Massive upsets in pro sports don’t come around as frequently as they do at the college level. Nowadays, they are even less common in the NBA with super-teams made up of multiple star players dominating the league. However, the league has had plenty of shocking results over the years, even in the playoffs. Let’s take a trip down memory land and recall the most stunning playoff upsets in NBA history.
Knicks Over Heat, 1999 First Round
The Knicks only made the playoffs by a one-game margin in the lock-out shortened season. New York wasn’t given much of a chance against the rival Heat, who had the no. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. The series went back and forth but the games weren’t close until the decisive Game 5 when Allan Houston hit a shot with 0.8 seconds on the clock to give the Knicks the upset. New York took the win and ran with it all the way to the NBA Finals before eventually losing to the Spurs.
Cavaliers Over Warriors, 2016 NBA Finals
It’s still a little early to know how this series holds up over time, but it could go down as one of the biggest upsets in playoff history. Golden State was loaded and looked poised to win their second straight title after leading 3-1. But LeBron James willed the Cavs back into the series with 41 points in both Games 5 and 6. In Game 7, James saved Cleveland again with “The Block,” carrying the Cavaliers to their first-ever title.
Pistons Over Lakers, 2004 NBA Finals
It was almost inconceivable that the Lakers lost this season. They were just one year removed from a three-peat and brought in Gary Payton and Karl Malone to add even more star power behind Shaq and Kobe. Meanwhile, the Pistons were the no. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference and has been winning with incredible defense. Somehow, Detroit’s defense was up for the challenge, holding the Lakers to less than 82 points per game. The most shocking part is the Pistons needed just five games to beat the Lakers and officially end the Shaq-Kobe dynasty.
Warriors Over Mavericks, 2007 First Round
Before the Warriors became a dynasty, they were a lowly no. 8 seed making their first playoff appearance in over a decade. As defending Western Conference champs and the no. 1 seed, Dallas should have made this a short series. Behind Baron Davis, the Warriors shocked the Mavs in Game 1 and then managed to hold serve at home the rest of the series, winning 4-2. It was the first time in NBA history that a no. 8 seed won a 7-game series over a no. 1 seed.
Nuggets Over Sonics, 1994 First Round
This was the first win for a no. 8 seed in the NBA playoffs, making it the upset of all upsets. The now-defunct SuperSonics were loaded that season behind Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton with Detlef Schrempf, Sam Perkins, and Kendall Gill providing plenty of support. Seattle dominated the first two games but then took things for granted. The Nuggets didn’t give up, winning three in a row, including overtime victories in Games 4 and 5. When it was all over, Dikembe Mutombo clutched the ball tightly with a look of pure elation on his face that perfectly summed up the monumental upset.