in the first round and the Seattle SuperSonics (4-0) in the Conference semi-finals and capped off with a sweep of the up and rising Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference Finals (4-0). Predictably the Lakers and the Pistons met in the finals. Once again the Lakers were favored to win this series based on their outstanding unprecedented performance in the Western Conference playoffs; however, the Lakers ran into a buzzsaw and were absolutely no match for the determined Pistons. Handicapped by the absence of starting shooting guard Byron Scott as well as the Game Two injury of point guard Earvin "Magic" Johnson, the Lakers dynasty finally came to a crashing finale with the four-game sweep concluding in LA. Initially, the Lakers looked like they were going to win Game Four of this series and stave off elimination by racing out to a 35-23 first-quarter lead; however, the Pistons clawed back methodically and won 105-97 in Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's final game in the NBA. The Pistons found redemption and sent the legendary Abdul-Jabbar into retirement.
A whole new generation of Pistons and Lakers met in the 2004 NBA Finals. The Lakers were considered well experienced. The Lakers were coached by Phil Jackson, who possessed an undefeated 9-0 record in previous NBA Finals series. The Pistons were coached by Larry Brown, a coach known for getting the best effort out of the players on his teams. The all-star complexion of the Laker team, which included Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant, former Seattle SuperSonics' point guard Gary Payton, and former Utah Jazz legend Karl Malone (the latter two who joined the Lakers in the 2003 offseason for the elusive ring) and Phil Jackson made them an early favorite to win the series. Both teams fought uphill battles to make it to the championship as the Pistons faced the Milwaukee Bucks, the New Jersey Nets (who had eliminated the Pistons in the Conference Finals the year before), and divisional rival Indiana Pacers. The Lakers' Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal were feuding during the regular season over who was the most valuable player to the Lakers; however, their feud was put on hold during their playoff run against the Houston Rockets, the San Antonio Spurs, and the Minnesota Timberwolves. Incidentally, Phil Jackson was the coach of the Lakers when the Lakers defeated Larry Brown's old team the Philadelphia 76ers in the 2001 NBA Finals. But as it was in the late 1980s, this new 2004 Pistons team's commitment to defense and its deeper bench proved surprisingly insurmountable.
The teams split the first two games in LA, the Pistons winning the first game and the Lakers taking the second thanks to an end-of-regulation shot by Kobe Bryant that forced overtime and an eventual win. However, Karl Malone reinjured his knee (which he injured earlier in the regular season and had surgery on, sidelining him for 40 games) during the series and was unable to play in the fifth and deciding game. The Pistons easily won all of the next three games in Detroit.