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The Biggest Upsets in NBA Playoffs History

April 11, 2017

The NBA Playoffs are about to start. And while most experts and hardcore fans expect the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors to face off in the NBA Finals for the third year in a row, history indicates that anything can happen.

  • Going into the 2016 NBA Playoffs, the Golden State Warriors were heavily favored to repeat as NBA Champions. After all, they’d just posted the best regular season record in league history: 73-9. But they had trouble in the playoffs, in part because star (and league MVP) Stephen Curry was sidelined for a few games with a knee injury. But they still made the Finals…and lost to the Cleveland Cavaliers, led by LeBron James. It was the first NBA title for Cleveland, the first for James, and the first major sports championship for Cleveland since 1948.

 

  • At least the Warriors had been on the winning end of a major NBA Playoffs a few years earlier. In 2007, Golden State made the postseason for the first time in more than a decade, squeaking in with a 42-40 record for the eighth and final seed in the Western Conference. That meant they’d have to face the top-seeded Dallas Mavericks, who had racked up an astounding 67-15 season thanks to the stellar play of league MVP Dirk Nowitzki. But the only team the Mavericks had trouble with during the season: the relatively lowly Warriors, who won all three times they played And when they met in the first round of the playoffs, the Warriors pulled off the upset, beating the Mavericks—predicted to win the NBA Finals—in six games.

 

  • A no. 8 seed has knocked off the no. 1 seed only a few times in NBA history. The first time it happened was in 1994, when the 63-19 Seattle SuperSonics fell to the 42-40 Denver Nuggets. Early in the series, it looked like the Sonics would cruise to an easy victory in what was then a best-of-five showdown—Seattle won game 1 and game 2. But then Denver roared back to win three in a row, and the series. Amazingly, in the next round of the playoffs, the Nuggets almost pulled off another upset. Down three games to zero in a best-of-seven series against the Utah Jazz, the Nuggets won three in a row and forced a game seven…which Utah won.

 

  • In the contract dispute-shortened 1998-1999 season, teams played 50 games instead of the usual 82. The playoffs continued normally, with the 27-23 New York Knicks landing the no. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference against the no. 1 Miami Heat. Miami was a lock to win…except that New York took the series all the way to a decisive game 5, and then won it when Allen Houston scored a basket with just 0.8 seconds to go. Maybe a longer season would have revealed that season’s Knicks to be a much better team, but as it stands, they’re the only eighth seed to go all the way to the NBA Finals. After dispatching the Heat, they beat no. 4 seed Atlanta in four straight games, then beat no. 2 Indiana in the conference finals. They finally fell in the final round to Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs in five games.
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