Throughout nearly 60 seasons of history, the National Basketball Association (NBA) has had several intense rivalries. What follows is a summary of just some of the high-profile rivalries in the NBA. Rivalries can be classified into three primary groups; intradivisional, interdivisional, and interconference.
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.
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.
Intradivisional rivalries: Eastern Conference
Boston Celtics vs. Philadelphia 76ers
The rivalry started when the Philadelphia Warriors were in the Eastern Division with the Boston Celtics. The Warriors drafted center Wilt Chamberlain in 1959. Chamberlain was considered one of the best inside scorers in the NBA and posed a serious threat to the Celtics. However, the Celtics had Bill Russell at center. He was one of the most dominant defensive forces in the NBA. When these teams played each other in the playoffs, Chamberlain had good games, but in the end, Russell and the Celtics would win. Before the 1962-63 season, the Warriors moved to San Francisco, and the rivalry seemed to have died.
In the 1964 season, Philadelphia brought in a new franchise called the 76ers, previously the Syracuse Nationals. 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."
Boston Celtics vs. New York Knicks
These are two of the only remaining teams from the original 1946 NBA (the other is the Golden State Warriors, who, while in Philadelphia, was a also a great rival to both teams; these rivalries died down once the Warriors moved west).
This rivalry attributes and stems from the rivalry between New York City and Boston, as well as the bigger Yankees–Red Sox rivalry in Major League Baseball. The fact that Boston and New York City are only three and a half hours away also contributes to the Knicks-Celtics rivalry, which is also seen between the New York Jets and New England Patriots in the National Football League.
Boston Celtics vs. Brooklyn Nets
The Celtics and the Nets were once rivals during the early 2000s due to their locations and burgeoning stars. The Nets were led by Jason Kidd and Kenyon Martin, while the Celtics were led by Paul Pierce and Antoine Walker. The rivalry started to heat up in the 2002 Eastern Conference Finals, which was proceeded by trash talking from the Celtics who claimed Martin was "fake" tough guy. Kenyon Martin stated "Our fans hate them, their fans hate us."
In 2012, there were indications that the rivalry might be rekindled when an altercation occurred on the court on November 28. It included the ejection of Rajon Rondo of the Celtics, Gerald Wallace and Kris Humphries of the Nets. Rondo was suspended for two games while Wallace and Kevin Garnett were fined. It was later revisited on Christmas Day when Wallace grabbed Garnett's shorts and the two were broken up.
After the June 2013 blockbuster trade that dealt Celtics stars Garnett and Paul Pierce to the Nets in exchange for Wallace, Humphries, and others, the rivalry significantly appeared to cool down. Celtics announcer Sean Grande said "It's almost as if you found a great home for these guys. You couldn't have found a better place. They'll be on the competitive team, they'll stay on national TV. It's funny, because the enemy of my enemy is my friend. So with Celtics fans feeling the way they do about the Heat, feeling the way they do to the Knicks, the Nets are going to become the second [Boston] team now."
Brooklyn Nets vs. New York Knicks
The Nets were a charter member of the American Basketball Association, which formed in 1967. The team played on Long Island from 1968 to 1977 as the New York Nets. With the ABA-NBA merger in 1976, the Nets were one of four teams absorbed into the NBA. The Knicks forced the Nets to pay $4.8 million for "invading" the Knicks' territory, in addition to the $3 million the Nets paid for moving into the NBA. This forced the Nets to renege on a promised raise to star player Julius Erving, and were forced to trade him to the 76ers. As a result, the Nets went from defending ABA champion to an also-ran almost overnight. In 1977, the Nets relocated to their original place, New Jersey, to become the New Jersey Nets, first in the Izod Center and finally the Prudential Center. The teams have since met three times in the playoffs, with the Knicks winning two series and the Nets winning the most recent series, in 2004. In 2012, the Nets relocated back to New York to play in the newly built Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
New York Knicks vs. Philadelphia 76ers
The rivalry between the New York Knicks and Philadelphia 76ers is mainly due to the major rivalries with teams in different sports from the same two cities, which are two hours apart by car, as seen in the rivalries between the New York Mets and the Philadelphia Phillies in Major League Baseball, the New York Giants and the Philadelphia Eagles in the National Football League, and the New York Rangers and the Philadelphia Flyers in the National Hockey League.
Chicago Bulls vs. Detroit Pistons
The Bulls-Pistons rivalry originated in the late 1980s, a period when the Bulls' superstar, Michael Jordan, was evolving into one of the league's best players and when the Detroit Pistons were becoming a major playoff contender. This rivalry was one of the fiercest during its early period, mostly due to the dynamics between Michael Jordan and the "Bad Boy" Pistons, led mostly by Isiah Thomas and Bill Laimbeer.
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.
On July 1, 2009, fan favorite and free agent shooting guard Ben Gordon from the Bulls decided to sign a 5-Year, $55 million dollar verbal agreement deal with the Pistons after 5 seasons with the Bulls, while there is a rule that free agents can't sign with their teams until July, 8th. The signing was official on July 8, 2009.
Chicago Bulls vs. Milwaukee Bucks
The "Bucks-Bulls" rivalry was started in 1974 when the Bucks were the only team that was stopping the Bulls from winning their division and conference. This was highlighted in the 1974 NBA Playoffs, where the Bulls were swept by the Bucks in the Conference Finals. This rivalry was at its highest in the late 80's and early 90's, where both became frequent playoff contenders. The Bucks were the first team to defeat the Michael Jordan led Bulls in his playoffs debut, three to one. The other meeting between the two of them was in the 1990 NBA Playoffs, where the Bulls won in the first round, three games to one. The rivalry between the two currently is mainly due to the major rivalries with teams in different sports but the same two cities, such as the Bears–Packers rivalry (the Packers are in Green Bay, not Milwaukee but they are in the same state) in the National Football League, and the Brewers–Cubs rivalry in Major League Baseball. However, this rivalry is still fierce due to the proximity of the two cities, this rivalry is also strengthened due to the young squads both teams have but together, with Derrick Rose leading the Bulls and Brandon Jennings leading the Bucks, both getting drafted before either turned twenty and both Point Guards. There are also several people currently with the Bucks who went there after lackluster careers in Chicago but found success in Milwaukee, such as their current head coach Scott Skiles who had previously been fired by the Bulls due to a lackluster start and John Salmons, who after being traded to the Bucks became their leading scorer and since going to Milwaukee had increased most of his stats compared to his last year in Chicago including career highs in Points per Game and Free Throw Percentage. Currently, the two teams are considered the favorites to win their division.
Chicago Bulls vs. Indiana Pacers
The Bulls and the Indiana Pacers' rivalry begins with the two playing in the Central Division. This rivalry is best known from the match-ups in the 1990s in which Michael Jordan and Reggie Miller would go head-to-head. The Bulls and Pacers met in the 1998 Eastern Conference Finals. Chicago won the series in seven games. The rivalry was renewed when the two teams faced each other in the first round of the 2011 NBA Playoffs, with the Bulls winning the series in five games.
Indiana Pacers vs. Detroit Pistons
The Pacers-Pistons rivalry recently started in the 2004 NBA Playoffs when the Indiana Pacers, despite having the higher seed and being the favorites to win were ousted by the Detroit Pistons from the Eastern Conference Finals in six games of a series full of cheap shots and hard fouls. The rivalry was escalated on November 19, 2004 when near the end of a regular season game, Pistons center Ben Wallace shoved Pacers forward Ron Artest after a hard foul, suddenly, a plastic cup was thrown while Artest was trying to avoid fighting. This led to Ron Artest and other Pacers jumping into the stands to attack fans and a huge player-fan brawl started.
Miami Heat vs. Orlando Magic
The Heat and Magic have not been rivals since their inception as franchises. They are the only NBA franchises in the state of Florida. They have competed against each other in both Atlantic and Southeast Divisions. Orlando boasts Atlantic Division championships in 1995 and 1996; Miami claimed division titles in 1997, 1998, 1999, and 2000. While battling in the Southeast Division, Orlando and Miami claim the only division championships (Magic: 2008, 2009, 2010; Heat: 2005, 2006, 2007). Now with the new Big 3 in Miami (LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh), the Magic fans are trying to create a rivalry, seeing as Miami is the biggest draw in the NBA.
Intradivisional rivalries: Western Conference
Los Angeles Lakers vs. Los Angeles Clippers
These two teams became rivals in prior to the 1999-2000 NBA season when they both moved to the Staples Center. However the two have many differences, most notably the Lakers sucsessful history and the Clippers terrible history. For the first time, the Clippers did better than the Lakers during the 2005-06 NBA season when they achieved a 2-game better record than the Lakers and made it to the Western Conference Semi-Finals when the Lakers were eliminated in the Quarter-Finals. The two even met on the Lakers ring night at the beginning of the 2009-10 NBA season. They both won 2 games against each other over the course of the season.
Los Angeles Lakers vs. Phoenix Suns
The two rivals met for the first time in the 1970 NBA Playoffs. The Suns blew a 3-1 series lead over the Lakers and lost the series in seven games. The rivals met again ten years later as the Lakers easily dispatched the Suns 4-1. In their next four meetings in 1982, 1984, 1985, and 1989, the Lakers won all those series in scores of 4–0, 4–2, 3–0, and 4-0. In the Western Conference Semifinals of 1990, the Suns finally got their monkey off as they blazed past the Lakers 4-1 in their run to the Western Conference Finals.
The rivals would meet again in 1993 in which Phoenix won 62 games in the regular season and were the first seed in the Western Conference. However, led by Lakers veteran James Worthy the Lakers won the first two games in America West Arena, (now US Airways Center). Down 0-2 in the best of five series, then Suns head coach Paul Westphal guaranteed that the Suns would come back and win the series. Phoenix led by that year's league MVP Charles Barkley, won the next two games in the Great Western Forum (the Lakers' home court). In the deciding Game Five, Phoenix won 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, led by Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal, rolled over the Suns 4-1 on their route to the NBA title.
They met again in the first 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 Suns' "run-n-gun" style of offense. Leading the seventh-seeded Lakers were the scoring champion, Kobe Bryant, and head coach Phil Jackson, who led their team 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 Bryant's game-tying basket, two Lakers cornered Steve Nash at the sideline, forcing a turnover. 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 where Raja Bell clotheslined Kobe Bryant. After the game, Bell was suspended for Game Six. The two teams 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 to 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 3–1 series 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-of-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 had been a year earlier. The Lakers couldn't pull off an upset as they fell 119–110, losing the series 4 games to 1.
The Los Angeles Lakers and the Phoenix Suns met again in the 2010 NBA Playoffs in the Western Conference Finals. Both teams entered the conference finals series having swept their conference semi-finals opponents 4-0, (the Lakers swept the Utah Jazz and the Suns swept the San Antonio Spurs). The Lakers had the home court advantage and won games 1 and 2 in dominating fashion. After falling behind 0-2, Suns head coach Alvin Gentry decided to implement the zone defense to slow down the Lakers offense. Many in the sports media credited the zone defense for slowing down the Lakers offense, helping the Suns hold their home court by winning games 3 and 4 and tying the series at 2-2. The series would return to the Staples Center in Los Angeles for game 5. The Lakers held a comfortable lead for most of game 5 until the Suns went on a run in the fourth quarter and tied the game after a Jason Richardson three pointer. With just 3.7 seconds left on the clock, Kobe Bryant shot a long jump shot that missed the rim but was caught by Lakers forward Ron Artest. Artest (who just moments earlier had missed two wide open jump shots before the Suns tied the game), made the game winning layup after rebounding Bryant's missed jump shot. The Lakers went on to win game 6 in Phoenix despite another late run by the Suns in the fourth quarter, 111 to 103. The Lakers won the series 4-2 and went on to face the Boston Celtics in the 2010 NBA Finals.
Los Angeles Lakers vs. Sacramento Kings
In 2000 the Lakers were the best team in the league and poised for a triumphant franchise return to the Finals. But the eighth seeded Sacramento Kings surprised everyone by pushing the Lakers to the brink of elimination in the first round. Though the Kings would lose Game Five and the Lakers would go on to win the championship, a rivalry had begun. A better equipped Kings met the still-superior Lakers in the semifinals the next year in 2001 but were swept by the confident champs who would go on to defend their title. The two teams met once more the following year for the 2002 Western Finals. This time the Kings were the favored team, having posted an impressive 61-21 league best record. A team seemingly designed to overthrow the champs came up short after losing Game Seven in overtime on their home court, something that had not been done in over 20 years. The Lakers went on to win their third straight title.
Houston Rockets vs. San Antonio Spurs
The Rockets-Spurs rivalry or Spurs-Rockets rivalry, began in 1980 when the Rockets led by Moses Malone and Calvin Murphy beat the Spurs led by George Gervin and James Silas. The rivalry grew intense as both teams moved from the Eastern Conference to the Western Conference. The rivalry sparkled in 1995 when the sixth-seeded Rockets led by Hakeem Olajuwon beat the top-seeded Spurs led by MVP David Robinson. It is one of the three rivalries in the NBA between teams from Texas. It is also known as the I-10 Rivalry since both San Antonio and Houston lie on Interstate 10. In 2004, Tracy McGrady led the Rockets to a comeback win against the Spurs who were up by 10 points in the final minute of the game, scoring 13 points in the last 35 seconds.
San Antonio Spurs vs. Dallas Mavericks
The Mavericks-Spurs rivalry is relatively new but very fierce. It features two teams with Dallas roots—the Spurs began their life in the ABA as the Dallas Chaparrals and did not move to San Antonio until 1973. The Spurs defeated the Mavericks in 2001, 2003, and 2010; while the Mavericks defeated the Spurs in 2006 and 2009. The Spurs have won four championships and four conference titles, while the Mavericks have won one conference title. The Spurs have won 15 division titles, while the Mavericks have won 2. Both the Spurs and the Mavericks have 3 60-win seasons.
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.
During the 2006 playoffs the two rivals met again. 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 for supposedly laughing while sitting on the bench. 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.
In the 2009 NBA Playoffs, the Mavericks and Spurs squared off again in the first round. San Antonio finished with a better record than Dallas, but were noticeably struggling due to Manu Ginobili suffering a season-ending injury. The Spurs and Mavericks split the first 2 games in San Antonio, but Dallas defeated the Spurs in games 3 and 4, both in Dallas. The Mavericks then went on to close out the series and eliminated the short-handed Spurs at the AT&T Center in San Antonio.
The following years NBA Playoffs in 2010 they met again in the first round. This time the Mavs were the 2 seed and Spurs the 7 seed. The San Antonio Spurs were the first team in NBA history in the 7th seed to move on to the second round. In one of the games, Dirk Nowitzki broke Manu Ginobili's nose. Ginobili was out of action for five minutes before he came back and rallied the spurs to victory. In the next game, Edward Najera was ejected for a very cheap foul where he threw Ginobili onto the ground in the middle of a layup.
Boston Celtics vs. Detroit Pistons
When the Detroit Pistons drafted guard Isiah Thomas in 1981, it was in hopes that he would turn the team around and grow to be a threat to Boston's dominance in the East. It took three years but finally in 1985, Thomas led the Pistons to the semi-finals against the defending champion Celtics. After immediately falling behind 0–2 in the series, Thomas and the Pistons rallied back in Detroit to knot the series 2–2. Though Larry Bird led the Celtics to a 4-2 victory and eventually on to another Eastern Conference title, another historic rivalry was developing.
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 Celtics and the Pistons renewed their rivalry 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.
Boston Celtics vs. Orlando Magic
This rivalry can be traced back to the 1995 playoffs, where the Magic beat the Celtics 3-1. Game 4 was the last game the Celtics would ever play in the old Boston Garden. This rivalry recently culminated in the 2009 playoffs when the Magic beat the Celtics 4-3 in Boston en route to the NBA Finals.
In 2010, these two teams met in the Eastern Conference Finals, there was lots of physical play, plenty of technical fouls and flagrent fouls. During this series, Boston center Kendrick Perkins got ejected, Boston Forwards Glen Davis, Rasheed Wallace, and Marquis Daniels got injured. Due to the Flagrant Fouls assessed, A Boston newspaper called Magic Center Dwight Howard a "dirty" player. Boston won this series 4-2.
Boston Celtics vs. Chicago Bulls
Before the Pistons became the team that kept Michael Jordan from winning in the playoffs, that spot was held by Larry Bird and the Celtics. They met in the first round twice in a row in the 1986 and 87' playoffs, with the 1st seeded Celtics sweeping the 8th seeded Bulls back-to-back. The rivalry would then fall into decline as the Celtics fell from grace due to the retirement of Bird, the deaths of prospect Len Bias who was supposed to continue his legacy and Reggie Lewis, a guard who became an all-star the season before his death. The Bulls, with the Celtics out of the picture, would have to deal with the Pistons for the next few years before finally breaking through and winning six championships in eight years. This rivalry came back to life, however, in the 2009 NBA Playoffs. The defending champ and 2nd seeded Celtics went up against the 7th seeded Bulls. While the Celtics were the favorite, the loss of Kevin Garnett to injury helped the Bulls plow through. The series went to seven games with the Celtics winning game seven, but the series had broken records as it was the playoff series with the most overtime games (4), and most overtime periods played (7), with many calling it one of the greatest first round series in NBA history. There is also much comparison between Derrick Rose and Rajon Rondo as to who is the best point guard in the Eastern Conference.
Boston Celtics vs. Atlanta Hawks
The Celtics-Hawks rivalry is a rivalry in the Eastern Conference of the National Basketball Association that has lasted for over five decades, although the two teams have played each other since the 1949-50 season, when the then-Tri-City Blackhawks joined the NBA as part of the National Basketball League and the Basketball Association of America merger. However, the Blackhawks could not field a truly competitive team until they moved to St. Louis as the St. Louis Hawks after a four-year stopover at Milwaukee. The two teams have faced each other eleven times in the NBA Playoffs, four times in the NBA Finals, with the Celtics winning ten of eleven series against the Hawks, including three out of four NBA Finals. While the Hawks have only defeated the Celtics once out of eleven series in the NBA Playoffs, they still often managed to make their series with the Celtics memorable.
Boston Celtics vs. Miami Heat
This three year rivalry started when they met in the 2010 NBA Playoffs, and Boston won in 5. That offseason, the Heat resigned Dwyane Wade and acquired LeBron James and Chris Bosh. Because of Boston's trio of Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Kevin Garnett, the media compared both teams as they became favorites in the East. In the 2010–11 NBA season, the Celtics beat the Heat in their first three match ups, all the games went down to the final minute. However, in Miami's regular season home finale, a game both teams needed to win in order to clinch the second seed in the 2011 NBA Playoffs, the Heat won by 23. They met in the Eastern Conference Semifinals; the Heat won in 5. They met in the 2012 NBA Playoffs Eastern Conference Finals. Miami won in 7. After the season, Allen signed with the Heat.
Chicago Bulls vs. Miami Heat
This rivalry began once the Miami Heat became playoff contenders during the 1990s, a decade dominated by the Chicago Bulls. During that period, the Heat would be eliminated three times by the Bulls, who would go on to win the NBA championship
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.
Chicago Bulls vs. New York Knicks
The rivalry started in the 1981 NBA Playoffs, when a red-hot Chicago Bulls team led by Artis Gilmore and Reggie Theus swept the favored New York Knicks, led by Micheal Ray Richardson and future Bull Bill Cartwright, 2-0 in their first round series. This though, would be an aberration for both teams throughout the decade, until this rivalry started to take off in the 1989 Eastern Semifinals when the Atlantic division champion Knicks were upset by the talented Michael Jordan and his Bulls in six games. Bolstered by their win, Chicago improved over the years. Degraded by their loss, the Knicks went on a downward spiral until Pat Riley, the 1990 NBA coach of the year, was hired away from the NBA on NBC to coach the Knicks back into contention.
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. However, later that year, there was a moment of peace in the rivalry with Ewing, Jordan, and Scottie Pippen winning the men's basketball gold medal as members of the "Dream Team" at the Summer Olympics in Barcelona.
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, but would lose to the Houston Rockets in seven games in the NBA Finals, which denied New York from having both NBA and NHL championships in the same year (Chicago saw this same verdict in 1992. Though the Bulls won their championship that year, the Blackhawks lost theirs), as the Knicks home court hosted the New York Rangers first Stanley Cup celebration in 54 years, following their win over the Vancouver Canucks in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals during the NBA Finals.
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. However, during this regular season, the Knicks handed the Bulls their worst loss of the season, the only time that the Bulls lost a game by more than 10 points.
In both 1992 and 1994, the team that won the Bulls-Knicks series in the NBA playoffs reached the NBA Finals that year (Bulls in 1992, Knicks in 1994) and that city's NHL team (Blackhawks in 1992, Rangers in 1994) also reached the Stanley Cup Finals in the same year. Mike Keenan coached both the 1992 Blackhawks and 1994 Rangers.
Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Orlando Magic
The Orlando Magic and Cleveland Cavaliers have recently turned the match into a rivalry. Games in both cities are almost always sold-out with crowds having a playoff-like atmosphere even during the regular season. In 2009, the Magic beat Cleveland in 2009 NBA playoffs en route to losing to the Lakers 4-1 in the 2009 NBA Finals. Former Cavaliers star LeBron James demanded that he have talent around him able to sustain a title run. Shaquille O'Neal was acquired over the offseason to slow down Dwight Howard. Antawn Jamison, who has performed very well against Orlando throughout his career, would eliminate the matchup problems that Rashard Lewis caused. The Magic, in turn prepared for Cleveland as well. The Magic signed Mickael Pietrus and Matt Barnes to defend James. Also, the Magic signed Vince Carter to have a scorer that could go toe to toe in a shootout with James if necessary. Howard and O'Neal have traded barbs as to who the real 'Superman" is, referring to the nickname both stars have acquired in their time in the NBA. In 2010, Cleveland and Orlando earned the #1 and #2 seeds, respectively and are anticipated to meet again in the 2010 Eastern Conference Finals. However, Cavaliers lost Eastern Conference semifinals to Boston Celtics 4-2, who also defeated Orlando in Eastern Conference Finals 4 games to 2.
Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Washington Wizards
This rivalry between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Washington Wizards began in the 2006 NBA Playoffs. The series consisted of one-point overtime victories that allowed the Cavaliers to progress to the next round. The next two years, the two teams met again and the intensity between the players of each team grew. The Cavaliers beat the Wizards in the playoffs in both 2007 and 2008. The rivalry also became personal between former Cleveland star LeBron James and Washington guard DeShawn Stevenson. Both teams were at the opposite ends of the Eastern Conference, yet the struggling Wizards still managed to beat the Cavaliers twice during their best season in franchise history.
Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Miami Heat
This rivalry between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Miami Heat began in 2003 when both teams drafted current NBA Superstars, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, respectively. Known for their competitive games, the rivalry plans to heat up in the upcoming seasons, as LeBron James did not resign his contract with Cleveland, and decided to play for the Heat. This caused heavy backlash in Ohio toward LeBron, and hatred towards the Heat.
Indiana Pacers vs. New York Knicks
During the 1990s, both the Knicks and the Pacers were perennial playoff teams. The Knicks, led by All-Star center Patrick Ewing, met with the Reggie Miller-led Pacers in the playoffs six times from 1993 to 2000, fueling a rivalry epitomized by the enmity between Miller and prominent Knicks fan Spike Lee. The rivalry has given Miller the nickname "The Knick Killer." Miller's clutch performances were frequently followed by jabs at Lee, adding fuel to the greater team rivalry.
The Knicks reached the NBA Finals in 1994 and 1999 (incidentally, after Michael Jordan's first and second retirements, respectively), losing both times to teams from Texas: 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 '94 loss denied New York the distinction of having both NBA and NHL championships in the same year, as the Knicks' home court hosted the Rangers winning Stanley Cup over the Vancouver Canucks in Game 7 of the 1994 Stanley Cup Finals.
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 infamous 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.
Miami Heat vs. New York Knicks
The rivalry between the New York Knicks and the expansion Miami Heat was a result of their history-making brutally physical four consecutive playoff series from 1997 to 2000. Each series went to the maximum number of games. The rivalry was heightened by a feud sparking between Pat Riley initially the coach of the Knicks from 1991 to 1995, and head coach of the Miami Heat from 1996–2003, 2005–Present and Riley's successor Knick's head coach Jeff Van Gundy, a faithful servant of Riley's in New York. Jeff's brother Stan Van Gundy was an assistant for the legendary Pat Riley in Miami. The first two years were marked by physical violence during the series, with suspensions to players that ultimately determined the outcome.
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.
Houston Rockets vs. Utah Jazz
During the 1990s, the Houston Rockets, led by dominant center Hakeem Olajuwon, and the Utah Jazz, led by the pick-and-roll duo of Karl Malone and John Stockton, were playoff powers in the Midwest Division. The teams faced each other four times in the NBA Playoffs during the decade: the 1994 NBA Western Conference Finals, the first round of the 1995 NBA Playoffs, the 1997 NBA Western Conference Finals, and the first round of the 1998 NBA Playoffs. The Rockets defeated the Jazz the first two of these four meetings, while the Jazz won the other two years. In all four of those instances, the winner was the eventual Western Conference Champion and finalist in the NBA Finals.
More recently, in the 2007 NBA Playoffs, the Utah Jazz, led by many young players such as Carlos Boozer, Andrei Kirilenko, Mehmet Okur and Deron Williams, defeated the Houston Rockets, led 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.
San Antonio Spurs vs. Los Angeles Lakers
Especially in recent years, these two giants of the Western Conference have had many reasons to respect one another. The Spurs won the NBA championship in 1999, 2003, 2005 and 2007, while the Lakers also won the championship five times in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2009, and 2010. Between 1999 and 2010, only the Detroit Pistons in 2004, the Miami Heat in 2006 and the Boston Celtics in 2008 prevented either the Lakers or Spurs from winning the NBA championship. During that span, the Lakers and Spurs have faced one another in the playoffs five times, with the winner eventually reaching the NBA Finals. Either team has reached the Finals every year since 1999 except for 2006.
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, the two did not meet again in the playoffs until the 1995 Western conference Semifinals in a series that featured the resurgent Lakers Featuring a young Nick Van Exel, Eddie Jones, Cedric Ceballos, Vlade Divac and Elden Campbell. This Young team Met up with a spurs team featuring The Admiral, Rodman, Sean Elliot, Vinny Del Negro and Avery Johnson. While being favored to sweep the Young lakers as they had the NBA's best record, the Lakers Made the series memorable with some last second game winners by Nick Van Exel. The Spurs would Eventually power past the Lakers 4-2 but would be eliminated in the Conference Finals by the Houston Rockets en route to their second straight championship. 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 a new 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).
San Antonio Spurs vs. Phoenix Suns
The Spurs–Suns rivalry began in the 1990s, a time when the playoff-contending Spurs were led by David Robinson, "The Admiral", and the Suns were run by a tandem of players including "Thunder" Dan Majerle, Kevin Johnson, and Tom Chambers. The teams first met in the first round of the 1992 NBA Playoffs. The Suns established a record of 53 wins and 29 losses, good enough for the fourth seed in the Western Conference, while the Spurs, owning a 47–35 record, clinched the fifth seed. However, the Spurs' captain, David Robinson, was injured, leaving the Spurs greatly shorthanded. The Suns swept this series in three games.
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 lasted 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 passed until the two rivals met again. This year, the Spurs finished the season 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 injuries 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 five 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 two 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 two games. Amar'e 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 Shaquille O'Neal from the Miami Heat in exchange for Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks. 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 which included a classic double-overtime victory by the Spurs in Game 1 aided by an improbable three-pointer from Duncan. After bouncing out the New Orleans Hornets in seven hard fought games, the Spurs came up short and fell to the Lakers in five 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 free throws. The Teams also met in the 2010 Western Semi-Finals with the Suns winning 4-0.
Dallas Mavericks vs. Phoenix Suns
During the 2004 off-season, former Dallas Mavericks point guard Steve Nash signed a free-agent deal with the 29–53 Phoenix Suns to help out their offense. The addition of Nash helped as Phoenix rolled to a 62-20 record and the best seed in the NBA. The teams met in the Western Conference Semifinals with Phoenix having the home-court advantage.
Phoenix won Game One 127-102 with a 40-point game by Amar'e 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 Amar'e Stoudemire's 41 points were too much for Dallas to handle. Many considered this game the Game of the Year for the 2006–07 season and many compared it to Game 6 of the 2005 Conference Semifinals.
Phoenix Suns vs. Portland Trail Blazers
Unlike other rivalries in the NBA, this one started out in a slow and steady pace since both franchises, despite both of them being in the Pacific Division at the time, have not met each other in playoffs until 1979, when both frachises were close to a decade old. The Portland squad, led by Ron Brewer, Maurice Lucas and Lionel Hollins, couldn't succeed against Paul Westphal and the Suns as Portland were elimanated 2-1. The two squads would not meet in the playoffs again until five years later. The playoffs have expanded and the Trail Blazers ended up having a better record than Phoenix. However, the Suns still ended up upsetting the Trail Blazers 3-2.
The rivalry fully took control in the early 1990s, when both teams were led by huge superstars and helpful teammates. Both the Suns and the Trail Blazers were coming off of huge upsets in the 1989-1990 playoffs. The fifth-seeded Suns ended up upsetting the first-seeded Los Angeles Lakers 4-1, while the Trail Blazers were coming off of a stand-off against the San Antonio Spurs. In game one, Portland's Kevin Duckworth hit the game winning shot with 16.9 seconds left. This basically set the tone of the series, in which Portland defeated Phoenix 4-2 and earned their second trip to the NBA Finals, in which they lost to the Detroit Pistons 4-1. In the 1991-92 playoffs, the two teams met again in the Western Conference Semifinals. In this series, the Trail Blazers beat the Suns 4-1, which included a thrilling 153-151 double-overtime game at the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum, which was the last time the Phoenix Suns ever played in there. Portland eventually fell to the Chicago Bulls in the NBA Finals. Soon, the two teams would meet again in the 1994-95 playoffs. In this match-up, Portland didn't have Rick Adelman as their head coach, while the Suns had Charles Barkley as an addition to their rivalry. As a result, the Suns unceremoniously swept the Trail Blazers 3-0 in the first round. Phoenix would later on fall to the eventually champions: the Houston Rockets. In the 1998-99 lock-out season, the Suns and the Trail Blazers ended up facing off against each other in the first round of the playoffs. Portland ended up getting revenge on Phoenix in that round, as the Trail Blazers eventually fell to the champion San Antonio Spurs.
It took over a decade, but the two teams finally met other in the playoffs once again. However, the Trail Blazers were at a disadvantage because not only were both Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla, but also due to the fact that Brandon Roy was supposedly injured for the rest of the series. In game one, Portland's Andre Miller scored 31 points as Portland stunned Phoenix at their own home by the score of 105-100. This lead to revenge in game two, where Jason Richardson and Steve Nash led the team to some much deserved revenge by brutally defeating them 119-90. Portland figured to have the advantage in game three, but Jason Richardson led the game with a playoff high 42 points, which led to the Suns winning 108-89. During game four, the Trail Blazers unexpectedly saw the return of Brandon Roy. The sight of him returning on the Rose Garden not only reinvigorated the Trail Blazers' fans, but also the players. LaMarcus Aldridge was especially thankful for his return as he scored 31 points and grabbed 11 rebounds, which led to Portland winning 96-87. In game five, Phoenix wouldn't be phased by Brandon Roy, as they adjusted their strategies and came out with a crushing victory in 107-88. For game six, Portland was being caught up in a defecit of 53-41 in the first half. However, Portland wasn't going to go down without a fight, as they came ablazing in the third quarter. However, the Suns' leadership of Jason Richardson and Steve Nash proved to be too much for the Trail Blazers as they fell 4-2 by the close score of 99-90. The Phoenix Suns would eventually fall to the two-time champion Los Angeles Lakers.
Boston Celtics vs. Los Angeles Lakers
A high profile rivalry in NBA history that hit its peak in the 1980s when superstars Magic Johnson of the Lakers and Larry Bird of the Celtics led their teams to win a combined eight NBA titles in the decade, with the Lakers winning five and the Celtics winning three. Moreover, the two teams met each other in the NBA Finals on three separate occasions (Template:Nbafy, Template:Nbafy, and Template:Nbafy) and met in the finals again in Template:Nbafy and Template:Nbafy, with the Celtics winning the 2008 series four games to two and the Lakers winning the 2010 series four games to three.
Los Angeles Lakers vs. Philadelphia 76ers
The Los Angeles Lakers are the Sixer's biggest rival from the Western Conference. The rivalry has been most intense during the late 1970s and early 80s, when both teams were big title contenders with well-known NBA players such as Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Julius Erving, and Moses Malone. During this period, the teams have met each other in the NBA Finals 3 times; in 1980, 1982, and 1983. The Lakers took the series in 1980 and 1982, but the Sixers won the series in 1983. The rivalry was dormant during the 1980s and the entire 1990s with the 76ers going through tough rebuilding times. However, the rivalry made a comeback in the 2001 NBA Finals, when the Allen Iverson led Sixers met the Shaquille O'Neal led Lakers. The Sixers shocked the world by beating the seemingly unbeatable Lakers in Game 1 at Los Angeles. The Lakers however would take the next four games to win the series. The rivalry has cooled since then with the Sixers going through another rebuilding period. Sixer fans also have their own rivalry with Laker's player Kobe Bryant. This rivalry started in the 2001 NBA Finals when Kobe proclaimed he was "coming to Philly to cut their hearts out." This began an unforgiving attitude from Sixers fanatics that continues to this day.
Los Angeles Lakers vs. Detroit Pistons
During the late 1980s, the Los Angeles Lakers and the Detroit Pistons met twice in the NBA Finals. The defending champion Lakers met the underdog darkhorse Pistons in the 1988 Finals. It was the Hollywood Showtime style of L.A. against the blue collar brute force tactics of the Bad Boys from Detroit. The Pistons were not expected to perform well in this seemingly mismatched series. In fact, most basketball experts expected the Lakers to sweep the Finals and become the first team since Bill Russell led the 1968–69 Boston Celtics to successfully defend their championship. Though the series started out with a customary kiss between close friends Magic Johnson and Isiah Thomas, the resilient Pistons quickly set the tone of the series with a game one shocker in which they grounded the high flying champs with a stunning 105-93 victory at The Forum in Los Angeles. The series battled back and forth and featured a heroic Game Six effort by Isiah Thomas, who with a badly sprained ankle exploded for 25 points in the third quarter. The Lakers were pushed to the brink by the surprising Pistons, but managed to avoid elimination by winning Game Six (103–102) and Game Seven (108–105) of the series in LA. It should be noted that Game Six ended with a controversial foul call of Bill Laimbeer on Kareem Abdul-Jabbar with about two seconds left in the bitterly fought contest, with the Pistons leading 102-101. The legend calmly sunk both free throws to provide the final score. James Worthy was the NBA Finals MVP, scoring 36 points, grabbing 16 rebounds, and dishing out 10 assists in the decisive game seven.
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 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.
Milwaukee Bucks vs. Minnesota Timberwolves
The rivalry between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Minnesota Timberwolves is being seen the same as the Packers–Vikings rivalry of the NFL. This is because of the history of the Wisconsin–Minnesota battle, same goes for the Brewers–Twins of the MLB, as well as college teams from Wisconsin and Minnesota respectively. Called I-94 battle.
Chicago Bulls vs. Utah Jazz
This rivalry started in the late 90's, where the dominant team of the era, the Chicago Bulls had to deal with a team on the rise, the Karl Malone and John Stockton led Utah Jazz, coached then and now by former Bulls player Jerry Sloan, who has his number retired by the Bulls thanks to delivering the Bulls their only Central Division title before or after Michael Jordan. In the playoffs they met twice in the 1997 NBA Finals and 1998 NBA Finals, with the Bulls winning both series in six games. However, all of the games were close, with six of the Jazz's eight losses to Chicago decided by five points or less, and three of Chicago's four losses were decided by five points or less as well, with one going into overtime. This rivalry has been recently reignited when two of the Jazz's free agents, their leading scorer Carlos Boozer and three point specialist Kyle Korver, who were later joined by Ronnie Brewer, who was traded to Memphis mid-season before joining the Bulls via free agency, with the media jokingly referring to the team as the "Chicago Jazz".
Chicago Bulls vs. Los Angeles Lakers
Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Golden State Warriors
- NPR: Dallas Mavericks Upset by Oakland Upstarts
- ESPN - Dallas vs. Golden State Recap, May 03, 2007
- Sweep! Spurs 'Dynasty' Captures 4th Title. ABC News
- NBA Finals: Series sweep could establish Spurs dynasty. The Albuquerque Tribune
- Spurs an unappreciated, forgotten dynasty. MSNBC
- MVP Parker joins Spurs' elite. ESPN.com
- Reign men: Spurs win 4th NBA title | Sports News | Dallas Morning News | News for Dallas, Texas
- Wise, Mike (March 11, 1996). "PRO BASKETBALL; So Much for Karma. Knicks Stomp Bulls". New York Times: p. C1.
- Armour, Terry (March 11, 1996). "NEW YORK NIGHTMARE: KNICKS 104, BULLS 72 KNICKS RETURN TO OLD WAYS IN ROUT OF BULLS". Chicago Tribune: p. 1.