The NBA playoffs may very well be the toughest gauntlet in professional sports. Teams have to play up to 28 games over a two-month period to win a title and because of the nature of pro basketball, lower seeds upset higher seeds on a regular basis.
However, there are those moments where a lower-seeded team shocks the NBA world and shatters preconceived expectations. Here are the top five upsets in playoffs history.
5. Houston Rockets Beat Los Angeles Lakers 4-1 – 1986 Playoffs, Western Conference Finals
It is hard to fathom that a No. 2 seed upsetting a No. 1 seed would qualify as a shocking upset, but the Lakers had beaten the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals the year before and fans were clamoring for a rematch. Instead, the Rockets with their “Twin Towers” attack of Hakeem Olujawon and Ralph Sampson stopped Los Angeles in the Western Conference Finals. And they didn’t just beat the Lakers... they kicked their butts. Houston reeled off four straight wins on its way to 4-1 stomping of the Lakers to face the Celtics in the NBA Finals, which they lost in six games.
4. Memphis Grizzlies Beat San Antonio Spurs 4-2, 2011 Playoffs, First Round
The Grizzlies had never won a playoff game until they upset No. 1 seed San Antonio in the opening game of the first round of the 2011 playoffs. Zach Randolph and Memphis’ fast-paced attack overwhelmed the Spurs and the Grizzlies ran ahead for a 3-1 lead in the series. San Antonio won Game 5 in overtime, but Randolph scored 31 points in Game 6 as Memphis beat San Antonio 99-91 to win the series. The Grizzlies’ upset of the Spurs proved to be no fluke as they battled Oklahoma City for the full seven games in the Western Conference Semifinals.
3. New Jersey Nets Beat Philadelphia 76ers 3-2 – 1984 Playoffs, First Round
The “fo, fo, fo” 1983 76ers won the title in arguably the most dominant fashion in NBA history. Then the 1984 team made one of the most shocking exits in league history. They entered the playoffs a No. 3 seed with almost everyone back from the 1983 squad, but lost their first two games at home to the Nets. The 76ers won two games in East Rutherford to force a Game 5 in Philadelphia. There the Nets – who had never won a playoff series at that point – pulled ahead in the final minutes to win 101-98 and send the defending champs home for the summer.
2. Denver Nuggets Beat Seattle SuperSonics 3-2 – 1994 Playoffs, First Round
The Nuggets became the first No. 8 seed to upset a No. 1 and did so in dramatic fashion. After losing the first two games to Seattle, Denver reeled off three straight wins – including two in overtime – to upset the SuperSonics. After the game, Nuggets center Dikembe Mutombo, who had blocked two crucial shots in the final minutes, tearfully said, "I can't believe it, I couldn't believe we won this game. We really didn't expect to win this series. We just wanted to make a good showing."
1. Golden State Warriors Beat Dallas Mavericks 4-2 – 2007 Playoffs, First Round
The Mavericks finished the season 67-15 and entered as the No. 1 seed. The Warriors finished 42-40 to make the playoffs for the first time in 13 years as a No. 8 seed. Golden State had finished the regular season on a 16-5 run and carried that momentum into the playoffs, jumping out to a 3-1 lead on Dallas. The Mavericks won Game 5, but in Game 6, the Warriors ran away in the third quarter en route to a 111-86 win. It remains the most shocking upset in NBA playoffs history.
— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports’ Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.
(Top photo courtesy of Getty Images)