It stands to reason that the more games you play in any match-up, the more likely the better team is going to win the series. It's the reason why NFL playoffs can be so electrifying, and MLB, NHL and NBA playoffs can occasionally be. . . well, monotonous. In the NBA you can end up with match-ups of sub-500 teams playing champions, like the Heat playing the Bucks last year in the first round. It was channel-changing bad.
Except for the times that the miraculous happens. It starts with one upset win, then two, then all the sudden the series is upside down. When these extreme underdogs battle their way to victory against overwhelming odds, it's nothing short of incredible.
In the NFL, it almost doesn't matter what your seed is, beyond getting a first round bye. Given the divisional seeding format, it's not strange for powerhouse wild card teams, or even underdog wild card teams to carve a swath through the field and win a championship. When the series go best of seven like in the NBA today, well, the odds are severely against the underdog. It's easy to understand why the league changed playoffs from best of three or best of five to all best of seven series; more games means more money. But the Cinderella stories are so much harder to come by when overmatched teams have to grind out 16 wins to claim a championship.
For the list hereafter, many of the upsets mentioned are more recent-- because upsetting a seven game series is just so much harder to do.
10 2009 Eastern Conference Finals: Magic over Cavaliers
9 1975 Finals: Warriors defeat the Bullets
8 2013 Western Conference Semis: Grizzlies upend the Thunder
7 2001 Eastern Conference 1st Round: Hornets sting the Heat
6 2004 Finals: Pistons put an end to the Lakers dynasty
5 2011 Western Conference Semis: Mavericks vanquish Lakers
Seven years later, Kobe Bryant and the Lakers have the whole Dynasty thing going for them again. Phil Jackson and Kobe Bryant as a coach-player combo are looking for another ring. It would be the third in a row-- Jackson's 12th, and Kobe's 6th.
4 1999 Eastern Conference 1st Round: Knicks beat the Heat
3 2011 Western Conference 1st Round: Grizzlies topple Spurs
2 1994 Western Conference 1st Round: Nuggets stun the Supersonics
1 2007 Eastern Conference 1st Round: Mavericks get blown up by Warriors
It is widely regarded as the greatest upset in NBA history. #1 seed fell to a #8 seed in a seven game series in the first round for the first time. Baron Davis (he sure shows up on weird upset teams often) and Stephen Jackson were electrifying in the series, and drove the Warriors to the series victory in only 6 games. The Mavericks had an powerhouse 67-15 regular season record led by league MVP Dirk Nowitzki, and the buzz around the team was deafening. All anyone in the media could talk about is how this was the year Dirk and the Mavs would march to the finals and win it all. The Warriors had barely clawed away the Clippers by 2 games, settling into the 8 seed at the very end of the season with a 42-40 record. The Mavericks had won 30% more games than the Warriors in a full 82 game season. But the playoff record starts 0-0, and the Warriors proved that's all that matters. Energized by the fanatical home crowd, the Warriors played way over their head for 4 games and accomplished the most unprecedented playoff upset in NBA history, giving us all that much more of a reason not to sleep on the 'gimmie' series. Can't wait to see what upset will dethrone this one someday.
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