While any game of elite level basketball has the potential to set pulses racing, it has to be said that the postseason is where the action really happens. Trophies are won, careers are ended, legends are born and underdog stories are written. With that in mind, we’re going to take a look back at five biggest NBA finals upsets of all time.
5 biggest NBA finals upsets
Orlando Magic Vs Cleveland Cavaliers (2009)
Were Magic a poor side heading into their clash with the Cavaliers? No, they’d won 59 games in the regular season. There wouldn’t have been many backing them to prevail against a Cavs side who had the best record in the division though, particularly when Magic had stumbled their way to the conference finals with questionable displays in the two prior rounds.
Despite coming up against league MVP LeBron James, come the end of the series all eyes were on Magic man Dwight Howard. Howard got the wrong sort of attention for an elbow incident earlier on in the postseason but a 40 point show-stopping display in game six put that indiscretion firmly in the rear view mirror as James and co lost out 4-2. A repeat performance wasn’t to be though and the LA Lakers ended their five year Championship drought.
Memphis Grizzlies Vs San Antonio Spurs (2011)
A match up that pitted the number one seed in the Spurs versus the Grizzlies, who had failed to win a playoff game in 12 previous attempts, suggested a landslide win was on the cards. The Grizzlies had other ideas.
Game one saw Memphis take advantage of Manu Ginobili’s absence to take a 101-98 victory, with Zach Randolf leading on points and rebounds. Ginobili was back for game two though and sank 17 points to level the series at 1-1. Then came two home games for the Grizzlies, in which they took full advantage.
The Grizzlies just about shaded match three 91-88 but blitzed the Spurs 104-86 with a strong second half in game four to establish a 3-1 series lead. The Spurs delivered an overtime win in game five but Randolf delivered big with 31 points and 11 rebounds in the final match to see the Grizzlies roaring through. They went on to lose to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the next stage but it remains one of the biggest NBA finals upsets.
Denver Nuggets Vs Seattle SuperSonics (1994)
After a 40-42 season saw the Nuggets make the postseason for the first time in four years their playoff journey looked like being a short one. They were paired with the NBA’s standout team – the Seattle SuperSonics. After two games of the five game series, even the blind optimism from the Nugget fanbase had evaporated as the SuperSonics breezed into a 2-0 advantage.
The first game of the series to be played on the Nuggets’ court though provided a lifeline, before a unimaginable turnaround in games four and five. The Nuggets won both in overtime to progress before losing to Utah Jazz in the next round.
Washington Bullets Vs Golden State Warriors (1975)
When the Washington Bullets and the Golden State Warriors locked horns back in 75, every man and his dog was banking on a Bullets win. They’d rampaged through the regular season with 60 wins to their name. Things looked like playing out that way too when they waltzed into a first half lead of 14 points but the Warriors roared back with Phil Smith and Rick Barry netting 20 and 24 points respectively.
The second game took on a similar pattern. The Bullets took an early advantage only for Barry to turn the tide once again. It was a narrow win at 92-91 but it was 2-0 nonetheless and one of the biggest NBA finals upsets in history was well and truly on. In game three, rookie Jamaal Wilkes turned in a solid rear-guard display but it was Barry hogging the headlines again as he netted another 38 points. The Warriors had won.
The impossible made possible. The humiliation wasn’t over though and in the final game the Warriors triumphed 96-95 to whitewash their supposedly superior opponents.
Detroit Pistons Vs LA Lakers (2004)
When the 2004 finale rolled around very few punters gave the Pistons a hope in hell of beating the Lakers. True, Larry Brown’s men boasted a mean defence but the Lakers had triumphed in three of the last four seasons and had an array of talent including the late, great Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal. They were expected to breeze to Championship glory but it didn’t pan out that way.
A strong defensive game at the Staples Center gave Detroit an unlikely lead but a dramatic overtime win in game two levelled the series and reinstalled the Lakers as huge favourites. The Pistons got their noses back in front with a masterful display limiting the Lakers to just 68 points in game three. Then after edging out game four, they sealed their place in history with a 100-87 victory to take the Championship title home.
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