The 2014 NBA playoffs have started and there are already some potential upsets in the making. The number one seed in the East, the Indiana Pacers, started the playoffs with a loss to a team with a losing record, the Atlanta Hawks. In the Western Conference where all the teams have better than average winning records, there are plenty of matchups that could go either way. The potential for the big upset is alive and throughout history, there have been some memorable upsets in the NBA playoff lore.
Remember Memphis and their win against the San Antonio Spurs in 2011? In modern times, there have been a few instances where the number eight seed has beat the top seed. In these cases, the number one seed has looked like the team to beat in not only their particular conference, but the NBA as well. In other cases, the underdog was good enough to make it to the NBA Finals and still lacked the respect to be considered a legitimate threat.
Many people enjoy the underdog and the following underdogs battled all odds to overcome the favorites that they faced. Here is a look at the top ten modern day upsets n the NBA playoffs.
10. (8) New York Knicks over (1) Miami Heat (1999)
The Miami Heat finished the strike-shortened season of 1998-1999 tied for the best record in the Eastern Conference at 33-17. The Heat had a talented roster with Tim Hardaway, Alonzo Mourning, Jamal Mashburn, Dan Majerle, P.J. Brown, Clarence Witherspoon and Terry Porter and appeared to be ready for a good playoff run. They even had a deep bench with veteran players up and down the roster. The Heat seemed like a favorite to make it to the NBA Finals as the Eastern Conference representative.
The New York Knicks had other ideas. The gutsy team coached by Jeff Van Gundy had Patrick Ewing, Marcus Camby, Larry Johnson, Allan Houston and Latrell Sprewell. With this veteran lineup, the Knicks were probably one of the most potent number eight seeds in NBA playoff history. The Knicks got their act together in the playoffs, beating the Heat 3-2 and going on to reach the NBA Finals where they eventually lost to San Antonio.
9. (8) Philadelphia 76ers over (1) Chicago Bulls (2012)
In the lockout shortened 2011-2012 NBA season, the Bulls were looking like the team to beat throughout the season. Derrick Rose, Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer, Richard Hamilton and Joakim Noa were a mixture of talented players that played well together. The Bulls finished with a 50-16 record (.758 winning percentage) and the number one seeding in the Eastern Conference. Derrick Rose, the reigning NBA MVP, averaged 21.8 points and 7.9 assists per game during the season to position the Bulls for a title run.
Drawing the 35-31 Philadelphia 76ers seemed innocent enough. The Bulls were heading to a win in Game 1 of the series when Derrick Rose went down with a knee injury. He was diagnosed with a torn ACL, changing the Bulls fortunes for the season and even the years to come. To make matters worse, Joakim Noah injured his ankle and missed two games of the series. The 76ers with Evan Turner, Jrue Holiday and Andre Iguodala took advantage of the Bulls misfortune and despite being young and inexperienced, they managed to close out the series at home with a grinding 79-78 Game 6 win.
8. (4) Boston Celtics over (1) Cleveland Cavaliers (2010)
The Cleveland Cavaliers entered 2009 with the sting of the loss to the Orlando Magic in the Eastern Conference Finals the previous season. They traded for Shaquille O’Neal and Antawn Jamison in an effort to surround LeBron James with some more capable scorers. Mo Williams, Delonte West and Anderson Varejao also came through with solid seasons and the Cavaliers finished with the best record in the Eastern Conference at 61-21. James had a terrific season, averaging 29.7 points, 8.6 assists and 7.3 rebounds per game, while shooting over 50% from the field (50.3%).
The Cavaliers got by the Chicago Bulls in the First Round (4-1), but ran into the Boston Celtics in the Conference Semifinals. The Celtics entered the playoffs struggling a bit as the number four seed in the East, having lost 7 of their last 10 regular season games. Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett got it together in time to bounce the Cavaliers out of the playoffs (4-2), winning the final three games of the series. A 32-point Celtics victory at Cleveland in Game 5 pretty much sucked the wind out of the Cavs’ season as the Celtics closed out the series at home in Game 6.
7. (3) Dallas Mavericks over (2) Miami Heat (2011)
The Miami Heat had the big off-season acquisitions of LeBron James and Chris Bosh which helped make them prohibitive favorites to win the NBA Championship in 2011. LeBron James fit right in, averaging 26.7 points, 7.5 rebounds and 7.0 assists per game, while Dwyane Wade added 25.5 points per game and Chris Bosh finished the season averaging 18.7 points per game. The “big three” led Miami to a 58-24 record and the number two seeding in the Eastern Conference.
The Heat cruised through the Eastern Conference Playoffs, getting to the NBA Finals after defeating the Chicago Bulls 4-1 in the Eastern Conference Finals. The unlikely foe in the Finals was the Dallas Mavericks who finished the season as the number three seed in the West. The Mavericks, led by Dirk Nowitzki and veterans like Jason Kidd, Jason Terry, Shawn Marion and Tyson Chandler, gave the Heat fits. After taking Game 2 by the score of 95-93, the Mavericks closed out the series in Games 5 and 6 with 9 and 10 point victories to pull off the upset.
6. (3) Orlando Magic over (1) Cleveland Cavaliers (2009)
The 2008-2009 Cleveland Cavaliers were 66-16 (.805 winning percentage) and looked like the team to beat in the NBA during the season. LeBron James had established himself as an NBA star and was surrounded with a cast of complementary players in Mo Williams, Zydrunas Ilgauskus, Delonte West, Wally Szczerbiak, Ben Wallace, Daniel Gibson and Anderson Varejao. Even their coach, Mike Brown, was the NBA’s coach of the year.
The Cavs started the playoffs out by sweeping Detroit and winning every game by 12 points or more and then sweeping Atlanta by winning each game again by large 10 point or greater margins of victory. In the first game of the Eastern Conference Finals at home against the Orlando Magic, Dwight Howard had 30 points and 13 rebounds, while Hedo Turkoglu did his best Magic Johnson impersonation with 13 assists in their win. The Magic and Howard continued to get key performances by Rashard Lewis and Turkoglu, using the home court advantage they established with the Game 1 win to upset the Cavaliers 4-2.
5. (3) Detroit Pistons over (2) LA Lakers (2004)
In 2003-2004, the Los Angeles Lakers were loaded with talented veterans who were looking to put rings on their fingers. Karl Malone and Gary Payton joined Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant to produce a team full of future Hall of Famers. Although Malone and Payton struggled to adapt to the “triangle offense” run by the Lakers and coach Phil Jackson, the Lakers still finished with the second best record in the Western Conference (56-26).
In the playoffs, the Lakers got past the Rockets, Spurs and Timberwolves by pretty comfortable series winning margins of 4-1, 4-2 and 4-2. The offensive stars on the Lakers were supposed to overpower the stingy Detroit defense led by Richard Hamilton, Rasheed Wallace, Chauncey Billups, Tayshaun Prince and Ben Wallace. The Pistons were the third best team in the Eastern Conference that season, but played like the best team in the NBA during the Championship Series against the Lakers. They smothered the Lakers with stifling defense and timely shooting, winning the series and NBA Championship 4-1.
4. (6) Houston Rockets over (1) Orlando Magic (1995)
In 1994-1995, the Orlando Magic had what was probably their most talented team ever with Penny Hardaway, Shaquille O’Neal, Horace Grant and Nick Anderson. They finished the season with the best record in the Eastern Conference (57-25) and a 39-2 home record which tied for the second best home record in NBA history. O’Neal was unstoppable during the regular season, averaging 29.3 points and 11.4 rebounds per game.
The Magic beat the Boston Celtics, Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers in the playoffs and looked like the team of destiny that season. Instead of uncorking champagne, the Magic was left wondering what happened to their perfect season as Hakeem Olajuwon scored over 30 points a game to help Houston win the series and the NBA Championship by sweeping the Magic. The Rockets entered the playoffs as the lowly number six seed in the Western Conference with a record of just 47-35 during the season.
3. (8) Memphis Grizzlies over (1) San Antonio Spurs (2011)
The 2010-2011 San Antonio Spurs had the best record in the Western Conference at 61-21 (.744 winning percentage) and were the top seed in the West. Led be the ageless Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, the Spurs also had a mixture of youth and experience with George Hill, Gary Neal, DeJuan Blair and Richard Jefferson. The Spurs were remarkably consistent during the season and had the veteran players who knew what was necessary to make a push in the playoffs.
Unfortunately for the Spurs, the number eight seed in the West was the Memphis Grizzlies with a respectable 46-36 record. Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol proved to be too tough inside and Mike Conley had a big series distributing the basketball. The Grizzlies took Game 1 at San Antonio and took care of business on their home court to clinch the series in six games. They almost closed out the series in Game 5 at San Antonio, pushing the Spurs to overtime before losing 110-103.
2. (8) Denver Nuggets over (1) Seattle Supersonics (1994)
The 1993-94 Seattle Supersonics were one of the best NBA teams to ever exit in a first round series. Their 63-19 record (.768 winning percentage) was a franchise best and good enough for the Western Conference’s best record during the season as well. The team was loaded with talented players like Shawn Kemp, Gary Payton, Detlef Schrempf, Nate McMillan, Kendall Gill and Sam Perkins. All six of these players averaged over 10 points per game during the regular season.
The Denver Nuggets (42-40) entered the playoffs as the number eight seed fortunate enough to just make the playoffs. Led by Dikembe Mutombo‘s presence in the middle, the Nuggets pulled off the NBA’s first number 8 over number 1 seed upset by topping the Sonics in game five. This Nuggets victory came after they dropped the first two games of the series and rallied to force overtime in Game 5 at Seattle.
1. (8) Golden State Warriors over (1) Dallas Mavericks (2007)
The 2006-2007 Dallas Mavericks were virtually unstoppable during the regular season, finishing with the best record in the Western Conference at 67-15 (.817 winning percentage). The Mavericks had Dirk Nowitzki playing in his prime, surrounded by Jason Terry, Jerry Stackhouse, Devin Harris, Josh Howard and many other key players. Nowitzki was the NBA’s most valuable player that season and Josh Howard was selected as an All-Star. The Mavericks were looking to improve from the previous season where they made it to the NBA Finals and lost to the Miami Heat.
The Golden State Warriors came in as the number eight seed, using a 16-5 run at the end of the season to be lucky enough to make it into the playoffs. Baron Davis, Al Harrington, Stephen Jackson, Monta Ellis and Jason Richardson were all offensively gifted players who played with attitudes and could heat up at any time. In the first round of the 2006-2007 playoffs, they did just that and upset the Dallas Mavericks. The Warriors won Game 6 and the series by defeating the Mavericks by 25 points, behind Stephen Jackson’s 7 three-pointers.