10. 2010-2011: First round playoff series vs. Trail Blazers, Game 5
The Mavericks had developed a reputation of constantly building up expectations, only to collapse in the postseason. This playoff run that eventually led to a championship felt no different after losing the previous game to Portland despite having a 23-point second half lead and a 20-point advantage entering the fourth quarter. Dallas finished with just 82 points, and the shocking loss tied the series at 2-2 after Dallas won both games at home to start the series.
Returning to Dallas, however, the Mavericks rebounded and won game 5 convincingly, 93-82, holding Portland to the same point total. The win was a sign that this year could indeed be different for the Mavericks, who in the past would have been finished after a result like Game 4. Dirk Nowitzki led all scorers with 25 points, while Tyson Chandler gobbled up 20 rebounds en route to a 3-2 lead and eventually winning the series altogether.
9. 1983-1984: First round playoff series vs. Supersonics, Game 5
The Mavericks’ first ever playoff appearance came four years after their inaugural season in the NBA in 1980. Mark Aguirre was named the first All-Star in team history, and finished fourth in the conference at 43-39. The team won its first 11 home games, beginning a decades-long tradition of what remains one of the most raucous home crowds in the NBA. Dallas took Game 1 of this series before losing two straight to Seattle, leaving them needing back-to-back wins to advance to the second round. That they did.
Despite the sheer dominance of Tom Chambers and Jack Sickma, Dallas rode Aguirre and 29 points from Rolando Blackman in game five to survive 105-104 and secured the first playoff series win in team history. Such a win, especially sweet as the team was still feeling the effects of Kiki Vandeweghe’s refusal to play in Dallas just a few years before.
8. 2021-2022: Second round playoff series vs. Suns, Game 7
The Mavs have not had a more triumphant moment since their lone championship than their jaw-dropping 33-point baptizing of the Phoenix Suns this past season. Dallas was reasonably competitive in the first two games of the series, but ultimately just didn’t appear to have nearly enough to really challenge the 64-win Suns. The series shifted to Dallas where the Mavericks won Game 3, but in less-than-convincing fashion.
But once Game 4 hit, it was clear the Mavericks had cracked the code. Bracing for the kitchen sink from Phoenix after Game 3, Dallas dominated the first half and didn’t look back. Game five was a very uncharacteristic performance by the Mavericks, who then followed it up with a similarly lopsided win in Game 6.
The odds the Mavericks would then do what they did to the Suns on the road in game 7 were infinitesimal. By halftime, the score was Phoenix 27, Luka Dončić 27. The Suns did not cross the 40(!) point mark until five minutes remained in the third quarter. The Mavs decimated the NBA’s best team and reached their fifth conference finals in team history.
7. 1987-1988: Conference finals series vs. Lakers, Game 6
The Mavs were essentially still an expansion team only seven years into existence. It’s hard to imagine this fledgling, upstart Mavericks team forcing the most storied franchise in NBA history to seven(!) games in a conference finals series. The Mavs were down 3-2 when the series shifted back to Dallas. It’s equally hard to picture Magic Johnson, James Worthy, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar running around the court in Reunion Arena. Magic was in between two of his three MVP seasons, but still was named first team All-NBA. The Mavericks were also up against All-Defensive first-teamer Michael Cooper, and Pat Riley on the bench.
With two minutes left, the Mavs led 102-98 before a Kareem sky hook cut the lead in half. With 11 ticks left the Lakers had a chance to tie or go in front. The Mavs double-teamed Magic before the ball eventually swung around to Worthy. Aguirre and James Donaldson met him at the rim before Donaldson snared the game-sealing rebound.
The Mavs rode Sixth Man of the Year Roy Tarpley the whole series, and won a pulsating Game 6 on their home floor. It is often overlooked what an incredible feat this was for the franchise. Against one of the true dynasties in the history of the NBA, the pesky, fearless Mavericks gave Goliath everything it could handle for seven grueling games.
6. 2002-2003: First round playoff series vs. Trail Blazers, Game 7
While the do-or-die seventh game against the Kings a series later was for a spot in the conference finals, the stakes of this game just couldn’t be higher. The Mavericks have had their share of brutal playoff moments, including losing in the first round to the Spurs in 2009-2010 as a number two seed, crumbling to the Heat in the 2006 finals, and being on the wrong end of the biggest upset in NBA history a year later.
This one could’ve taken the cake, though. Dallas made quick work of the Trail Blazers in Game 1, Game 2, and Game 3 to put themselves in a position no team in NBA history has ever lost in. No one came closer than that Mavericks team. Portland furiously stormed back, winning three in a row by an average of 15 points. All eyes were on the Mavericks, at home, with more pressure on them than the inside of the Earth’s core.
It only grew scarier. Dallas found themselves trailing 78-75 with under 10 minutes to play before a mammoth-three from Nick Van Excel tied the game. They were behind 90-88 with four-and-a-half minutes left. The game was dead even with under three revolutions of the timer remaining. With a handful of possessions separating them from the worst collapse in NBA history, Nowitzki scored seven points in the final three minutes before a Steve Nash jumper delivered the final blow.
5. 2010-2011: Second round playoff series vs. Lakers, Game 3
Winning both games on the road against the two-time defending champion Lakers seemed to good to be true. Even with a commanding 2-0 lead and the next two games at home, there was still a sense of underlying dread as Game 3 unfolded. The Lakers were still struggling with the superior Mavericks, but slowly began to break the 2-0 fever.
A Shannon Brown bucket with less than ten minutes left put the Lakers up 79-71, and the fear began to set in throughout the arena. It was not unlike the Mavs’ first round loss to the Clippers in 2021, when they stole both games in Los Angeles and raced out to a huge lead early in game three. The Clippers slowly came back however, and when they eventually took Game 3 it all began to crumble from there.
Dallas rallied back, yet again. So many players contributed in ways they weren’t on the team to do throughout that game and series. Peja Stojakovic, who had previously tormented Dallas in the 2003 playoffs, smoldered with 11 fourth quarter points and an unheard of defensive stop against future sort-of Maverick Lamar Odom with a minute left. Jason Terry came up with a huge offensive rebound with under 40 seconds left.
Their championship playoff run was marked by numerous come-from-behind wins, with Game 1 of that series being no different. Dallas stormed back and proved they were a very, very real threat to win it all. Winning a playoff series and stealing a road game is one thing, but to be up 2-0 and grind out a win against the two-time defending champions with their backs against the wall was truly one of the biggest wins in franchise history.
4. 2005-2006: Second round playoff series vs. Spurs, Game 7
The defending champion San Antonio Spurs fell behind 3-1 to the Mavericks before winning games five and six to force a seventh game at home. The first half was no contest. With a minute remaining in the first quarter, the Mavericks were shooting a bonkers 88% from the field and eventually opened up a 20-point lead.
The Spurs erased the deficit in what felt like four seconds. Just five minutes into the second half the Spurs were within single digits before Jerry Stackhouse sunk an absolutely ridiculous shot from the left wing to stop the bleeding. Things remained excruciatingly tenuous the rest of the way, until Manu Ginobili appeared to finish the Mavs off with a left elbow three to put the Spurs up by three with 32.2 seconds left. We all know what happened next.
Arguably his most iconic single play ever, Nowitzki blew past all-world defender Bruce Bowen and withstood a glancing blow from Ginobili to complete an and-one to tie the game. While Nowitzki’s bucket was the memorable play, it is easily forgotten that Dallas still had to get a stop and win in overtime. That they did. They allowed just seven points in the extra session and dethroned the Spurs en route to the conference finals against Phoenix. More on that later.
3. 2010-2011: NBA finals vs. Heat, Game 5
The Mavericks were lovable underdogs against the far more athletic and talented Miami Heat in the 2011 finals. Dallas had been hanging on by a thread throughout the series to this point. They hung tough in Game 1, but scored just 84 points and lost. Their remarkable Game 2 comeback, at the time, could have been explained as a fluke. They fell behind by double digits for the third straight time in Game 3 and lost in the final moments.
Game 4 was do or die. There was no way the Mavs were going to survive three match points, two of which in Miami. Only further complicating things, Nowitzki came down with the flu hours before the game in addition to dealing with a torn tendon in a finger on his left hand. Nowitzki looked human for the first time all postseason. Dallas put together a legendary defensive effort however, and kept their title dreams on life support with a thrilling 86-83 win.
Things just exploded in Game 5. After four straight physical, bludgeoning, nasty games, both teams landed haymaker after haymaker offensively. Dallas shot 57% from the field and a ridiculous 68% from three to pull things out. Despite holding Dwyane Wade to only 12 shot attempts and a -13 for the game, the Heat led by four with less than five minutes to play. Then the roof fell in.
Down three with 3:20 left, the ball found a wide open Jason Terry who had practically a shoot around three-point attempt from the top of the key. With as much pressure as ever in his career, Terry splashed it through to tie the game. One possession later, Nowitzki received a pocket pass from Terry and found an open lane to the basket where he flushed it to put the Mavericks ahead, sending the American Airlines Center into delirium.
Behind two more gutsy long balls from Kidd and Terry, Dallas pulled away in the final moments and got within 48 minutes of a championship. Even five games in, it was truly the first time it felt like the Mavs really belonged on this stage with the Heat, and that they could very possibly win the whole thing.
2. 2005-2006: Conference finals series vs. Suns, Game 6
This was the third time in franchise history the Mavericks had reached this stage. They had never gotten over the hump. With one minute left in the first quarter of this game, the Mavericks had 10 points. They were getting destroyed by the desperate Suns. But slowly the Mavs chipped away.
Dallas was still trailing by 15 with only 18 minutes left. But Nowitzki, Josh Howard, and Terry slowly drained the life out of the Suns. With 90 seconds left the Mavericks led by seven when Howard delivered the dagger with a left wing three. The Mavericks had reached the finals for the first time in their 26-year history. Unfortunately, it’s no secret how that ended up.
1. 2010-2011: NBA finals vs. Heat, Game 6
If ever there was some real poetic justice at work, this game was it. The PTSD from the Heat taking the title from the Mavericks in Dallas at the end of Game 6, five years earlier was still raw. Dallas returned the favor at the American Airlines Arena. Nowitzki’s shooting touch deserted him at the worst possible moment, as he went 1-12 in the first half.
Behind 17 points from Terry the Mavs led 53-51 at the break. They never trailed in the second half. As the fourth quarter wore on the crowd in South Beach was getting more and more nervous. Nowitzki scored 19 in the second half en route to his lone championship. One of the most awesome moments from this game was Ian Mahinmi hitting a buzzer-beating elbow jump shot to end the third quarter and give Dallas a nine point lead entering the fourth quarter.
The Mavs’ bench went bananas as the unlikeliest of heroes hit a huge and demoralizing shot to give the team a huge lift going into the final frame. The fact the Mavs won this game with Brian Cardinal and Mahinmi playing significant minutes is to this day, inexplicable. Dallas captured their long-elusive ring and celebrated at center court in Miami, just as they had to endure at home five years earlier.